The Canadian government released its 2022-2024 immigration targets earlier this week. Should it reach these targets, the number of new immigrants entering Canada would reach levels not seen in more than a century.
This challenges the claim that the United States has the most generous immigration policies in the world. This axiom often comes with the implication that the United States has been too generous and that the government should restrict immigration. Yet a closer look at Canada’s targets compared to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) numbers show why these claims are an overstatement at best and misleading at worse.
Overall Admissions vs. Per Capita Admissions
Numerically, the United States does welcome more new permanent residents each year than Canada. In 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global migration patterns, the United States granted 1,031,765 green cards. This is more than two times the highest number of permanent resident admissions—451,000—the Canadian government aims to grant in any one year between 2022 and 2024.
However, this assumes that Canada and the United States are operating on the same scale. While Canada and the United States are comparable in terms of land area, the United States dwarfs Canada population-wise. As of 2022, the United States clocks in at 332,500,000 people and Canada at 38,600,000. In short, the U.S. population is about 9 times larger than the population of Canada.
The United States is also an economic giant compared to Canada. In 2020, despite an economic downturn caused by the pandemic, U.S. GDP reached almost $20.9 trillion, compared to Canada’s $1.6 trillion economy. Economically, the United States is 13 times the size of Canada.
To make a fairer comparison between the United States and Canada, we can look at how many immigrants each welcomed per year for every 1,000 people. Using the 2019 data from DHS, the United States granted permanent residency to 3.1 immigrants for every 1,000 people. Even using Canada’s least generous annual target of 431,645, Canada would welcome more than 3 times that ratio: 11.2 new permanent residents for every 1,000 people.
Skills or Employment Versus Family-Based Immigration
Aside from how many, which pathways Canada and the United States allow for admitting immigrants is another stark difference.
While the new Canadian targets aim for an average of 57.4% of immigrants admitted through economic pathways, the United States grants only 13.5% of permanent residency through employment. Instead, most green cards granted by the U.S. in 2019—68.8%—were through family reunification. While this seems like a lot, this only translates into 2.1 family-based immigrants per 1,000 people in the United States. Adjusting for its smaller population, Canada still welcomes more family-based immigrants than the United States to the tune of 2.8 family-based immigrants per 1,000 people. For its part, Canada looks to grant permanent residency through family reunification for an average of only 8.2% each year between 2022 and 2024.
This means that Canada welcomes more family-based immigrants per capita than the United States, all while prioritizing economic-based visas. The relative lack of importance the United States gives to green cards for workers puts the country at a disadvantage. The lack of permanent pathways for workers has a dampening effect on the United States’ ability to attract international talent and students. Despite increasing numbers of students choosing to study abroad, the United States has seen declining numbers of international students. Meanwhile, the number of international students in Canada increased by almost 500%, from 122,665 foreign students to a record 572,415, between 2000 and 2018.
Refugees and Asylees
Long considered the world’s leader in terms of refugee resettlement, the United States until recently offered refuge each year to more people than all other nations combined. The Trump administration changed all this, cutting refugee admissions to historic lows. This shut the door on hundreds of thousands of refugees and decimated resettlement agencies by effectively shut off their funding.
Although the Biden administration increased the Fiscal Year 2021 refugee cap from a record low of 15,000 to 62,500, only 11,445 refugees were resettled, the lowest in the history of our program.
Canada has been moving in the opposite direction. The country seeks to welcome a total of 213,100 refugees from 2022 to 2024, an average of more than 71,000 a year and a significant increase from past years. These targets would mean for 1.8 refugees for every 1,000 people in Canada every year. Compare this to the 0.3 refugees for every 1,000 people, or 106,911 refugees and asylum seekers, the United States welcomed in 2019.
These numbers lay bare our diminishing status as the premier destination of immigrants and, more worryingly, as the world’s leader for refugees much to Canada’s benefit.