Is Immigration to Rural Areas in Canada’s Future?

A surge in urbanization in Canada has led to the decline of rural areas, leaving Canadians with the hope that immigration can fill the void.

Canada’s most recent census, administered in 2011, made it clear that Canada’s major cities are booming. More than 23.1 million Canadian live in one of Canada’s 33 metropolitan areas, marking just under 70% of the population as city dwellers. A total of 35% of Canada’s population lives in one of Canada’s three largest cities, Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver.

While the population growth in cities is an excellent prospect for business in major cities, the growth seems to be occurring at the expense of rural areas. Much of the growth in urban areas is driven by a combination of immigration from abroad and migration from small towns and rural areas, leaving Canada’s rural areas to shrink in both population and economic impact.

While natural born Canadians move to major cities across the country, increasing immigration to rural areas becomes the most viable solution for securing the future of these small towns. Fortunately, the migration of newcomers to Canada to rural areas has also grown in recent years.

In a 2012 report, the Rural Ontario Institute identified this trend, noting that “recent settlement trends reveal that economic regions other than the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] are receiving large shares of immigrants and that the proportion of secondary migration to non-census metropolitan areas is increasing.”

The fact that the movement of immigrants to non-census metropolitan areas is occurring in waves of secondary migration as opposed primary migration is telling of the future of rural Canada. Big cities have a wealth of services for immigrants and newcomers to Canada, which drives immigrants to settle in cities when they make the initial transition to Canada. If the trend whereby immigrants are making a secondary move to rural areas after they have already initial settled in major cities continues, then this could change the way that new immigrants assess where to settle in Canada.

As more immigrants make the transition to small cities, the greater the chances that new immigrants will choose rural areas as their initial settling places when they come to Canada. A growth in immigration to small towns could serve to quell the fears of prospective immigrants about barriers to acceptance and a lack of ethnic diversity in these rural regions.

If more immigrants are willing to settle in rural areas upon landing in Canada, small towns would start to see an increase in available services for immigrants as well, serving to attract even more newcomers.

Realizing the benefits of increasing their immigrant populations, many small cities and rural areas across Canada have been making an effort to attract new immigrants to locations outside of major cities. For example, Simcoe County, a region of Southern Ontario, recently debuted an informational website to attract immigrants to the region, translated into 15 different languages.

The province of Alberta, in the midst of an economic boom, has also undertaken a campaign to draw in newcomers to Canada to the province, where rural regions have a wealth of available jobs. The province released a report entitled “Supporting Immigrants and Immigration to Canada,” which reinforces how newcomers to Canada are central to the government’s vision of Alberta. The report indicates that immigrants in all regions of Alberta are able to “fully participate in community life and are valued for their cultural, economic and social contributions.”

If the trend of immigrant settlement in rural areas continues, Canada could see a major demographic change as well as economic growth in small towns.

FWCanada is a Montreal-based immigration law firm that provides professional legal services on Canadian immigration. For more tips and updates on Canadian immigration follow FWCanada on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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