Canada’s ambitious plan to grow its population through immigration hit a roadblock—it’s running out of applicants. Government of Canada (GoC) data shows applications received for permanent residency fell sharply in February. Despite record population growth, a soaring cost of living and slowing economy has resulted in a trend of fewer applications since peaking in 2021.
Canada Has Seen A Sharp Drop In Permanent Resident Applications
Canada is receiving significantly less applications to become a permanent resident this year. The GoC reported just 10.6k applications in February, down 37% from January. Compared to last year, this February saw 54% fewer applications—a sharp decline.
The year kicked off with a similar-sized drop. Only 17k applications were received in January, about half (-49%) of the volume seen last year. That cuts the year to date volume to 27.6k applications, down 51% or 29.2k fewer applications.
Canada’s Largest Sources of Permanent Residents Are Pulling Back
Canada’s largest sources of permanent resident applications in 2022 are behind the drop. The largest source in 2022 was India, showing a 28% decline year to date in 2023. A year to date drop was seen in all countries that followed for growth last year—Afghanistan (-87%), Philippines (-79%), and China (-57%).
The first thought that may come to mind is the recent Federal employee strike. However, that began on April 19th, and wouldn’t be a major contributor to the slowdown in these months. Future months are likely to be impacted with strike-related processing delays. Those applications are mostly just pushed into a later window, producing a small bump before trend regression.
Canada’s Application Decline Won’t Be Enough To Slow Growth
Does this impact the breakneck population growth? Not directly, at least yet. Permanent resident applications take time to process, meaning a slowdown won’t be seen until a year or two later.
During last year’s massive, record-breaking population boom, there was also a decline. Applications surged in 2021, before falling to 333.8k (-50%) applications in 2022. The 2021 record was a combination of aggressive policy, but also delays from 2020. Applicants physically restricted from applying were also just pushed into this window, before a healthier taper. Well, healthy-ish taper.
Canada is also sitting on significant application “inventories,” including 634.7k permanent resident applications. About half (51%) are backlogged and outside of service standards. Yes, the term is actually inventories, which says a lot about Canada’s perspective.
Canada May Look Less Attractive To Global Talent
Declining applications might be a better indicator for declining sentiment. Last year, a survey found that most (64%) recent immigrants felt the high cost of living would deter future immigration. The same survey also revealed 1 in 5 recent immigrants regret moving to Canada, and are considering moving within two years.
In 2021, Stat Can also revealed that 2 in 5 recent immigrants were unhappy with their ability to find shelter. The data was from a survey they conducted in 2018, back when housing was much more affordable—especially outside of major cities.
Canada’s goal is to grow its population by 1% per year, primarily through immigration. To put that into perspective, it’s like adding a city larger than Halifax every single year. It’s hard to persistently accomplish, and even harder to continue to provide the environment that will attract immigrants. At some point it becomes clear the trade is one-sided, and immigrants are just economic “inventories” to drive demand.