Canada Granted Permanent Residency to a Record Number of People in 2021

Canadian officials recognize that immigrants are key to the post-COVID economic recovery. The U.S. should take note.


Immigration ground to a halt in the United States this past year, nominally due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Migrants who are already in the U.S. haven't fared much better in 2021, with processing times for naturalization and status adjustment applications still at "crisis levels." But our northern neighbor is proving that it doesn't have to be this way.

Canada welcomed over 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021. "Surpassing the previous record from 1913, this is the most newcomers in a year in Canadian history," reads a statement from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the federal department that oversees immigration.

Those new permanent residents have "landed" in Canada. A landing can either refer to someone whose temporary residence status has become permanent, or someone who has arrived in Canada from abroad and received permanent status. Canadian officials focused mainly on people already in Canada, since their processing is more straightforward in the face of COVID-19 restrictions and barriers to travel. In 2021, roughly 70 percent of economic-class immigrants—high-skilled people who can perform jobs that are needed in the Canadian labor market—landed from within Canada, while 30 percent came from abroad.

But Canada still stepped up when there were crises beyond its borders. After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, Canada committed to accepting 20,000 Afghan refugees and then doubled that number to 40,000 in September. The U.S. expects to bring at least 50,000 Afghans to its territory, but would need to welcome roughly 350,000 to match Canada's commitment proportional to its population.

Canada's high number of new permanent residents in 2021 comes as part of its Immigration Levels Plan, which is released every year by the IRCC. The plan sought the arrival of 401,000 immigrants in 2021, which Canada achieved through its landing technicality. In 2022, its goal is 411,000 new permanent residents, and in 2023, that will rise to 421,000. Around one-fifth of Canadians were born abroad, which is among the largest foreign-born populations in the world by percentage.

Canada, much like the United States, currently does not have enough workers who are willing to fill vacant jobs. According to Deloitte Canada, 30.3 percent of Canadian businesses are experiencing labor shortages. Canada, which has a population of 38 million, reported over 1 million unfilled jobs as of September 2021. Pandemic-related labor issues exacerbated the country's already-concerning demographic problem, according to Business Development Bank of Canada Chief Economist Pierre Cléroux: "Today, 16 per cent of Canadians are over 65. In the next five years, many Canadians are going to retire."

Sensing the gravity of these shortages, Canadian officials are looking to immigrants as a way to alleviate the country's labor woes. Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton called on the federal government to double his province's allowed immigrant intake under a skilled workforce program. Heather Stefanson, the premier of Manitoba, said her province needs "to grow immigration" and improve credential recognition. Economic migrants are by far the largest immigrant group targeted by the Immigration Levels Plan, well ahead of family, refugee, and humanitarian admissions.

Key immigration metrics dipped in the U.S. over the course of the pandemic and not all have rebounded. Refugee admissions fell to a record low of 11,445 in the 2021 fiscal year, not including Afghan evacuees, many of whom came to the U.S. under a different immigration pathway. The Biden administration let tens of thousands of employment-based green cards expire in fiscal year 2021. Net international migration added just 247,000 to the U.S. population between 2020 and 2021, the lowest number in decades.

Immigrants are an essential part of the post-COVID economic recovery. Canada recognizes this and is actively trying to make it easier for them to live, work, and prosper in the country. The U.S. should follow suit.