Canada has a long history of offering a safe place for refugees and over the years, over a million people have arrived in Canada as refugees and made it their temporary or permanent home. Refugees who come to Canada originate from all around the world and have various reasons why they have been forced to leave their home country.

This article explores the refugee statistics in Canada. You will find information on recent refugee arrivals together with historical data, including how the number of refugees to Canada has changed over the years and where most of the refugees coming to Canada come from. We have also included key global statistics on refugees for a wider picture.

Refugee Statistics for Canadians

  • Canada has welcomed over a million refugees since 1980.
  • Between January 2023 and September 2023, Quebec had processed almost half of all asylum claims in Canada.
  • Syrian refugees represented close to 30% of all new refugees to Canada between the 2016 and 2021 censuses.
  • Mexicans were the biggest refugee group in Canada in 2022, with over 16,000 new refugees.
  • Only 9% of refugees aged between 25 and 54 are unemployed.
  • Refugees earn on average $20,000 in their first year in Canada.
  • The majority of refugees in Canada are highly skilled,
  • The average age of a refugee arriving in Canada in 2016 was 28.9 years.
  • Nearly two-thirds of settled refugee families live in their own homes.
  • 95% of refugees say they have a strong feeling of belonging to Canada.

Refugees in Canada

When refugees arrive in Canada, they may be admitted as government-assisted refugees, have a private sponsorship, or a combination of both known as the blended visa office-referred program. All three pathways offer refugees the option to gain permanent resident status in Canada.

Government assistance: this pathway is available for refugees who meet the qualifications of the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention treaty and have a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) referral. Qualified refugees can get financial assistance from the Canadian government for up to one year.

Blended visa office-referred program: refugees who are eligible for the blended program also need to have a referral by the UNHCR. However, they will only receive financial assistance for the first six months of their stay and are expected to have private sponsorship for the following six months.

Private sponsorship: refugees who arrive in Canada and have private sponsorship still need to meet the Refugee Convention requirements or they need to be a member of the Country of Asylum Class (people who have been affected by an armed conflict, civil war, or serious violation of human rights). Private sponsorships are not assisted by the government but have private sponsors who provide them with financial support and lodgings.

1,088,015 Refugees Have Arrived in Canada Since 1980 

According to the UNHCR, 1,088,015 refugees have arrived in Canada since 1980 and made it their home. This includes people who were resettled from another country overseas and people recognised as refugees. In 2022, 17.23% of people who had permanent resident status in Canada were refugees.

The number of people who arrive in Canada as refugees has been increasing year by year for most years except when the COVID-19 pandemic limited movement across the world. In 2023, between January and September, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) had already processed 96,450 asylum claims in total. In 2022, the two agencies processed 91,710 claims in total. In 2020, when the pandemic closed borders, only 23,685 claims in total were processed by the two agencies.

The Majority of Asylum Claims Are Processed in Quebec and Ontario

Data from the Government of Canada shows that almost half of all asylum claims are processed in Quebec. Between January 2023 and September 2023, the CBSA and IRCC processed 47,345 claims in Quebec. Ontario was a close second with 39,825 claims processed by the two authorities between January and September.

After Ontario, the number of claims processed falls significantly. British Columbia, which has processed the third largest number of asylum claims so far in 2023, has processed 5,020. Alberta has processed the next largest number of asylum claims with 3,555 claims.

During 2023 so far, Manitoba has processed 370 claims, Nova Scotia 100 claims, Saskatchewan 95 claims, New Brunswick 85 claims, Newfoundland and Labrador 20 claims, and Prince Edward Island 5 claims. No claims have been processed in Yukon, the Northwest Territories, or Nunavut.

Over 200,000 People Came to Canada as Refugees Between 2016 and 2021

The findings from the 2021 census show that Canada received 218,430 new refugees between the 2021 and 2016 censuses. During that time, 60,795 of the recent refugees to Canada came from Syria, accounting for 27.8% of all refugees from that period. The other most common countries where refugees came from were Iraq with 15,505, Eritrea with 13,965, Afghanistan with 9,490, and Pakistan with 7,810.

However, where the majority of refugees come from in Canada depends on what is happening around the world. For example, Canada received the majority of its refugees from Poland, Vietnam, and El Salvador in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the largest share of refugees in Canada originated from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, and Sri Lanka. During the first decade of the new millennium, the main countries were Iraq, Afghanistan, and Colombia.

Mexico Was the Most Common Origin of Refugees in Canada in 2022

In 2022, the largest number of refugees came to Canada from Mexico. In total, 16,415 new refugees were received in Canada that year. The next largest number was from Haiti with 11,430, while Turkey was third with 9,370 refugees. Other countries with a large number of refugees were:

  • Colombia – 7.900
  • Iran – 4,725
  • India – 4,100
  • Pakistan – 2,620
  • Venezuela – 1,988
  • Nigeria – 1,830
  • Chile – 1,720

Refugees in Canada Have a Low Unemployment Rate

Refugees in Canada contribute to the economy of Canada. While most refugees get financial assistance from the government during their first twelve months in Canada, they are not a burden on taxpayers because most of them find employment.

The unemployment rate among refugees aged 25-54 is 9%, which is close to the 6% among Canadian-born people. The longer the refugee has spent in Canada, the more likely they are to be in employment. For example, among refugees who arrived in Canada in the 1980s, the unemployment rate is identical to the Canadian-born workforce.

Most Refugees Earn an Average of $20,000 in Their First Year in Canada

According to the UNHCR, the majority of refugees in Canada earn at least $20,000 during their first year, while refugees who have been in the country for at least five years earn between $40,000 and $79,999 per year. The portion of refugees in this income bracket is 23%, which is similar to Canadians at 27%.

Over 50% of Refugees in Canada Are Highly Skilled

Many of the refugees, who arrive in Canada are highly skilled. 51% of all refugees are trained in professions such as dentists, doctors, architects, and software engineers. Approximately one-third of refugees in Canada work in jobs that require high-school or job-specific training and about one-fifth were employed in jobs requiring a university degree.

In addition to many refugees being highly trained, refugees in Canada are also slightly more likely than Canadians to be self-employed or own their own company. The portion of entrepreneurs among refugees who have been in Canada for at least ten years is 14.4% compared to 12.3% of Canadians.

Most Refugees Coming to Canada Are of Working Age

The population of Canada is aging because people are living longer than before and having fewer children. The refugee population is on average 11.1 years younger than the population born in Canada. In 2016, the average of new refugees was 28.9 years.

Almost Two-Thirds of Settled Refugees Own Their Homes

Despite most refugees arriving in Canada needing financial assistance during their first year, most of them go on to earn their own homes. Around 65% of refugee families who have settled in Canada and lived in the country for at least ten years own their own homes. Approximately one-third of refugee families buy their homes within five years of arrival. The portion of Canadians who own their own home is 79%.

Refugees Have a High Citizenship Uptake

Refugees are the most likely immigration category to take on Canadian citizenship. Immigrants, including refugees, can become Canadian citizens after living in Canada for a minimum of three years. 89% of people who arrive in Canada become citizens. Among economic-class immigrants, the portion is 84%, and among family-class immigrants, it is 80%.

The high uptake of citizenship is likely the result of many reasons combined such as inability to return to their home country and availability of jobs in Canada. However, one of the most important reasons is the sense of belonging. 95% of refugees say they feel strongly about belonging to Canada. Among Canadians, the portion who have a strong feeling of belonging is 91%.

World-Wide Refugee Facts

According to the UNHCR, there were 108.4 million people who were forcibly displaced because of conflict, persecution, violence, violations of human rights, or other events that seriously disturbed public order. 62.5 million of the displaced people were internally displaced, 35.3 million were refugees, 5.4 million were asylum seekers, and 5.2 million were people who needed international protection.

In 2022, 52% of all refugees under the UNHCR mandate came from just three countries. 6.8 million were from the Syrian Arab Republic, 5.7 million from Ukraine, and 5.7 million from Afghanistan.

At the end of 2022, approximately 40% of forcibly displaced people were children. That means around 43.3 million refugees were under 18 years of age. Many children are also born as refugees. It is estimated that around 1.9 million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2022.

While many refugees end up settling in their new countries, some can return home. In 2022, 339,300 refugees were able to return to their home country.

Conclusion

Each year Canada receives a large number of refugees and many of them end up settling in Canada permanently. While they require financial assistance on arrival, the majority of refugees enter the workforce and contribute to the Canadian economy and society. The refugee population is also younger than the average Canadian population, helping to combat the aging population in Canada.

Frequently Asked Questions

According to the UNHCR, Canada has welcomed over one million refugees since the 1980s. The number of refugees varies year on year. However, in 2022, over 2022 asylum claims were processed in Canada and the total for 2023 will be even higher.

Refugees live in all Canadian privinces and territories. However, many refugees choose to settle in bigger cities and Quebec has processed the most claims so far in 2023.

Where the majority of refugees come from varies depending on what is happening around the world. In 2022, the largest numbers of refugees came from Mexico, Haiti, and Turkey. Over the years, Canada has also recevied a large number of refugees from Syria but their number has decreased recently.

The majority of refugees who arrive in Canada end up staying in Canada permanently. Refugees are more likely to become Canadian citizens than other type of immigrants. On average, 89% of refugees who arrive in Canada stay here permanently. Reasons for staying vary from feeling a strong sense of belonging to not being able to return to their country of origin. 

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