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Immigration to Canada

The movement of individuals of one country into another for the purpose of resettlement is central to Canadian history. The story of Canadian immigration is not one of orderly population growth; instead, it has been — and remains one — about economic development as well as Canadian attitudes and values. It has often been unashamedly economically self-serving and ethnically or racially discriminatory despite contributing to creating a multicultural society (see Immigration Policy in CanadaRefugees to Canada). Immigration has also contributed to dispossessing Indigenous peoples of their ancestral lands.

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Economic Immigration to Canada

Canada’s current and future prosperity depends on recruiting immigrants. Newcomers fill gaps in the Canadian workforce, build or start businesses and invest in the Canadian economy. Economic immigrants include employees as well as employers. They mostly become permanent residents when they immigrate to Canada. Not included in this class are the many temporary foreign workers who contribute to Canada’s economy.

Economic immigrants bring talent, innovation, family members and financial investments to Canada. They also enrich the country’s culture, heritage and opportunities. Technological progress, productivity and economic growth all benefit from these newcomers. Studies show that they have little to no negative impacts on wages for other workers in the country.

The 2016 Census identifies 2,994,130 economic immigrants in Canada. This represents about half of the total of 5,703,615 immigrants counted in that survey. (See also Immigration to Canada.)

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Immigration to Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

Aside from Indigenous peoples, everyone living in Canada has ancestors who arrived in Canada during the past 400 years. The first Europeans to permanently settle in Canada were from France. Then, people from the United States, Britain and Ireland came to Canada. Black people also came from the United States to escape enslavement. After this, people from Continental Europe and China arrived. Now, people from all over the world come to Canada. (See Multiculturalism.) A large percentage of Canadians alive today are first-generation Canadians who immigrated. Many are second-generation Canadians — children of immigrants. Without immigration, Canada would not be what it is today.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Immigration to Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Immigration to Canada.)

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Irregular Immigration and Canada

The term “irregular immigration” has no clear legal definition. (See also Immigration to Canada.) An irregular immigrant can refer to an individual crossing a country’s border without proper authority. It can also apply to those who violate residency conditions after entering a country. Many irregular immigrants come to Canada to seek asylum and apply for refugee status. (See Refugees to Canada; Canadian Refugee Policy.) With no reliable published statistics in Canada, estimates of this cohort range from 200,000 to 400,000. The majority of these individuals likely live in Toronto and other large urban centres.

See also Immigration Policy in Canada; Canada–United States Safe Third Country Agreement.

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Anti-Asian Racism in Canada

Asian communities have been present in Canada since the 18th century. Throughout their long history in Canada, they have been subjected to discrimination and prejudice based on their differences in appearance and culture from the white majority. Racism against Asian Canadians has manifested through discriminatory voting laws, exclusionary immigration policies and forced relocation and internment (see also Right to Vote in Canada; Immigration Policy in Canada). Hate crimes against Asian Canadians are ongoing.

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Chinese Head Tax in Canada

The Chinese head tax was enacted to restrict immigration after Chinese labour was no longer needed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Between 1885 and 1923, Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax to enter Canada. The tax was levied under the Chinese Immigration Act (1885). It was the first legislation in Canadian history to exclude immigration on the basis of ethnic background. With few exceptions, Chinese people had to pay at least $50 to come to Canada. The tax was later raised to $100, then to $500. During the 38 years the tax was in effect, around 82,000 Chinese immigrants paid nearly $23 million in tax. The head tax was removed with the passing of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923. Also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, it banned all Chinese immigrants until its repeal in 1947. In 2006, the federal government apologized for the head tax and its other racist immigration policies targeting Chinese people.

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Immigration

The movement of nationals of one country into another for the purpose of resettlement is central to Canadian history. This timeline charts significant migrations that have shaped our nation.

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Welsh Music in Canada

Immigration of the Welsh to Canada occurred in cycles corresponding to economic depressions in the homeland in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some moved to Canada via the USA and others via the Welsh community established in the Argentine.

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History of Labour Migration to Canada

Canada’s economic development has relied upon the labour and economic contributions of thousands of immigrant and migrant workers. (See also Economic Immigration to Canada; Immigration to Canada.) These workers came from a multitude of countries and worked a variety of jobs. Many of these workers would also ultimately settle in Canada. This labour and settlement pattern, however, is changing due to Canada’s temporary labour migrant programs. (See also Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.)

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Immigration Policy in Canada

Immigration policy is the way the government controls via laws and regulations who gets to come and settle in Canada. Since Confederation, immigration policy has been tailored to grow the population, settle the land, and provide labour and financial capital for the economy. Immigration policy also tends to reflect the racial attitudes or national security concerns of the time which has also led to discriminatory restrictions on certain migrant groups. (See also Canadian Refugee Policy.)

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French Immigration in Canada

After New France was ceded to Great Britain in 1763, the migration of French colonists slowed considerably. A trickle of clergy members, farmers and professionals settled during the 19th century. However, after the Second World War, French immigration — which was then politically favoured — resumed with renewed vigour. This effort was geared towards recruiting francophone professionals and entrepreneurs, who settled in Canada’s big cities. The French spawned many cultural associations and had a large presence in French-Canadian schools.

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Quebec Immigration Policy

The distinction is often made between the immigration policy of Quebec, that of Canada (see Immigration Policy in Canada) and that of other provinces. The particularities of the Québécois policy are essentially rooted in history, language, and culture. Despite these differences, immigration plays just as important a role in the Québécois society as it does elsewhere in the country. From 2015 to 2019, Quebec welcomed almost 250,000 permanent immigrants. Every year, the province also hosts thousands of temporary foreign workers, three quarters of whom find employment in the greater metropolitan area of Montreal. (See Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.)

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Colonization Companies

Colonization companies were corporations designed to promote and co-ordinate immigration and settlement, employed at various times during Canada's history. Immigration and settlement were vital if the colony, and later the country, was to prosper.

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Swiss Canadians

Swiss immigration to the territory we now know as Canada began in the late 16th century. The 2016 census reported 155, 120 people of Swiss origin in Canada (25, 235 single responses and 129, 885 multiple responses).

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Malaysian Canadians

Malaysian immigration to Canada is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 2016 census, 16,920 people declared they were of Malaysian origin. Among these Canadians were actor Osric Chau and writer Madeleine Thien.

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Greek Canadians

Greek immigration to Canada began early in the 19th century. Greeks from the islands (e.g., Crete, Syros and Skopelos) and from the Peloponnesus, especially the poor villages of the provinces of Arcadia and Laconia, settled in Montreal as early as 1843. However, in 1871 only 39 persons of Greek origin were known to be living in Canada. Greek immigration, sporadic prior to 1900, increased considerably in the early 20th century as a result of poverty, war and political upheavals at home. The 2016 census recorded 271, 405 Canadians of Greek origin (141,580 single and 129,830 multiple responses.)