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Immigration in Canada: "promised land" for skilled Asian and Italian workers still in decline.

Immigration in Canada: "promised land" for skilled Asian and Italian workers still in decline.

With one of the highest levels of quality of life recorded, an innovative and dynamic economic ecosystem and multiculturalism to be considered an excellence in the world, Canada is the host country favored by many foreign skilled workers. Nevertheless, the flow of Italians is steadily declining. We tried to ask ourselves the reasons for the phenomenon.


Nadia Deisori*


In a recent article, published in the Corriere Canadese, the director Francesco Veronesi highlighted the progressive weakening of the Italian migratory phenomenon towards Canada. The reasons would be due to the complicated “point system” of visa issuance, an “immigration system - writes Veronesi - which essentially penalizes those arriving from certain geographical areas: Italy, Portugal and more generally the Mediterranean Europe ”.

As Centro Studi Italia Canada, we were struck by these reflections and by the numbers presented by the Corriere Canadese, and thought it was essential to devote further study to the question. In fact, we have often concentrated, in particular since the entry into force of CETA in September 2017, on the results obtained in terms of the commercial relationship between the two sides of the Atlantic, which favored Italian exports, particularly in the machinery sector and the agro-food industry.


Immigrant population by selected places of birth, admission category and period of immigration, Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and areas outside of census metropolitan areas, 2016 Census. Source:  


Analyzing the admission categories, ie the type of visa granted, in the 2011-2016 period we find that:


  • 1110 Italians were admitted as "economic immigrant - worker programs", or those who obtained a visa as permanent workers. (It does not include temporary workers, workers who settle in Canada for short periods under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program (IMP), with or without a work permit, as established by Canadian law. For some types of these workers a work permit is not required, such as short-term highly-skilled workers, student workers, military personnel, journalists, performing artists, etc.)
  • Only 20 Italians are accepted as "economic immigrant - business programs", those who are in Canada to invest or start businesses, or venture capital investors, startups and self-employed immigrants;
  • 655 Italians entered thanks to the flows managed by individual provinces and territories, or as “economic immigrant - provincial and territorial nominee programs”. These are immigrants who obtain a permanent visa because they possess the skills, education and work experience required by a specific province or territory. In fact, each province and territory regulates its own "flows" (immigration programs for specific groups) and requirements;
  • 1120 have entered thanks to a family sponsorship, or have obtained a permanent visa as family members of a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of age;
  • 50 had the status of "refugees";
  • the remaining 20 are grouped in the "others" category.


It is noted that the weakest category is that of investors, business migrants, although Canada is increasingly shaping itself as "the northern Silicon Valley", attracting capital and talent from all over the world, certainly from Europe but also from California and from Asia, by virtue of its stable, innovative and free-market economic ecosystem, thanks to a global strategy based on the stipulation of free trade agreements, of which the Ceta with the European Union is an example.


Arriving until 2017, the data on permanent resident admitted in Canada clearly shows how the flow to Canada is moving from Europe, with the exception of the United Kingdom and France, to Asian countries. Italy does not appear among the top 10 countries of origin of the 286,479 immigrants received in Canada in 2017.

It is now time, therefore, to better analyze how the dynamics specifically concerning human resources evolve. Are the Italians really stopping emigrating to Canada?

Canada, a welcoming land 

Canada is currently an ideal destination for global emigration, thanks to one of the highest quality of life in the world, an enviable health system, a unique multicultural integration model. In 2019, three Canadian cities, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto, are among the top 10 most livable cities in the world.

Unemployment is stable at 5.5%, the economy is growing and investments from abroad are flourishing. The political system is stable and Canadian society does not have those characteristics that Europeans consider "traumatic" in the United States (eg spreading of weapons).


It is therefore no coincidence that between 2011 and 2016, more than 1.2 million immigrants, about 250,000 families a year, settled in Canada. In 2016, 21.9% of the Canadian population was born outside the borders.

In recent decades, however, the countries of origin of immigrants in Canada have changed. Until the 1970s, immigrants came mainly from western and eastern Europe. Since then, a growing number of people from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa have settled in Canada.


Italians in Canada


Italy too has therefore slowly withdrawn from the preferential relationship as a country of origin of immigration to Canada.

From the last population census of 2016, it emerges that the component constituted by Italian immigrants amounted to 236,635 people in Canada. Analyzing the different entry periods, we note a negative trend. 218,265 Italians emigrated to Canada before 1980. The main migratory waves were those of the late nineteenth century - twenties of the twentieth century, and that following the Second World War, about 600 thousand people between 1945 and 1972. This led to the establishment of a large Italian community in Canada made up of over 1.5 million people (Census 2016) largely concentrated in the areas of Toronto and Montréal, perfectly integrated and which have given Canada a great contribution not only economically but also cultural. Just think of the fact that the Italian language has been recognized as a "heritage of the nation".


Returning to the most recent migratory movements, the Italians who moved to Canada decreased to the figure of 18,365 in the period from 1980 to 2016. Between 2011 and 2016 they crossed the Ocean only 2980 Italians, with a partial recovery of the flow compared to the previous period 2001-2005 (1,480), probably also as a consequence of the economic crises of 2008 and 2012.


Permanent Residents Admitted in 2017, by Top 10 Source Countries. Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Permanent Resident Data as of March 31, 2018. Data includes public policy admissions.


The Italian figure for 2017 can be obtained from the database of the register of Italians residing abroad, particularly in Canada.

141.203 Italians requested registration in 2016 and in 2017 the figure drops to 140,633.


% Incidence by territory of residence out of total residents abroad. Source: Register of Italian Residents Abroad (AIRE as at 31 December 2017).



According to the Italian Report in 2019 on the 2018 data, there are 5.3 million Italian residents abroad. 128 thousand subscribers over the last year.


In Canada there are 139.578 AIRE members in 2018, representing 2.6% of the total number of Italians residing abroad. According to the same database, in 2018, 1702 Italians moved to Canada, 1.3% of total departures. Still down compared to the previous year.

The regions of origin of the Italians residing in Canada are confirmed instead those of the historical Italian emigration towards Canada, in particular Calabria (25.998), followed by Lazio (15.403), Campania (13.359), Abruzzo (12.644), Molise (11.811) , Veneto (10.008).



Source: Fondazione Migrantes

Foreign students in Canada


For completeness of information, the last data we have extrapolated is that relating to another classic category of migrants, namely students. According to the Canadian Bureau of International Education, Italian students in Canada are 1,945 and represent less than 1% of the total. Analyzing the countries of origin of foreign students, it is confirmed that the attractiveness of Canada is particularly effective in the countries of Asia.


International students in Canada (2017);



Regional origin of international students in Canada (2017)



It should be noted that by studying in Canada, a work visa of the same duration as the obtained study visa can be obtained at the end of the course of study.


Obtain a visa in Canada


In the article of the Corriere Canadese already mentioned, one of the causes of the ever-decreasing Italian emigration to Canada is the difficulty that the procedure for obtaining a visa, particularly for Europeans, presents. But what is it?

Permanent residence in Canada is granted through different ways of managing flows:


  1.  Express Entry, is an online immigration application system. It allows people to present a profile and be considered as qualified immigrants. Candidates with the highest rankings are invited to apply for permanent residence. The system assigns a rank to permanent residence applicants and examines immigration applications for the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program, the Canadian Experience Class and the Provincial Nominee Program.
  2. Business Program (This is the category of visas for business immigration in Canada, which aims to facilitate the activity of entrepreneurs and their investments in Canada. (See in this regard Start-up Visa and Self-Employed Program;
  3. Family sponsorship, is the program dedicated to family reunification: you can also enter Canada by sponsoring relatives already residing in Canada.
  4. Quebec-selected skilled workers, is the application process for skilled workers who want to become permanent residents in Canada and live in Quebec. Quebec in fact has a special immigration agreement with the Government of Canada. The province has its own rules for managing the migration phenomenon; 
  5. Refugees and International Adoptions.


The express Entry: the point visa system


The famous "points system" mentioned in the Corriere Canadese article that would penalize migrants from southern Europe and in particular the Italians is the Express Entry. The program for qualified workers identifies the score assigned as a selection factor used to assess the applicant's suitability for the federal program for skilled workers. The score can reach up to 1200 points based on which the candidate is placed in a "pool" group of candidates, more or less suitable for the economic needs of Canada. Once in the pool, it is Canada that sends an "invitation to apply" (ITA) to the best, so that the immigration request can be made. The frequency of rounds of invitation is managed by Canada based on annual reception targets.

From the latest available data, as of October 30, 2019, a score of 475 was required to receive an invitation. Being invited does not necessarily mean that you will receive a positive response to the permanent residence application.


Express Entry candidates can earn points based on:

  • human capital (age, education, official linguistic competence and work experience);
  • additional factors (qualifying offer of employment or educational credentials recognized in Canada);
  • a provincial or territorial appointment, that is, through the flows that provinces and territories autonomously manage based on agreements with the Federal Government.


Language skills


Several factors are considered, but the linguistic one is of great importance, the Corriere Canadese identifies it as the most penalizing for Italians. In fact, the visa applicant must take an English or French language test and demonstrate that he or she has linguistic skills in writing, reading, listening and speaking.

Despite the increasing linguistic diversification of the immigrant population, the vast majority (93.2%) of immigrants reported knowing one or both of Canada's official languages in 2016. These languages function as vectors of integration into Canadian society. In 2016, 82.5% had English as the first official language spoken, 10.8% had French and only 6.8% had none of these two languages. In Quebec, almost two-thirds (62.5%) of immigrants spoke French as the first official language, while a third (33.1%) had English.


It should be noted, however, that language skills can be compensated in the points system getting high scores as regards other factors, namely:


  1. Education

To get points, it is necessary that the title obtained is recognized in Canada in the equivalence system that assigns the points.


  1. Work experience

Points are earned for both the experience gained in Canada and abroad, both as an employee and a self-employed person.


  1. Age

Minors and people over 47 have a score of zero. The age ranges that give the most points are those between 18 and 40 years old.


  1. Job offer in Canada

You can get up to 10 points if you can get a job offer in Canada lasting at least 1 year.


  1. Adaptability

The applicant can also earn up to 10 points, together with the spouse or partner with whom they immigrate, for adaptability, combining one of the elements between: the linguistic level of the spouse or partner, studies carried out in Canada by the applicant or spouse / partner of the applicant, past work experience in Canada of the applicant or spouse / partner, job offer received in Canada, adult relatives residing in Canada.


Global Skills Strategy: the "fast" visa for skilled workers


Another opportunity for qualified foreigners is the Global Skills Strategy, a federal program designed to provide a faster lane for employers who want to hire the best talent abroad, highly qualified workers especially in the tech sector. In 2018, under the GSS program, Canada received 10,000 applications with a 96% success rate for work visas granted. This type of visa is processed in 10-14 working days.


Does the Canadian system work?


Let's start with some data.

  • Canada issued more ITAs in the first 9 months of 2019 compared to 2018, which continued to break the record for the largest number of invitations in a year.
  • The third quarter of 2019 saw the sixth highest number of ITAs issued in the history of Express Entry, with 21,600 invitation to apply.
  • The first 9 months of 2019 have so far seen the largest average extraction size of any year, with 3,337 ITA.
  • The average minimum score rose to 465 for 2019, higher both for 2017 and for 2018 for the first 9 months.

In 2018, approximately 280,000 ITA Express Entry were invited, 10% more than in 2017. 70% were eligible for at least one Federal Skilled Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program or Canadian Experience Class program, compared to 65% in 2017. The percentage of profiles invited for at least one of the three flows has increased steadily since Express Entry was introduced in 2015.

In both years, a large majority of invited candidates had a university education level of at least three years, a master's degree or a post-graduate professional qualification.


The most common occupations declared among these applicants are mainly in the field of dellinformation technology, business and financial services.






The first conclusion that can be drawn from the data analyzed is that Canada is certainly giving a fast track to technological profiles, being a country whose economy is projected 100% in industry 4.0.

From this point of view, countries like China and India have great appeal for Canadians. On the one hand, they provide engineered and English-speaking talents, on the other, capital to invest. China accounts for almost 2% of foreign investment in Canada.

At a time of global protectionist tensions, Brexit, the negotiations relating to NAFTA / CUSMA, cannot be ruled out that attention to Asian countries from the point of view of the migration phenomenon cannot be closely linked to the dynamics of the flow of foreign capital. From this point of view it cannot be said that the Italians are particularly active in Canada, if we go to note the figure, reported previously, according to which between 2011 and 2016 there were only 20 visas granted for business reasons to entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and Italian startups.


It was not possible to analyze the percentage of invitation to apply data addressed to the Italians with respect to the number of requests made on the online express entry system.

From the numbers in our possession we can certainly say that the Italians who go outside Europe prefer Canada to the United States, the countries of Latin America and Australia. Note immediately, however, in this regard that these are not countries where immigration laws are particularly flexible, nor more moderate than Canada.


In all the countries characterized by migratory phenomena, which weigh heavily on the economic and social structure of the country itself, there is a tendency to regularly with more or less rigid schemes the incoming flows. Canada is without doubt among them, but it is no less so than the United States and Australia.


From which it can perhaps be drawn that this is not the only factor that directs the choice of the destination country of the Italians who emigrate.


Aside from the climatic reasons, even if certainly in the list of considerations dear to the Italians, other factors must be estimated, such as the presence of an Italian community already established in the host country, which however in Canada is not lacking, but also the typology of workers that the country itself attracts.


What types of professions are Italians applying for in Canada?

One wonders if one of the possible explanations for the decline in the Italian migration phenomenon cannot be a tendency to compete for non-specialized positions, in a Canadian labor market already inflated in this sector by an old emigration and geographically closer flows, like Mexican emigration.

Much of the growth of immigrant employment in Canada in recent years has taken place in sectors related to professional, scientific and technical services; financial, insurance, real estate and leasing services; production, health care and social assistance. Proposing yourself in these sectors probably means having higher scores and therefore more chances to have an Express Entry visa.


For immigrants with university education, employment has increased between 2016 and 2017, mainly in full-time work and among those who have been established in the country for more than 10 years.

It therefore seems that we can hypothesize that the Italians suffer the classic obstacles of the labor market in a country of immigration with a high rate of specialized employment, such as the lack of linguistic competence, the lack of recognition of qualifications, the inadequate familiarity with the Canadian labor market.


The Canadian system rewards the quality of the skills offered on the labor market. In a certain sense it is a scheme of logical practicality that makes a large part of those who emigrate to Canada succeed in having a quality of life and a level of integration that at the moment few countries in the world can guarantee. On the other hand, the Canadian system may appear to be limited from some points of view where it forces employers to favor Canadian workers for certain categories of professions.


To mitigate the scheme, the Canadian system takes into account family reunification and the relationships between companies, investors and talents. It has one of the most advanced refugee programs in the world, discussed in a previous CSIC article. Finally, there are many opportunities for studies and to concretely hypothesize to continue the future working in Canada. And it should not be forgotten that, with regard to the mobility of workers, CETA also intervened to facilitate the entry of Europeans, and therefore also of Italians in Canada. The CSIC has already talked about it.


One has the impression that Italian emigrants will encounter obstacles abroad whenever they compete with a class of unskilled workers. And it will not happen only in Canada. Think of the United Kingdom Post-Brexit, where the introduction, starting in 2021, of a points system based on the qualifications offered by immigrants is expected.

On the one hand, therefore, as a host country, we must look to international experiences, and specifically to Canadian experiences, despite the obvious differences, to develop ourselves a flow management scheme that is in solidarity with refugees, fair and democratic, which enhances the human components, whatever their geographical origin, and that is economically sustainable. On the other hand, the need to convey our outgoing migratory flow, dramatically increasing, is becoming increasingly necessary, so that our workers and entrepreneurs can take advantage of the reception tools made available by all the landing countries, including Canada, where by 2036, the percentage of immigrants in the Canadian population should be between 24.5% and 30.0%, compared to 20.7% in 2011, according to the most recent demographic projections.


*Web Editor and Digital Consultant