Proportion of immigrants, permanent residents hits record, making up 23% of population: census

Almost a quarter of people who call Canada home were or have been an immigrant or a permanent resident, making up the largest proportion of the population in the country’s history, according to new census data released by Statistics Canada.

According to the 2021 census data, 8.3 million people, or 23 per cent of the population, fit into this category, topping the previous record of 22.3 per cent in 1921.

The newly released numbers also mean that the percentage of immigrants and permanent residents in Canada is at a higher level than in any other G7 country. 

“If these trends continue, based on Statistics Canada’s recent population projections, immigrants could represent from 29.1 per cent to 34 per cent of the population of Canada by 2041,”  the report said. 

Between 2016 and 2021, 1.3 million new immigrants settled permanently in Canada. That record increase in immigrants for a census period means that almost 16 per cent of all immigrants in Canada came to the country recently.

Statistics Canada says that recent immigrants are younger, on average, than the rest of the Canadian population and have been critical to filling much needed jobs in the Canadian labour market. 

Just over 64 per cent of new immigrants were aged 25 to 64, with only 3.6 per cent aged 55 to 64; by contrast, more than 17 per cent of new immigrants were younger than 15.

Importance to the labour force

From 2016 to 2021, immigrants accounted for four-fifths of Canada’s labour force growth with a large share of recent immigrants being selected for their ability to contribute to Canada’s economy.

According to Statistics Canada, more than half of recent immigrants, 748,120 of the 1.3 million immigrants admitted to Canada between 2106 and 2021, were admitted to Canada under the economic category.

Of these economic immigrants almost 35 per cent came in though skilled worker programs, while just over a third came in through the provincial nominee program. 

The share of new immigrants who first came to Canada temporarily on work or study permits or as asylum claimants before being admitted as permanent residents also increased from almost 18 per cent of new immigrants between 2001 and 2005 to 36.6 per cent in 2021.

New immigrants and cities

The new census data revealed that about 90 per cent of recent immigrants chose to settle in cities with more than 100,000 residents, with Toronto at 29.5 per cent, Montreal 12.2 per cent and Vancouver 11.7 per cent, being the cities that attracted the largest proportion of new immigrants between 2016 and 2021. 

Overall, however, the proportion of new immigrants who settled in these cities continued to decline significantly as trends saw an increasing number of immigrants settling outside Canada’s big three cities.

In 2016, the percentage of new immigrants settling in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver stood at 56 per cent; by 2021 that had fallen to 53.4 per cent, with Montreal seeing the biggest decline as it fell from attracting 14.8 per cent of new immigrants in 2016 to just 12.2 per cent in 2021. 

By contrast, new immigrants settled in other urban centres in increasing numbers, boosting Ottawa-Gatineau’s proportion of new immigrants from 3.1 per cent in 2016 to 4.4 per cent in 2021, while Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo saw new immigrants double from 1.2 per cent to 2.1 per cent.


  • The share of recent immigrants settling in Atlantic Canada almost tripled in 15 years, rising from 1.2 per cent in 2006 to 3.5 per cent in 2021.
  • Asia, including the Middle East, remained the continent of birth for most recent immigrants at 62 per cent.
  • Almost one in five recent immigrants, or 18.6 per cent, were born in India, making it the leading country of birth for recent immigration to Canada.
  • The share of recent immigrants from Europe continued to decline, falling from 61.6 per cent in 1971 to 10.1 per cent in 2021.
  • The vast majority of recent immigrants, almost 93 per cent, are able to conduct a conversation in either English or French.
  • The share of children of immigrants, or second-generation Canadians, younger than 15 years with at least one foreign-born parent, rose from 26.7 per cent in 2011 to 31.5 per cent in 2021.

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