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Provincial Immigration: 2019 versus 2020 and Looking to 2021


As Canada and the rest of the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its second year, the effects on immigration are now better understood. Immigration programs in Canada did not stop but numbers were down overall. The programs that were running were affected by delays in processing applications and travel restrictions, among other factors. Government records show that approximately 184,370 immigrants came to Canada in 2020, the lowest level since 1998, which recorded approximately 174,000 immigrants to the country.

Provincial nomination programs also showed some changes, particularly when one compares 2019 numbers with those from 2020. Some data is available for 2021, but it may be premature to predict how the year will trend in terms of immigration as provinces have differing COVID-19 numbers and rules around travel.

Ontario: Canada’s most populous province and still a top destination for immigrants, Ontario recently released its allocation for provincial nominations for 2021. The federal government will allow Ontario to issue 8,350 nominations, with an additional 250 spots reserved for temporary foreign workers in NOC class C occupations. Positions in this class generally require a high school education and/or on-the-job training. This marks an increase from the 2019 allocation of 7,391 and the 2020 allocation of 8,054.  Allocations do not always precisely reflect the actual number of immigrants, but the two numbers are easily comparable. These numbers also exclude those candidates chosen in Express Entry draws, of which there were over 9,000 in 2020.

Manitoba: When Provincial Nomination Programs first came into being in 1998, the idea was to make certain that provinces such as Manitoba received their fair share of newcomers and could choose candidates based on economic needs and future planning as a province. In 2019 Manitoba was allocated 6,000 spaces, plus 250 for semi-skilled workers who possessed a high school education plus some job experience. In 2020 Manitoba’s base PNP programs (that is, not affiliated with the federal Express Entry system) invited 5,656 candidates, with 1,097 invitations distributed as of the end of April 2021. Manitoba’s Express Entry system sent out 605 invitations, with 33 as of the end of April 2021.

Saskatchewan: Like Manitoba, the PNP system is beneficial to Saskatchewan’s labour and economic needs by ensuring the province receives the proper number of skilled workers. Some provinces like Saskatchewan have a list of in-demand occupations which can influence PNP draws. The number of occupations can vary but it has been increased in Saskatchewan in recent years. Saskatchewan also has a federally linked Express Entry system. In 2020 there were 30 draws between both streams and approximately 8,000 invitations given out. This is down from 2019’s 10,000 or so invitations. 

Alberta: The province of Alberta receives the third-highest share of immigrants in Canada at 12.5% as of September 2020, compared to 15.8% in British Columbia and 44.7% in Ontario at the same point in time. Alberta admitted 4,000 immigrants in 2020 as planned in its pathway to economic recovery. This was less than its federal allocation and once 4,000 was reached Alberta ceased its 2020 PNP draws on 21 December. Currently due to COVID-19 Alberta is only accepting candidates that are already in the province. As well, Alberta’s government provides a list of occupations that are not allowed rather than ones that are in demand. Numbers suggest that Alberta is likely to invite around the same number of immigrants in 2021 as in 2020. So far in 2021 1,909 Express Entry candidates have received provincial nominations from Alberta.

British Columbia: Unlike other provinces, British Columbia frequently holds weekly draws as part of its large and active immigration program. BC PNP also holds numerous draws for its Tech Pilot Program, a draw specifically for candidates with tech sector job offers and experience to help with a dearth of tech talent in the province. BC has seen a steady increase in allocations since 2018, with 6,500 in 2019 and slightly more invitations given out at 6,551. Invitations were up considerably in 2020, with more than 9,000 distributed by the province. As of 25 May 2021, British Columbia has issued 4,808 invitations so far this year through its PNP streams.

Nova Scotia: 2020 saw increases in immigration to Nova Scotia even with the stresses of COVID-19. Last year the province approved 3,517 applications, more than its allocation of 3,292. Many of these candidates worked or had training in essential services, like health care and transportation, and most were already living in Canada. According to the provincial government, 1,617 of the approved applications were from the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP) and 1,900 were part of the Nova Scotia Nominee Program. In 2019, 68% of the 6,630 permanent residents that came to Nova Scotia were there from provincial programs including the AIPP. 2019 marked an increase from 2018, just as 2020 was an increase over 2019’s numbers.

New Brunswick: Canada’s 4 Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador, and Prince Edward Island) formed what was known as the “Atlantic bubble” during COVID-19, allowing inter-provincial travel as case counts remained relatively low. This kept tourism alive within these provinces along with other economic benefits. The bubble was stopped in late 2020 as the second wave of the pandemic swept across the country but was reinstated earlier this year when case counts dropped again. New Brunswick in particular was home to the smallest per capita case count in North America for a time. However, numbers from 2020 show that the total of new permanent residents in the province dropped more than half, falling 51.8 per cent to 2,890 from 6,000 in 2019. Economic immigration to New Brunswick was reduced by 52.7 per cent, from 5,060 new permanent residents to the province under economic immigration programs in 2019 to only 2,395 last year. 955 candidates from worker programs like the AIPP entered the province in 2020, down from 2,850 in 2019. The federal allocation of immigrants should remain around 2,000 for 2021, but the final numbers will have to be tallied closer to year end.

Newfoundland & Labrador: Newfoundland & Labrador launched the Immigration Action Plan in 2017 with a target of attracting 1,700 immigrants annually by 2022. This goal was reached back in 2019 when Newfoundland and Labrador admitted 1,850 new permanent residents. Buoyed by these results, the Minister of Immigration, Skills and Labour, Gerry Byrne, announced a new goal of 2,500 immigrants annuallyby 2022. This is also the target number for 2021. Interprovincial migration remains an issue in the province, as more residents are still leaving than settling in Newfoundland & Labrador.

Prince Edward Island: The overall population of Prince Edward Island has been increasing since 2016, with its year over year growth rate greater than Canada as a whole (0.8 per cent versus 0.4 per cent). International immigration did decrease in PEI due to COVID-19, though at a rate of 1.6 per thousand, the province had the highest quarterly immigration rate in Canada in the fourth quarter of 2020, ahead of Manitoba at 1.4 per thousand. The immigration rate for the country was 1.1 per thousand. The province holds monthly draws and will likely end 2021 by issuing over 1,000 invitations total.

As Canada plans further increases to immigration numbers in 2022, the PNP system will make sure that each province gets its necessary share of newcomers.

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