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Over 90% of Canada’s population are citizens

Published on November 14th, 2022 at 08:00am EST
Updated on November 14th, 2022 at 10:28am EST

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Statistics Canada recently posted their citizenship insights from the 2021 census data, with key findings around new and future citizens in Canada.

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Canada at a glance

The main report on citizenship—”A portrait of citizenship in Canada from the 2021 census”—revealed that out of a population of 33.1 million in Canada, the majority (91.2%) were citizens, either by birth or by naturalization. Citizenship by naturalization (the path for immigrants) occurs when a former non-Canadian resident of Canada, eventually becomes eligible and earns the legal status of a citizen.

The remaining 8.8% of the population were non-Canadian (either permanent residents or temporary residents).

Since 1991, the proportion of the Canadian population who are citizens by birth has decreased, while the proportion of Canadian citizens by naturalization, and the number of people in Canada who are not citizens have increased.

Moving from non-Canadian to Citizen

In 2021, four out of five (80% of) eligible immigrants had obtained Canadian citizenship, however, the naturalization rate (percentage of eligible immigrants who have obtained Canadian citizenship) has dropped from 87.8% in 2011.

This drop in the naturalization rate is a key concern for the government and is likely exaggerated by certain policy changes that Canada has already moved to correct. For example:

  • Physical presence requirements for naturalization changed between 2015 and 2017, increasing from three to four years, and with no ability for applicants to claim time spent as temporary residents. After changes to the Citizenship Act in 2017, this requirement returned to three years, with applicants once more able to claim time spent in Canada as temporary residents; and
  • The fee to apply for a citizenship grant increased in 2015 (currently it is $630 CAD). The Liberal government had promised in late 2019 that they would waive these fees, to reduce the financial burden on lower-income households; while they are yet to follow through on this promise, it is likely that once fees are waived more lower-income households will be eligible for naturalization.

In addition, other impacting variables including changes in dual-citizenship policy for source countries of immigrants, specific conditions of stay for non-Canadian residents, and the COVID-19 pandemic, are likely contributors to the lowering naturalization rate that the Canadian government will have to take stock of.

The natural move to citizenship

While the last ten years have seen a decline in the rate of naturalization, they do similarly show that as time increased in the country, people were increasingly likely to pursue citizenship.

For example, of immigrants admitted to Canada before 2001, 94% had obtained Canadian citizenship by 2021. Comparatively, of immigrants admitted from 2011-2015, little more than half had obtained citizenship.

These findings suggest that there is a natural process by which more and more people from each immigrant cohort pursue and/or become eligible for Canadian citizenship as time passes.

The need for non-citizens

One of the key findings from the study was that while the median age of Canadian citizens was 41.2 years of age, the median age of non-Canadian citizens living in Canada (temporary or permanent residents) was 33.6 years.

This is a crucial discovery that is in line with Canada’s immigration aims, as in the face of an aging population and low birth rate, Canada will look to address labour shortages and market needs through immigration.

In this sense, having immigrants of prime working age who may eventually become permanent residents and citizens is key to Canada’s social and economic health, especially in the face of record numbers of job vacancies and retirements.

Where will the Canadians of tomorrow hail from?

  • Among both permanent residents and temporary residents, the most reported citizenship was Indian, accounting for more than a quarter of all temporary residents.
  • Roughly one in ten permanent and temporary residents reported Chinese citizenship; with the Philippines trailing close behind in terms of permanent residents.
  • The third most common nationality among non-permanent residents was French.

These findings make it increasingly clear that Asia will continue to be a key source region of not just immigrants, but also future Canadian citizens.

Additionally, the increasing number of non-permanent residents who were French meets the policy aims of both the Quebec and federal governments, who will be looking to increase Francophone immigration across Canada.

Key takeaways

Immigration remains a key concern for Canada, and the gradual lowering of the naturalization rate will likely be a focal point for the federal government and Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) moving forward; especially as the median age of non-Canadians in Canada is within prime working ages.

This being said, Canada’s high quality of life continues to guarantee strong rates of immigration and immigrant retention, meaning that even if the naturalization rate is low, Canada is still likely to have high rates of new immigrants and permanent residents every year (as evidenced by targets within the new Immigration Levels Plan).

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