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Margaret Michalowski and Kelly Tran
Estimating Canadian emigration
What you should know about this study
Where in the world are Canadians?
Migratory exchanges between Canada and other countries
Young emigrants head to the US, the UK and Australia
Leaving Canada to go abroad is often temporary
Returning home or leaving for the "unknown"
More about flows South of the border
Global migration is not a recent phenomenon. For different reasons, people have been making the journey from one location to another throughout history. Today, people move in order to forge new lives for themselves, for education or employment opportunities, for family or for lifestyle reasons. Others move because they are forced to do so by circumstances in their home country. Whatever the reason for migration, the movement of people across borders has had a significant impact on their countries' population. And Canada is no exception: often viewed as a country that is the choice destination for thousands of immigrants, Canadians take pride in accepting new citizens from many different parts of the world. The cumulative effects of this migration are such that, at the turn of the 21st century, two in five Canadians aged 15 years or older were either immigrants themselves or were the children of immigrants.1
However, the impact of immigration can easily overshadow the other component of migration, namely emigration of Canadians to other parts of the world. In the modern world, advances in transportation have made the global system of migration dynamic and often circulatory, meaning people may move from their birth country to another country, and then subsequently migrate back to their birth country or on to a third country. At the same time, new communications technologies allow them to remain in contact with family and friends around the world. The United Nations reports that there were upwards of about 177 million international migrants in 2005, an increase from about 75 million 40 years earlier.2 The increasingly integrated and inter-connected world, and the continuing global competition for skilled migrants, mean that these population movements will persist.
Presently, while there are broad estimates of the number of Canadians who go abroad, there is little by way of information on who leaves and where they go (see "Estimating Canadian emigration"). Nor is much known about the association between destination of emigrants and their characteristics. Do certain destinations attract specific groups of Canadian residents? When they leave, do they leave with the intention of staying abroad permanently or temporarily? The answers to these questions can be varied and complex. Not a lot of concrete information about emigration is available and what is available tends to be fuzzy and based on different concepts of migration and movement. Migration affects the population of two places – the place one goes to as well as the place one leaves. It is the information from the place one leaves that is often fuzzy, although it is possible to draw upon information from the place one goes to in order to understand more about the phenomenon. However, there are numerous systems of migration characterized by various concepts, definitions and thresholds, and it is an onerous undertaking to standardize concepts and make direct comparisons between countries.
The goal of this article is not to provide a complete statistical accounting of the emigration of Canadians. Rather, by examining five countries with which Canada has close ties of kinship and friendship – the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy and Poland – it seeks to develop a profile of people who leave Canada. The concepts and definitions used are those of the specific country that graciously assisted in providing the best picture they can of the Canadians who reside within their borders.
This article is not intended to provide a complete statistical accounting of the total number of Canadians residing abroad. Rather, it is intended to utilize the available data in order to better understand the current trends and stock of Canadians residing in selected countries. It is derived from a larger study conducted to assess the feasibility of using the immigration data collected by receiving countries in order to provide information to sending countries about their emigrants. (To obtain more information about this pilot project, visit www.unece.org )
Though Canadians who go abroad select numerous destinations, this report focuses on emigrants who go to five countries: Australia, Italy, Poland, United Kingdom and United States. These five countries worked in cooperation with Canada to exchange migratory information for the larger study from which this article is derived. The perspective of migration is from the receiving country, that is, the specific country to which Canadians went. In this sense, emigration from Canada becomes "immigration" to another country, and emigrants from Canada can be viewed as immigrants in the receiving country. Data from Australia are obtained from the Overseas Arrivals and Departures records, which is a passenger card system that collects information on all overseas arrivals to, and departures from, Australia. Italy provided data from its population register, which is a record of persons who are residents of Italian municipalities. Polish data come from the national population register, which includes Polish citizens and foreigners with either permanent residence in Poland or a Polish residence card registered for a temporary stay of more than two months. Data from the United Kingdom come from the International Passenger Survey, which collects information from passengers travelling through the major airports and seaports of the United Kingdom and produces data on people coming to or leaving the UK. The data from the United States are from the American Community Survey as well as from the Office of Immigration Statistics, which keeps records of applications for lawful entry into the United States.
Because these different data sources have specific purposes in their respective countries, exactly who is considered an "immigrant" in that country is not necessarily consistent across all of the countries included in this study. "Canadians" could be defined in different ways by the receiving countries: the concept could include only those people who were born in Canada, but it could also encompass naturalized Canadian citizens or even someone who simply resided in Canada at some point. Unless otherwise stated, for the purposes of this article, Canadians or Canadian emigrants are defined as individuals who formerly resided in Canada, regardless of place of birth or Canadian citizenship status. This definition encompasses all those who were once residents of Canada but were later residing in another country, regardless of their intentions for permanent, temporary or long-term stay outside Canada.
A permanent emigrant from Canada is somebody who leaves and at the time of their departure indicated that they did not intend to return. In contrast, a long-term or temporary emigrant is somebody who leaves for a specific period of time, usually longer than 12 months, but intend to one day return to Canada. Not all countries have information on long-term (temporary) migrants or permanent migrants.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that 1.1 million people who were born in Canada were residing in other OECD countries at the beginning of the 21st century.3 Of these Canadian-born emigrants, the lion's share (82%) resided in the United States. As of the year 2000, over half of the Canadian-born residents of the US (58%) had been living there for over 20 years; another 30% had been there for less than 10 years. Many were so well settled that they evidently had no intention of returning to Canada: by 2000, 46% of Canadian-born emigrants had become naturalized American citizens, according to the 2000 US Census.
Of those Canadians living in OECD countries other than the US, the overwhelming majority reside in the UK
Several other OECD countries were home to a substantial number of Canadian-born residents. Most popular in 2000 was the United Kingdom, where an estimated 72,500 Canadians resided. Considerably fewer – about 27,300 – lived in Australia, but the majority (61%) had been there for more than 10 years. France and Greece were the only other OECD countries which reported having more than 10,000 Canadian-born residents in the country (Chart 1).
While the OECD data provide a glimpse of the location of Canadians living abroad, it does not provide the full picture. Because the OECD reports only on people who are Canadian-born, missing from the picture are migrating Canadians who were not born in Canada. For example, data from the American Community Survey found that only 43% of Canadians living in the US had been born in Canada. About 32% had been born in the US, while the remaining 25% had drawn their first breath in a third country (that is, neither Canada nor the US). The example provided by Canadian migration to Poland is even more striking: only 1% of Canadians who moved to Poland were Canadian-born, while the vast majority (88%) had actually returned to their country of birth. Evidently, leaving to live in another country is not confined only to those Canadians who were born in Canada.
Much of what is written about Canadians abroad focuses on Canadians residing in the United States. Due to a combination of factors – including a shared land border and similar language, culture and institutions – there has always been a flow of Canadians who head south of the border either permanently or temporarily. Of the five countries selected for this study, the United States by far welcomes the greatest number of Canadian emigrants. Between 2000 and 2004, an average of about 68,900 Canadians departed for the United States every year; in contrast, an annual average of about 6,100 US residents immigrated (obtained permanent resident status) to Canada during the same period.
Canada's long history of British settlement means that there are close ties between Canada and the United Kingdom. Many of the immigrants to Canada in the past two centuries have been from the UK, and many second generation Canadians, as well as the third generation and beyond, have strong links to extended family. Therefore, it should not be surprising to see flows of migrants in the opposite direction, as large numbers of Canadians move to the United Kingdom. Between 2000 and 2004, the UK received an average of 8,500 Canadians each year while sending Canada about 5,200 British emigrants.
Immigrants from Italy have also come over many decades. Since the beginning of the 20th century, a large number of Southern Italians have moved to Canada in search of work and improved economic conditions. Many worked on building the railways and when this project was completed, they remained in Canada and settled in the major cities.4 The 2001 Census revealed that over 318,000 people born in Italy now call Canada home. Return migration is weak, with fewer than 1,000 Canadians per year leaving Canada to live in Italy during the five-year period 2000 to 2004.
Immigration from Poland has come in three waves: first starting in the 1920s, then after the Second World War and most recently in the 1980s. In 2001, over 182,000 Polish-born persons were living in Canada. About one-quarter of them had immigrated before 1961, while over one-third (38%) had arrived in the 1980s, a decade of significant political unrest in Poland. Another one-quarter came to Canada in the 1990s. (In fact, Poland was among the top ten source countries of all immigrants entering Canada in the 1990s.) The rate has slowed in recent years, however; from 2000 to 2004, an annual average of 1,200 Polish immigrants arrived in Canada while about 300 Canadians went to Poland.
Australia and Canada share much in common including English as an official language, a similar legacy of immigrant settlement and membership in the Commonwealth. The two countries also share some migratory exchange of populations. In the post-war period 1951-71, approximately 36,000 Australians arrived in Canada; by 2001, the Census counted 18,910 Australian-born immigrants living in Canada. In fact, nearly 1,000 immigrants from Australia are admitted to Canada annually; meanwhile, about 1,700 Canadians departed for Australia each year between 2000 and 2004.
With the exception of Poland, the number of people who immigrate to Canada from the other countries in this study is lower than the number of Canadian departures in the first four years of the new millennium. For the United Kingdom, the emigrant-to-immigrant ratio was 1.6 Canadians leaving for every Briton entering Canada; both Australia and Italy had slightly higher ratios of 1.8 and 1.9, respectively. For Poland, it was 0.3 Canadians for every Pole.
Of course, the largest ratio was recorded for flows between the United States and Canada, with Canada sending 11.3 emigrants for every immigrant it received from the US. Keep in mind, however, that these imbalances may in part be artifacts of record-keeping systems used at the border. Canadian immigration numbers do not include returning Canadian citizens or people who enter Canada under different immigration authorizations (such as foreign workers, international students or other non-permanent residents). So while Canadian citizens who go abroad for a period of time and then return to Canada are part of the migratory in-flow, they are not counted in the immigration figures.5
Voluntary migration often takes place when people are in their prime adult years. Migrations are generally not random occurrences in life and the selective nature of migration means that people make decisions to move to another country after completing their post-secondary schooling, when they are in the labour market, when they marry a person who lives in a different country, and so on. At other times, people may migrate because they have decided to retire in another country; and when families migrate, a large number of school-aged children may be migrating with their parents. However, the life course trajectory is such that a large proportion of migrants are often young adults.
Three-quarters of Canadians migrating to the UK and Australia are young and prime working-age adults (18 to 49 years)
According to the American Community Survey, 68,900 Canadians crossed the 49th parallel to the United States in 2003. About 3 in 10 were aged 30 to 49 years;6 about 2 in 10 were aged 18 to 29. These young adults may be in the United States for various reasons, including education or employment; in fact, permanent immigrants to the United States are most often admitted under employment-based preferences. People from Canada also go south when they are older, with about 3 in 10 being older than 50. Older migrants are more likely to be Canadian-born than American-born or secondary migrants from other countries (Chart 3).
Although the volume of migration from Canada to the United Kingdom is much smaller – around 8,500 yearly between 2000 and 2004 – it is also concentrated mainly among the young. Nearly half (45%) of all Canadians who were living in the United Kingdom were young adults aged 18 to 29 years old. Another 32% were in their thirties or forties. Those aged 50 and over averaged no more than 13% of the migrants during that four-year period.
The bulk of the Canadian-born population residing in the UK were of prime working age, that is between ages 25 and 54. Employment opportunities are often strong motivating factors in the decision to migrate abroad. According to UK Census data from 2001, 78% of working-age Canadian-born residents of the UK were employed and 3% were looking for work. Another 4% were students and 8% were looking after their home or family.
The other three countries in this study – Australia, Italy and Poland – had much lower annual flows from Canada. On average over the period 2000-04, the yearly numbers ranged from 1,700 people going to Australia to roughly 300 people moving to Poland. A large proportion of those Canadians who chose to relocate to Australia – two in five – were 18- to 29-year-olds. For young people, Australia may be an attractive destination because of the similarities in language and culture, but also because of the climate, the geography and the appeal of being half a world away from home. In contrast, only about 1 in 10 people who moved from Canada to Australia were age 50 or over.
Migration from Canada to Italy has been relatively stable, and has recently ranged from just over 800 people in 2000 to about 1,000 in 2003 (the most recent data available). A large proportion of these migrants – almost three in ten – were aged 50 years or older; another one-third were between the ages of 30 and 49. In further contrast to those Canadians who chose to relocate to the US, the UK and Australia, the movement of Canadians to Italy is largely of people who were born outside Canada. Older migrants, especially those who return to their birth country, may be attracted by the emotional or cultural ties that remain there. Perhaps going back to their birth country in order to be surrounded by the memories of their youth is a decision many of these older migrants to Italy have taken.
In respect to Canadian migration to Poland, an increasing amount of the flow was also among older people. In 2000, about one-third of migrants were over the age of 50; however, this proportion increased steadily and by 2004, 4 in 10 were age 50 or over. It may be the case that Polish immigrants are returning to Poland in their later years after a period of residence in Canada. This suggestion is supported by other data which show that while 1% of Canadian-born emigrants to Poland were over age 50, 17% of Polish-born emigrants were age 50 or older.
Only Australian data allows the distinction to be made between long-term and permanent migrants. (A long-term migrant is somebody who intends to reside in Australia for at least one year but not necessarily permanently.) According to these records, the majority of Canadian migration to Australia is long-term rather than permanent. Between 1995 and 2004, an average of 1,250 Canadians moved to Australia in a given year; between 75% and 90% of these people indicated that they only intended to live there on a long-term basis. Australia appears to be a destination of choice among Canadian migrants in the 18 to 29 year age group. Perhaps drawn by travel and educational opportunities, temporary work experience or any number of other reasons, 89% of young Canadian migrants say that while they intend to live in Australia for at least a year, they do not plan to settle on a permanent basis.
The decision to migrate abroad is a complex one that is conditioned upon age, marital status, economic status and other cultural or lifestyle preferences. It is not necessarily only the Canadian-born population that leaves Canada. Immigrants to Canada may also subsequently migrate, either by returning to their previous country of residence or by taking up residence in another country. For example, it is estimated that 35% of Canadian male immigrants leave Canada within 20 years of arrival, although the majority (60%) have done so within the first year.7 But at retirement age, Canadian immigrants are also leaving to return to their country of origin. Whether they return to their birth country permanently or maintain some residency ties to Canada cannot be determined due to the limitations in the data.
The most striking example of the phenomenon of return migration is provided by data from Italy's 2001 Census. These data show that the majority of Canadians who had moved to Italy were Italian-born. In fact, 71% of people who had lived in Canada as late as 2000, but were living in Italy by 2001, were Italian-born. Over half (52%) of these returning immigrants were over the age of 50. As a point of comparison, just 7% of Canadian-born migrants to Italy were in the same age category.
Polish Census data for 2002 show a similar trend. The majority of those who moved to Poland from Canada were Polish-born, but in this case they tended to be younger. Of those who had resided in Canada in 2001 but were living in Poland in 2002, 87% were Polish-born. The majority (57%) were between the ages of 30 and 49. Only 1% of Canadians in Poland were actually Canadian-born and the vast majority were under 18 years of age, likely due to the return migration of families with Polish-born parents and their Canadian-born children.
Return migration is also found among American-born people who once immigrated to Canada. The 2004 American Community Survey shows that 32% of the people who moved to the US from Canada in 2003 had been born in the US. Another 25% were secondary migrants, that is, people born in neither Canada nor the US but who subsequently emigrated from Canada. Nearly half of migrants were in the age range of 30 to 49 years. The return migration of American-born people shows that much of the migration between Canada and the US is circulatory, Moreover, the large share of migrants who were born in neither Canada nor the US suggests that there is a considerable secondary migration occurring among Canada's foreign-born population.
Canadians abroad include individuals who were once residents of Canada but are now found living in other countries. They may be Canadian-born persons or immigrants to Canada who subsequently moved to another country; Canadians abroad also include people who leave Canada either permanently or temporarily. People who vacation in another country (for instance, snowbirds) are not considered to be living abroad and as such are not included in the target population of this study.
While there is no definitive count of Canadians scattered around the world, some estimates put the number at 2.7 million.1 Compiling comprehensive information about Canadians living abroad is challenging because there are no complete records of the permanent or temporary exit of everybody who leaves the country. Using the immigration data of the destination countries can be difficult because the definitions of international migrants differ from nation to nation; also, each country specifies its own system of recording the in-migration of peoples across their borders. Where there are different mechanisms for recording these movements, there will be different definitions of migrants and inconsistencies of coverage.
Given the complexity of accounting for the total number of Canadians residing abroad, there are few reliable estimates of their numbers around the world. In spite of the challenges involved in compiling international statistics, international organizations have made some attempts to estimate the number of people residing outside their birth country.
According to a 2006 study, an estimated 1 in 1,000 Canadians leave Canada in a given year. Departure rates generally followed the economic cycle, but other factors were also involved in the decision to leave Canada. For instance, younger working age people of 25 to 34 years were more likely to leave than older people and immigrants had a stronger propensity to leave than people born in Canada.2
While there is little by way of figures on the exact number of people who leave Canada, estimates of emigrants3 (that is, permanent departures only) show that the emigration rate has been low but not negligible. Since 1990, the number of permanent emigrants from Canada annually has exceeded 50,000 only three times. Emigration peaked in 1997, when an estimated 52,800 permanent emigrants left the country, the equivalent of 0.2% of Canada's total population that year. More than offsetting this out-migration, though, has been the increasing volume of immigrants, whose numbers have exceeded 200,000 people annually for most of the 1990s.
Other estimates based on Census Coverage Studies estimate that about 500,000 people who resided in Canada in 1996 but left in a subsequent year were still abroad in 2001. This figure includes everybody who left (whether permanently or only temporarily) and represents a considerable increase from the estimates of 400,000 emigrants calculated for the period 1991-96 and of 325,000 emigrants for 1986-914.
- Zhang, Kenny. (2006). Recognizing the Canadian Diaspora. Canada Asia Commentary, 41, March. Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
- Finnie, Ross. (2006). International Mobility: Patterns of Exit and Return of Canadians, 1982 to 2003.Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11F0019MIE Working paper no. 288. Ottawa: Minister of Industry.
- Emigration is estimated from administrative sources of the 'gross flow' of migrants out of Canada. Data to inform these estimations come from several sources, including tax data and the Child Tax Benefit program from the Canada Revenue Agency and from the Office of Immigration Statistics at the United States Department of Homeland Security. Emigration figures are estimates based on a set of assumptions and from data sources which may not have complete coverage. As such, emigration figures are among the most difficult to estimate and those cited provide a glimpse at what the total number of emigration may be. Statistics Canada Annual Demographic Statistics, 2005. Catalogue no. 91-213-XPB. Ottawa: Minister of Industry.
- These numbers do not include everybody who left Canada over each of the 5-year periods, but only those who left and had not returned by the end of the period.
There has always been public discussion about migratory exchanges between Canada and the United States. Much of the focus is on the southerly flow of Canadians into the United States rather than the other way around. This is despite the fact that the United States has consistently been among the top source countries of immigrants to Canada throughout the past century.
Between 1995 and 2004, an annual average of 21,000 in-migrants from Canada were granted permanent residency status in the United States. Canadians are granted 'green cards' to become permanent residents of the US but getting a green card is not the only way Canadians can legally enter the US. Many green card holders may have already been residing in the US for some time, since temporary authorizations account for another large proportion of migratory flow of Canadians to the United States. During the mid-1980s and up to 1999, temporary authorizations such as student visas, temporary work permits and intra-company transfers were relatively stable and did not exceed 20,000. After 2000, the number climbed towards 40,000. But by far the largest number of temporary authorizations held by Canadians are NAFTA permits. The number of both first-time and renewed permits in Canadian hands exceeds 100,000; however, the number of people obtaining a NAFTA authorization for the first time was never more than 40,000 between 1995 and 2002.8
Canadians who migrated South were more highly educated than the population of their host country. Over half of Canadian-born residents in the US aged 25 or older had university education at the bachelor level or higher; this compares with just over one-quarter of all US residents in the same age group. This finding illustrates the selective nature of migration and the loss of highly educated individuals to other countries (Chart 4 ).
Canadian-born residents are three times less likely to be unemployed than the American-born: 1.7% versus 5.8% in 2000, according to the US Census Bureau. Being highly educated, they tend to be concentrated in more highly skilled or professional jobs. For example, 52% of the employed Canadian-born population worked in a management or professional occupation; another 24% were in sales or office occupations. One-quarter of these workers held positions in the education, health or social services industry, while another 13% worked in a professional, scientific, management or administrative industry.9
Canadian- and other foreign-born emigrants to the United States have a higher level of education than the US population as whole
Canada is often thought of as an immigrant-receiving country, but it is also a player on the world stage as a source country of migrants. Whether Canadian migration abroad is temporary or permanent, long term or short term, far or near, Canadians are making their mark in other countries.
Using selective destinations, this article has shown that Canadian emigration abroad is just as selective as in-migration to Canada. Indeed, many Canadians with high levels of education depart for other parts of the world, and their employment levels are demonstrably higher in their settled countries than those of the host countries' populations. The United States is still by far the largest recipient of Canadians on either a permanent or a temporary basis. Other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia also welcome Canadians. Italy and Poland, which have sent migrants to Canada in the past, are starting to see a trickle of their migrants return in their golden years.
Emigration is often a part of circulatory movement, as those who were former in-migrants to Canada in previous decades become out-migrants by returning to their birth country. It would be interesting to compare the emigrants' profile shown in this study with those of Canadian emigrants to other countries, especially in Asia. Unfortunately, expanding this analysis is greatly restricted by lack of data.
Margaret Michalowski is Chief, Census Subject Matter Program, and Kelly Tran is an analyst with Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, Statistics Canada.
- Immigration is increasingly seen as a main driver of population growth. Between 1996 and 2001, 87% of the growth in Canada's population was attributed to recent immigrants who arrived during the period. Within the next few decades, net migration could be the sole source of population growth in Canada as the rate of natural increase declines in proportion to the net migration rate.
- This number does not include the number of refugees around the world, which is usually considered part of the international migration flows. In 2000 the United Nations estimated the number of refugees around the world to be around 13 million. Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, Trends in Total Migrant Stock: The 2005 Revision. http://esa.un.org/migration Accessed on January 8, 2007.
- Dumont, J.C. and Lemaitre, G. (2005). Counting Migrants and Expatriates: A New Perspective. Social, Employment and Migration Statistics Working Papers No. 25. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development: Paris. The OECD comprises 30 countries, mainly from the Western hemisphere and some Asian countries including Japan and South Korea as well as Australia and New Zealand. The OECD member countries represent 20% of the world's population.
- Knowles, V. (2000). Forging our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 1900-1977. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/publications/legacy/index.asp Accessed on May 1, 2006.
- While it would appear that there is a mass exodus of people from Canada to these countries compared to the number who come into Canada, official population estimates show that overall, for every 1 emigrant out of Canada, there were 6 people who immigrated to Canada. This translates into a ratio of less than 0.2. This demonstrates that although there is some population loss due to emigration, the out-migration is more than offset by the number of people who immigrate to Canada. Annual Demographic Estimates: Canada, Provinces and Territories, 2005-2006. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 91-215-XWE. Ottawa: Minister of Industry. International migrants, by age group and sex, Canada, provinces, and territories, annual (persons). CANSIM Table 051-0011.
- An even higher proportion (48%) of the foreign-born moving from Canada to the United States were 30 to 49 years old.
- Adyemir, A. and Robinson, C. (2006). Return and Onward Migration among Working Age Men.Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11F0019MIE – No. 273. Ottawa: Minister of Industry.
Another way of examining out-migration from Canada to the US is to look at the volume of in-migrants who were new arrivals, that is, those who actually moved to the US during the year. The Office of Immigration Statistics data show that the number of people granted permanent residency was relatively stable over the 1995 to 2004 period, not exceeding 5,500 persons or 2% of all those who were granted permanent residency in the United States in 2005.
United States. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2005. Department of Homeland Security: Washington, D.C.
- U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Special Tabulations (STP-159).
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