A guide for health professionals working with
immigrant and refugee children and youth

An Overview of Immigrants and Refugees in Canada

Key points

  • Children and youth come to Canada from all regions of the world. Their most common countries of origin have changed over time, and will continue to change.
  • To properly assess health issues in immigrants and refugees, health care professionals need to know about their cultural background, where these patients have come from and under what circumstances they have come to Canada.
  • Almost 250,000 individuals became permanent residents of Canada in 2011, including immigrants and refugees.1 This number has varied over time, with more economic immigrants and fewer family class immigrants arriving in recent years. 
  • Almost 20% of new permanent residents are children when they arrive, a figure nearly matching the percentage of children within Canada’s overall population.
  • At the end of 2011, there were over 700,000 temporary residents in Canada.2

Definitions: How Canada classifies immigrants and refugees

The following definitions, summarized from Citizenship and Immigration Canada publications, provide an overview for health professionals and others working with immigrant and refugee families.3 Refer to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website for official definitions and greater detail.

Permanent residents

Permanent residents have been granted permanent resident status in Canada.  They:

  • must live in Canada for at least 2 years within a 5-year period or risk losing their status.
  • have all the rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • do not have the right to vote in elections.
  • have international travel restrictions imposed on them, with slightly different provisions for children younger than 18 years of age.
  • may apply for citizenship after living in Canada for 3 years. Applicants must have a basic knowledge of English or French and be able to pass a citizenship exam.

The different categories of permanent resident are summarized below.

Family class

These permanent residents are:

  • Spouses and partners—common-law or conjugal (a ‘fiancé’ is no longer included in this category)
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • ‘Other’ family members include dependent children; children younger than age 18 whom a sponsor will adopt in Canada; brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces or grandchildren who are orphaned and younger than age 18; another relative if the sponsor has no relative such as those already listed.

Economic immigrants

These permanent residents are selected for their skills and ability to contribute to Canada’s economy. There are several subcategories of economic immigrant, including skilled workers, business immigrants, provincial or territorial nominees, live-in caregivers and the ‘Canadian experience class’.  Refer to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website for more information on subcategories.

Government-assisted refugees (GARs)

GARs are permanent residents who are selected abroad for resettlement in Canada, either as 'Convention refugees' as defined under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, or as members of the ‘Convention refugees abroad class’. They receive resettlement assistance from the federal government.

Privately sponsored refugees

Sponsored refugees are permanent residents selected abroad for resettlement in Canada. They may fall within the ‘Convention refugees abroad class’ or the ‘country of asylum class’ and are sponsored by organizations, individuals or groups of individuals. They receive no government sponsorship. 

Refugees landed in Canada

These permanent residents have had their refugee claims accepted and have subsequently applied for and been granted permanent resident status in Canada.

Refugee dependents

Refugee dependents are also permanent residents. They are family members of a refugee landed in Canada who were either living abroad or in Canada at the time of application.

Other immigrants

Permanent residents in the ‘other immigrant’ category include:

  • Post-determination refugee claimants in Canada
  • Persons with deferred removal orders
  • Retirees (no longer designated under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act)
  • Temporary resident permit holders
  • Humanitarian and compassionate cases
  • Sponsored humanitarian and compassionate cases outside the family class
  • People granted permanent resident status based on public policy considerations.

Temporary residents

Temporary residents are:

  • Foreign nationals living lawfully in Canada on a temporary basis under a work permit, study permit, temporary resident permit or a visitor record. 
  • Individuals seeking asylum after their arrival in Canada and living here pending the outcome of their claim.

The multiple categories of temporary resident—including foreign workers, foreign students, the humanitarian population, and others—are summarized below. 

Refugee claimants

Refugee claimants are temporary residents who request refugee protection upon or after arrival in Canada. A refugee claimant receives Canada’s protection when found to be a Convention refugee, or when found to be a person needing protection based on risk to life, risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, or in danger of torture as defined in the Convention Against Torture. A refugee claimant whose claim is accepted can make an application in Canada for permanent residence. This application may include family members in Canada and abroad.

Foreign students

These temporary residents are in Canada principally to study in the observed calendar year. International students have been issued a study permit. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a study permit is not needed for any program of study that takes 6 months or less.

Temporary foreign workers

Foreign workers are temporary residents who are in Canada principally for professional or work-related reasons in the observed calendar year. This includes those working as live-in caregivers. Foreign workers have been issued a document that allows them to work in Canada.

Other humanitarian cases

Foreign nationals other than refugee claimants may be allowed to remain in Canada on humanitarian or compassionate grounds under special circumstances. These humanitarian cases include a small number of individuals who have never filed a refugee claim but who are processed under special programs established to handle exceptional cases.

Other terms related to immigrants and refugees

Citizenship and Immigration Canada provides an extensive glossary of terms related to permanent and temporary residents. Here are some of the most commonly used terms:

  • A ‘convention’ refugee is defined under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and its 1967 protocol.
  • A designated country of origin (DCO) is defined as one that does not normally produce refugees and offers state protection to its citizens4 (e.g., Mexico, Hungary and the Czech Republic). An expedited process is employed for processing refugee claimants from DCOs.
  • A guardianship protocol is a mechanism for protecting minors who are alone (without a guardian) during the refugee resettlement process. The protocol specifies procedures for visa and settlement officers to follow that protect children from abuse and exploitation. 
  • The Interim Federal Health Program provides limited temporary coverage of health care costs for protected persons who are not yet eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance plans, and for cases where a claim for health coverage cannot be made under private health insurance. These protected persons include resettled refugees, refugee claimants, certain persons detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and other specified groups. Coverage is paid for by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.5
  • Live-in caregiver: Live-in caregivers supply care to children, the elderly or persons with disabilities. They live in the private home where the care is provided. Live-in caregivers can apply for permanent residency status after 2 years of employment.
  • Resettled refugees: Refugees selected abroad for resettlement in Canada, such as government-assisted refugees or privately sponsored refugees.
  • Stateless individuals: A stateless person is not recognized as a national (citizen) by any country under its domestic law. 

Immigration highlights and statistics

  • Canada has one of the highest rates of immigration in the world.
  • Today, most of the people who are new to Canada come from parts of Asia. This is a shift from previous years.
  • Most immigrants live in large urban centres in Canada (the Greater Toronto Area, Montreal and Vancouver), but some do move to smaller cities and rural areas.
  • Recent immigrants are helping to change Canada’s religious landscape.
  • On average, recent immigrants have a higher level of education than Canadian-born citizens.
  • The average age of the immigrant population is younger than that of Canadian-born citizens.

Immigration patterns

Permanent residents

Between 2002 and 2010, there were increasingly more economic immigrants and fewer family reunification immigrants. This trend reversed slightly in 2011.

Table 1: Permanent residents by category, 2007-2011

Category

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Economic class

131,244

(55%)

149,069

(60%)

153,492

(61%)

186,920

(67%)

156,121

(63%)

Family class

66,242

(28%)

65,581

(27%)

65,205

(26%)

60,222

(21%)

56,446

(23%)

Refugees

27,954

(12%)

21,858

(9%)

22,850

(9%)

24,697

(9%)

27,872

(11%)

Other immigrants

11,312

(5%)

10,736

(4%)

10,626

(4%)

8,845

(3%)

8306

(3%)

Total

236,753

247,246

252,174

280,691

248,748

Source:  Adapted from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2011. Canada facts and figures 2011—Immigration overview, permanent and temporary residents. Not produced in affiliation with, or with the endorsement of, the Government of Canada.

About 20% of permanent residents in 2011 were younger than 15 years of age.

Table 2: Permanent residents younger than 15 years of age, by category, 2011

Category

Number

% Total Permanent Residents

Family class

5,185

2

Economic immigrants

39,939

16

Refugees

6,977

3

Other immigrants

767

<1

Source:  Adapted from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2011. Canada facts and figures 2011—Immigration overview, permanent and temporary residents. Not produced in affiliation with, or with the endorsement of, the Government of Canada.

Settlement locations

Table 3: Permanent residents: Province/territory and highest settlement location, 2011

Province or Territory

Total

Highest urban settlement location

Total

Ontario

99,458

Toronto

77,759

Quebec

51,746

Montreal

44,863

British Columbia

34,785

Vancouver

28,966

Alberta

30,963

Calgary

15,060

Manitoba

15,962

Winnipeg

13,398

Saskatchewan

8,955

Saskatoon

3,796

Nova Scotia

2,138

Halifax

1,576

New Brunswick

1,968

Fredericton

581

Prince Edward Island

1731

Charlottetown

1,665

Newfoundland and Labrador

862

St. John’s

462

Yukon

237

Whitehorse

218

Northwest Territories

85

Yellowknife

65

Nunavut

24

Not specified

N/A

Source:  Adapted from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2011. Canada facts and figures 2011—Immigration overview, permanent and temporary residents. Not produced in affiliation with, or with the endorsement of, the Government of Canada.

Countries of origin

The most common countries of origin for new immigrants vary from year to year.  In recent years, increasing numbers of new permanent residents were born in Asia, particularly the Philippines, South-East Asia and South Asia.  By comparison, the top three countries of birth of recent immigrants in 1981 were the United Kingdom, Vietnam and the United States.6  For more information on where newcomers to Canada are coming from, refer to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.

Table 4: Permanent residents: Top 10 countries of origin, 2011

Country of origin

%

Philippines

14

India

10

People’s Republic of China

12

United States

4

United Kingdom

3

Iran

3

France

2

United Arab Emirates

2

Haiti

2

Pakistan

2

Source:  Adapted from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2011. Canada facts and figures 2011—Immigration overview, permanent and temporary residents. Not produced in affiliation with, or with the endorsement of, the Government of Canada.

 

Table 5: Top 10 countries of origin: Refugee claimants* entering Canada, 2001 and 2011

2001

2011

Country

%

Country

%

Hungary

9.2

Hungary

17.5

Pakistan

7.1

People's Republic of China

7.4

Sri Lanka

6.4

Colombia

3.7

Zimbabwe

6.2

Pakistan

3.5

People's Republic of China

6.1

Namibia

3.3

Mexico

3.8

Nigeria

2.8

Turkey

3.7

Mexico

2.7

Colombia

3.7

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

2.7

India

3.2

Sri Lanka

2.5

Democratic Republic of Congo

2.8

India

2.5

* Country of origin refers to the principal country of alleged persecution.

Source:  Adapted from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2011. Canada facts and figures 2011—Immigration overview, permanent and temporary residents. Not produced in affiliation with, or with the endorsement of, the Government of Canada.

Table 6: Permanent residents by language ability, 2011*

Language

%

English

58

Neither English nor French

25

English and French

10

French

6

* Not necessarily the language spoken at home.

Source:  Adapted from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2011. Canada facts and figures 2011—Immigration overview, permanent and temporary residents. Not produced in affiliation with, or with the endorsement of, the Government of Canada.

Table 7: Permanent residents by language of origin*, 2011

Language

%

Tagalog

13

Arabic

10

Mandarin

10

English

9

Spanish

6

Punjabi

5

French

4

Creole

3

Urdu

3

Farsi

2

*Native tongue

Common language of the Philippines; also known as Filipino.

Source:  Adapted from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2011. Canada facts and figures 2011—Immigration overview, permanent and temporary residents. Not produced in affiliation with, or with the endorsement of, the Government of Canada.

Table 8: Immigrants to Canada by religious affiliation, 20017

Religion

%

  Catholic

33%

  Protestant

20%

  No religious affiliation

17%

  Muslim

8%

  Christian Orthodox

5%

  Buddhist

4%

  Hindu

4%

  Christian, n.i.e.*

4%

  Sikh

3%

  Jewish

2%

*Not otherwise stated

Source: Adopted from Statistics Canada. Religion and immigrant status and period of immigration for population, for Canada, Census 2001. Cat. no.: 97F0022XCB2001004. Rel. date: May 13, 2003. This use does not constitute an endorsement by Statistics Canada.

Selected resources

References

  1. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Facts and figures 2011: Immigration overview – Permanent and temporary residents. October 2012: 6. 
  2. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Facts and figures 2011: Immigration overview – Permanent and temporary Residents. Canada – Temporary residents present on December 1st by gender and yearly status, 1987 to 2011.
  3. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Facts and figures 2011: Immigration overview – Permanent and temporary residents. October 2012: 117.
  4. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Designated countries of origin.
  5. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Interim Federal Health Benefit: Summary of benefits.
  6. Adapted from Statistics Canada. Table 1: Top 10 country of birth of recent immigrants, 1981 to 2006. This does not constitute an endorsement by Statistics Canada of this product.
  7. Adapted from Statistics Canada.  Religion and immigrant status and period of immigration for population, for Canada, provinces, territories, census metropolitan, 2001 Census. Cat. No.: 97F0022XCB2001004 (Rel. date: May 13, 2003). This does not constitute an endorsement by Statistics Canada of this product.

Editor(s)

  • Robert Hilliard, MD

Last updated: June, 2014

Also available at: http://www.kidsnewtocanada.ca/care/overview
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Caring for Kids New to Canada is a resource for health professionals. The information here is not a substitute for medical advice, nor does it indicate an exclusive course of treatment or procedure to be followed. Variations, taking into account individual circumstances, may be appropriate.

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