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Immigration Trends Reversed as Canada Grapples with Escalating Living Costs


In a nation shaped by immigrants, the surging phenomenon of departures from Canada poses a potential challenge to one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s hallmark policies. Over the past eight years, this policy has granted permanent residency to an unprecedented 2.5 million individuals.

The aspiration of achieving success in Canada is transforming into a struggle for survival for numerous immigrants. This shift is driven by the exorbitant cost of living and shortages of rental accommodations. The increasing emigration figures hint at newcomers being compelled to forsake the country they once chose as their adopted home.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has strategically wielded immigration as a primary tool to counteract Canada’s significant challenges, including an aging population and decelerating growth. This approach has not only bolstered population numbers but has also contributed to robust economic expansion, resulting in Canada experiencing its swiftest population growth in over six decades, as reported by Statistics Canada.

However, a gradual reversal of this trend is now taking shape. In the initial half of 2023, approximately 42,000 individuals left Canada, adding to the 93,818 departures in 2022 and 85,927 in 2021, as indicated by official data.

The emigration rate of immigrants from Canada reached a two-decade pinnacle in 2019, according to a recent report from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), an advocacy group for immigration. While the numbers temporarily declined during pandemic-related lockdowns, recent Statistics Canada data suggests a resurgence.

Though these figures are a fraction of the 263,000 individuals who arrived in the country during the same period, the consistent uptick in emigration is causing concern among observers.

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Reuters engaged with several individuals who either left Canada or are in the process of doing so due to the soaring cost of living.

Cara, a 25-year-old refugee from Hong Kong who arrived in Canada in 2022, now allocates C$650 ($474) monthly for a single-room basement apartment in Scarborough, north of Toronto. This amounts to approximately 30% of her monthly take-home salary.

“I never fathomed that, in a Western country, I could only afford to rent a room in the basement,” she lamented. Cara declined to disclose her real name due to her participation in the 2019 protests in Hong Kong.

Balancing three part-time jobs, each paying Ontario’s minimum wage of C$16.55 per hour, and attending an adult learning school to earn university credits, Cara utilizes almost every penny. In Hong Kong, she managed to save about a third of her monthly salary.

Although emigration as a percentage of Canada’s overall population peaked at 0.2% in the mid-1990s and currently stands at approximately 0.09%, according to government data, legal professionals and immigration consultants caution that an increase could cast a shadow over Canada’s allure as a favored destination for newcomers.

“There’s a genuine importance in crafting positive experiences in those initial years,” emphasized Daniel Bernhard, CEO of ICC, stressing the significance of fostering an environment that encourages people to stay.

Immigrants primarily attribute their decision to consider other countries to the astronomical housing costs in Canada. RBC’s September report reveals that, on average, about 60% of household income is required to cover home ownership costs in Canada. This figure escalates to approximately 98% in Vancouver and 80% in Toronto.

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Myo Maung, a 55-year-old migrant from Myanmar, built a successful career as a real estate agent and restaurateur in Canada over three decades. However, he plans to retire in a country like Thailand, as he envisions difficulty maintaining his living standard in Canada on his retirement income.

Phil Triadafilopoulos, a political science professor specializing in immigration at the University of Toronto (UofT), posited that rapid immigration exacerbates the housing shortage. He commented, “It’s not surprising that people with alternatives either explore other countries or return home after experiencing the situation in Canada.”

Last month, the Trudeau government capped its annual target for new residents at half a million starting in 2025 to alleviate pressure on the housing market.

Yet, for some, this intervention comes too late.

Justinas Stankus, a 38-year-old doctoral student in political science at UofT who arrived in Canada from Lithuania in 2019, is contemplating a move to Southeast Asia. The lower cost of living in that region and the opportunity to pursue his research make it an appealing prospect.

Stankus, who pays C$2,000, inclusive of utilities, for a one-bedroom apartment, expresses that the escalating living expenses make it challenging to afford basic necessities.

“With a graduate student’s budget, it is not sustainable,” Stankus asserted.

Cara from Hong Kong shares a similar sentiment, feeling trapped and expressing a desire to leave whenever the opportunity arises.

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