The Urbanization of Immigrants

By Colin McGregor    

It is well known that the vast majority of immigrants to North America choose to live in major metropolitan centers. Which causes a lot of challenges for our cities.

About three-quarters of Canada’s immigrant population is settled in three major metropolitan areas: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver (Statistics Canada). Most of the other residents end up in Alberta, to access lucrative jobs in the oil industry and all that surrounds it. In 2018-2019, permanent and temporary immigration explained almost all of the population growth of major Canadian cities.

A total of 90,900 people from other countries settled in Quebec from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.

From July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, 84.3% of new international immigrants to Quebec settled in the Montreal metropolitan area. The other metropolitan areas (Quebec, Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Trois-Rivières and Saguenay) together received 12.9% of immigrants, while only 2.8% of immigrants settled outside metropolitan areas.

According to the 2016 population census, although the majority of immigrants live in Montreal (52.3%), it is in Brossard that the percentage of immigrants in relation to its total population is the highest (38.5%).

It’s a global trend: In the United States, 92% of immigrants live in an urban area. It is the same in Japan, in Europe, and in all the wealthy countries. For what?

The availability of developed social networks for immigrants is often presented to explain why immigrants tend to settle in large cities. Other research suggests that this is due to the economic opportunities offered by these large cities.

In many cases, the jobs available in the regions do not match the profiles of immigrants established in Montreal, at least when it comes to jobs requiring few qualifications. Thus, according to the 2016 Census of Population, 40% of immigrants aged 25 to 64 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just under 25% of Canadians aged 25 to 64 who were born in Canada.

A Plan More Than 30 Years Old

Questions about the number of immigrants who have settled in Montreal compared to the rest of the province are not new. In the early 1990s, the regionalization of immigration with a view to regional development was established as a government priority in Quebec. An action plan involving 43 government departments and agencies was published in 1991. In 1992, a document presented guidelines for the regional distribution of immigration; and then in 1993, a plan of action for regionalization was made public.

There is also a Ministerial Action Plan on the regionalization of provincial immigration today. The Action Plan aims in particular to contribute to the growth of primary migration of immigrants to the regions, by encouraging them to settle there as soon as they arrive in Québec. The idea is to act, preferably from abroad, to increase the effectiveness of regionalization actions.

At the federal level, there is a Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Program. Canada works with small, remote communities in Ontario, Western Canada and the three territories to attract and retain skilled foreign workers.

Why don’t governments pass laws forcing immigrants to live away from cities in rural areas?

Mobility rights are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Citizens and permanent residents of Canada have the right to live or seek work anywhere in the country. So a government cannot tell people where they can live. This greatly limits the action that a government can take to direct immigrants to the regions.

For example: According to Myriam Simard, retired professor of the National Institute of Scientific Research, in 1979 and 1980, the massive arrival of Indochinese refugees constitutes a first demonstration of the regionalization of immigration. Of nearly 12,700 people, half have settled in the regions. After two years, we found that the majority had moved to Montreal or had left Quebec. There was nothing that any government could not have done to force the Indochinese to stay in the regions of Quebec.

This is why in the current Quebec action plan we see a lot of partnerships with municipalities in order to “propose innovative solutions to ensure that immigration can contribute to the vitality of the territories”. Any change of residence of immigrants must be voluntary. You can’t force people to live in rural areas, says Canada’s Charter.

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