Eleanor Zhang has turned in her resignation letter, ended her apartment lease and booked her flight to her home country of China for early December. In a month, she’ll be flying out of Halifax and Canada, where she’s lived for seven years.
“I don’t feel I belong here,” said Zhang a 26-year-old working at an international trade company.
A new research report shows that immigrants in Canada are leaving the country at an accelerated rate. The report, released on Oct. 31, was produced for the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) by the Conference Board of Canada to study trends in retaining immigrants in Canada.
“The study uses data from the 2021 Longitudinal Immigration Database, which links immigration data with tax data,” the report stated.
The data indicates that onward migration — immigrants leaving Canada — has been steadily increasing since the 1980s. It reveals that of those granted permanent residence since 1982, 0.8 per cent left the country in 2016, rising to 1.15 per cent in 2017. It reached a further high of 1.18 per cent in 2019, marking a 31 per cent jump from the historical average of 0.9 per cent.
“It can lead to attrition of 20 per cent or more of an arrival cohort over 25 years,” the report stated.
Zhang’s decision to leave is a fresh example of why immigrants might want to leave Canada.
Zhang said she had a vision of staying in Canada when she began studying at Dalhousie University in 2016. She thought about buying a house and probably running a small store here.
But two years ago, she started noticing more homeless people in the park across from her apartment and traffic congestion in the city getting worse. This year her friend’s car, parked in an underground garage, was broken into. Most importantly, she wanted to live a quality life, but her income wouldn’t have allowed it.
Most onward immigration happens in the early years
“I’m willing to work hard, but there aren’t many jobs answering me,” said Zhang.
Then she decided to leave for good.
Zhang’s experience echoes one of the report’s key findings, namely that most onward immigration happens in the early years after arrival.
George Carothers, a senior director at ICC, said many factors could influence newcomers’ decisions to stay in or leave Canada during the initial settlement phase, although the exact triggers or push factors may vary.
He cited the example of labour market integration, where new immigrants not only struggle to find jobs matching their skills, but also, even after a lengthy process of skills recognition, fail to earn the same income as native-born people doing the same work.
The report warns that the country’s neglect of onward migration could put the entire immigration system at risk because Canada depends on immigration to grow GDP, improve the worker-to-retiree ratio, and ease labour shortages that add to inflation.
It also recommends that governments invest more in making “immigration to Canada rewarding and enjoyable” during the settlement stage, including supporting employers in hiring and retaining new immigrants and expanding infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals, public transit and child care.
Canada admitted 437,180 immigrants in 2022, hitting a record high. Last week, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada announced that it aims to accept 485,000 permanent residents by 2024 and reach 500,000 in 2025.
“The future of our country, I think, does depend on a successful immigration system,” said Carothers, “and this is why I think it’s so important for us to just keep our eyes on the experience of newcomer life in Canada.”
About the author
Yuan Wang comes from China. She has an interest in international news and non-fiction. She also has a background in documentary production.