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Canada: Ageing Workforce, Boosting Immigration

Ambassador Mark Green

Canada has an ageing workforce. In response, the Trudeau government is welcoming more immigrants.

Like many developed countries, Canada is facing a labor shortage aggravated by an ageing workforce. From 2016 to 2017, the number of Canadians aged 65 and older rose 18.3 percent, the second highest increase in 75 years. In the country’s working-age population, more than 1 in 5 individuals are now close to retirement. When those trends are combined with Canada’s declining fertility rates, it hardly comes as a surprise that many parts of the country have a large number of open jobs. For 2022, for example, Ontario reported 372,000 job vacancies—double the number from 2020.

One response from the Trudeau government has been to encourage and welcome new immigrants. In 2015, the Prime Minister announced a goal of accepting a half million new immigrants per year by 2025. The government is seeing significant progress toward that objective: international migration has accounted for almost 96 percent of the country’s recent population growth—the highest since 1957. A recent report from Statistics Canada suggests that this growth should help the country meet future labor needs.

Most visibly, Canada has been active in welcoming people displaced by conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war, the crisis in Afghanistan, the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, and violence in South and Central America—all in line with both its stated immigration goals and longstanding pro-immigrant tradition. In the case of Afghanistan, Canada is on track to welcome at least 40,000 of those who fled the Taliban takeover in May 2021. In the case of Ukraine, Canada has extended a program offering to temporarily resettle Ukrainian families—a program that has already approved 600,000 applications.

That’s not to say that Canada’s generous immigration policies have been painless or universally supported. The growing numbers of asylum seekers and legal migrants help to address labor needs, but they can also lead to challenges in housing, infrastructure, and transportation. Provinces like Québec and Ontario have issued warnings about the rising costs that inevitably accompany the influx of new immigrants and asylum seekers.

A small, but growing chorus of critics has called for Roxham Road—the famous unofficial border crossing between New York and Quebec—to be shut down for asylum seekers. During President Biden’s recent trip to Canada, the two governments announced that a loophole in the 2004 Safe Third Country Agreement, which prevents Canada from turning away migrants at unofficial crossing points, would be closed. In other words, even with Canada’s enduring reputation of being open to newcomers, political leaders see the need to bring order and rules to the process.

This blog was compiled with the assistance of Caroline Moody.

About the Author

Ambassador Mark Green

Ambassador Mark A. Green

President & CEO, Wilson Center
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