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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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Russian Canadians

People from Russia have been in Canada since at least the late 18th century. Over time, more and more Russians immigrated and settled in Canada. In the 2016 census, 622,445 Canadians reported being of Russian origin.

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Emigration

Emigration refers to the act of leaving one's region or country of origin to settle in another. This is unlike immigration which is the action of arriving in a country.

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Immigrant Diasporas in Canada

The term “diaspora” refers to the members of a community who have dispersed out of their country of origin, often around the world. (See Emigration.) The members of a diaspora maintain close ties with the other members of their community living in their country of origin or in other countries and often have a sense of common identity with them.

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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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Ontario Police Free 43 People from Human Trafficking Ring

Forty-three Mexican men aged 20 to 46, who had paid traffickers to bring them to Canada so they could seek education and employment opportunities, were forced to work as hotel cleaners in Collingwood, Innisfil, Oro-Medonte and Cornwallfor less than $50 a month. The traffickers were not arrested or charged with any crimes. The victims were all offered employment and lodging at a local resort.

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Canadian Refugee Policy

Canadian Refugee policy refers to the way the Canadian government seeks to manage groups of asylum seekers looking for refuge in Canada. Refugee policy is shaped by domestic laws and regulations as well as international treaties. Refugee migration is often very political and influenced by public opinion.

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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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Byelorussian Canadians

Byelorussian Canadians (Byelarussians, Belarusians) originate from Belarus and are considered an eastern Slavic people. In 2016, 20,710 Canadians reported themselves as being mainly or partly Byelorussian.

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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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Chinese Immigration Act

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, known also as the Chinese Exclusion Act, banned the entry of virtually all Chinese immigrants for 24 years. Although migration into Canada from most countries was controlled or restricted in some way, only Chinese people were singled out completely from entering on the basis of race. The four exceptions to the exclusion were students, merchants (excluding laundry, restaurant and retail operators), diplomats and Canadian-born Chinese returning from education in China. The limit on absence from Canada was two years, and the consequence for not returning on time was being barred re-entry. Additionally, every person of Chinese descent, whether Canadian-born or naturalized, was required to register for an identity card within 12 months. The penalty for noncompliance was imprisonment or a fine of up to $500. Though the Act was repealed in 1947, immigration restrictions on the basis of race and national origin were not fully scrubbed until 1967.

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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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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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West Indian Domestic Scheme

The West Indian Domestic Scheme was an immigration program for Caribbean women between 1955 and 1967. Through the scheme, approximately 3,000 Caribbean women emigrated to Canada to work as domestic workers. The program opened the door for many Black Caribbeans to migrate to Canada, giving them an opportunity which would not have been available otherwise. Despite this, the women that participated in the scheme often faced difficult work conditions and racial discrimination. (See Racism.) Due to Canada’s changing immigration policy, the scheme officially ended in January 1968; it was replaced by a points-based system, which provided temporary work permits. Even with the program’s official end, women from the West Indies continued to come to Canada as domestic workers on temporary employment visas for years afterwards. (See Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.)

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Interculturalism

Interculturalism is a model for living together developed in Quebec during the 1980s and represents its approach regarding the integration of newcomers and minority groups. (See Immigration to Canada.) This approach is the Quebec response to the federal government model, i.e., Canadian multiculturalism. The philosophy behind interculturalism is based on the idea that equality between the cultures in Quebec requires francisation and secularization of the public domain. Due to the controversies and debates surrounding the policies regarding reasonable accommodation, an official policy regarding the concept of interculturalism has become essential. The report from the Bouchard-Taylor Commission (2007–2008) continues to represent the most significant consultation effort regarding interculturalism. The Charte de la langue française is one of the major pillars of the intercultural approach. However, to date, there are no laws to provide a framework for this model of integrating minorities. (See also Quebec Immigration Policy.)

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NWT Premiere Calls for Investment in Arctic Ports

Speaking at the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region summit in Saskatoon, Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod called for the development of three ports in the territory and more icebreakers to support increased shipping traffic in the rapidly warming Arctic. “It’s getting harder to resupply our communities,” he said. “We rely a lot on ice roads. Their life span is getting shorter and shorter… It’s very timely now to do some strategic investing and planning.” McLeod also called for a stronger military presence in the Arctic, an increase in immigrants to the region and more investment in research facilities. (See also: Canadian Arctic Sovereignty.)

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Mennonites

The first Mennonites in Canada arrived in the late 18th century, settling initially in Southern Ontario. Today, almost 200,000 Mennonites call Canada home. More than half live in cities, mainly in Winnipeg.