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Canada population growth lowest since 1916 due to COVID-19 impact on immigration

Statistics Canada has issued a report showing that Canada population growth in 2020 was vastly reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic impact on immigration. The report, Canada’s population estimates, fourth quarter 2020, says that during the year, the population increased by 149,461 (+0.4%) to reach 38,048,738 on January 1, 2021, about one-quarter of the growth seen in 2019 (575,038 or +1.5%). This was the lowest annual growth since 1945 (in number) and 1916 (in percent), both periods in which Canada was at war.

International migration curtailed by the pandemic

“International migration has accounted for more than three-quarters of the total population growth since 2016, reaching 85.7 per cent in 2019,” the report released today states. “Following border and travel restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020, this percentage fell to 58 per cent. Population increase through international migration in 2020 was over 80 per cent lower than it was in 2019.”

Canada welcomed 184,624 immigrants in 2020, down by almost half from 2019 and the lowest in any year since 1998. The pre-pandemic target for immigration set by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) was 341,000.

The report states that the decrease in the number of non-permanent residents caused by COVID-19 played a major role in the slower growth in 2020. More non-permanent residents left Canada than came to the country in 2020 (-86,535)—the largest net loss since comparable data have been available. By comparison, Canada had a net gain of 190,952 non-permanent residents in 2019. Every province and territory except Prince Edward Island had a net loss of non-permanent residents in 2020—almost entirely because there were fewer work and study permit holders.

Travel and border restrictions in 2020 also impacted the movement of Canadians leaving and returning to the country (and changing their usual place of residence minus net emigration). In 2020, the population change brought about by these movements was just over one-quarter of the levels observed in 2019.

Deaths reach record high

According to the report, in 2020, deaths in Canada surpassed 300,000 (309,893) for the first time in Canadian history. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) reported that 15,651 or 5.1% of deaths in 2020 were caused by COVID-19, meaning that the pandemic is estimated to have been the cause of about 1 in 20 deaths in Canada. This proportion was lower than what was estimated in the United Kingdom (12.3%), the United States (11.2%) and France (9.7%) but higher than in Australia (0.7%) and New Zealand (0.1%).

“Despite the increase, the number of deaths in 2020 was still lower than the number of births (372,727). Accordingly, natural increase (births minus deaths, +62,834) fell to its lowest annual level since at least 1922. However, the increased number of deaths was not the main source of lower population growth in 2020. The most significant demographic impact of the pandemic came from changes to international migration.” states the report.

Canada commits to boosting population & economy via immigration

The government of Canada has announced dramatic increases to Canada’s immigration levels for 2021 to 2023, to boost its economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Canada aims to welcome more than 1.2 million newcomers between 2021 and 2023: 401,000 newcomers in 2021, another 411,000 in 2022, and 421,000 in 2023.

Canada aims for 1.2 million permanent residents in 2021 to 2023

Canada to spend Millions on immigration to spark economic recovery

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, tabled the 2021‒2023 Immigration Levels Plan today, October 30, 2020, which sets out a path for responsible increases to immigration targets to help the Canadian economy recover from COVID-19, drive future growth and create jobs for middle class Canadians.

Canada’s immigration levels for 2021-2023 represent an immigration solution bailout for the economic impact of the pandemic:

The pandemic has highlighted the contribution of immigrants to the well-being of our communities and across all sectors of the economy. Our health-care system relies on immigrants to keep Canadians safe and healthy. Other industries, such as information technology companies and our farmers and producers, also rely on the talent of newcomers to maintain supply chains, expand their businesses and, in turn, create more jobs for Canadians.

2021‒2023 Immigration Levels Plan

Canada’s immigration levels plan for 2021–2023 sets out a path for responsible increases to the number of immigrants to help the Canadian economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic and lay the foundation for future growth. Highlights of the plan include:

  • A focus on how immigration can help our economy, with approximately 60 per cent of immigrants to be chosen under economic immigration programs
  • A continued focus on innovative approaches where communities and businesses are encouraged to work together to welcome immigrants in communities across the country to help meet worker shortages
  • A renewed commitment to improve the processing of immigration applications, including spousal applications, by maximizing digital solutions
  • An increase in admissions over the three years of the plan to make up the shortfall in 2020
  • Additional points for French-speaking candidates under Express Entry, to promote the growth of Francophone communities outside of Quebec
  • A commitment to admit up to 500 refugees over the next 2 years through the Economic Mobility Pathways Project, an innovative approach that helps qualified refugees apply for permanent residence through existing economic immigration pathways
  • A pathway to permanent residency for eligible asylum claimants who were working on the front lines of the pandemic between March 13 and August 14, 2020, providing direct care to patients in health-care institutions.


Immigration is essential to getting us through the pandemic, but also to our short-term economic recovery and our long-term economic growth. Canadians have seen how newcomers are playing an outsized role in our hospitals and care homes, and helping us to keep food on the table. As we look to recovery, newcomers create jobs not just by giving our businesses the skills they need to thrive, but also by starting businesses themselves. Our plan will help to address some of our most acute labour shortages and to grow our population to keep Canada competitive on the world stage.

– The Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Quick facts

  • Immigrants account for 33% of all business owners with paid staff, and 25% of workers in our health sector are immigrants. 
  • The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires the levels plan be tabled in Parliament each year. 
  • The levels plan is a projection of how many permanent residents will be admitted to Canada, setting targets and ranges for overall admissions, as well as for each immigration category. 
  • The levels plan takes into account extensive engagement with provincial and territorial representatives, as well as public opinion research and stakeholder consultations.
  • Canadians across the country can see how newcomers are benefiting local communities through IRCC’s Immigration Matters campaign.
  • Under the Canada-Quebec Accord, Quebec establishes its own immigration levels.