Are Canadians changing their attitude on migration due to COVID-19?

With COVID-19 disrupting travel, shutting borders, and redefining what is essential work, Pandemic Borders explores what international migration will look like after the pandemic, in this series titled…

With COVID-19 disrupting travel, shutting borders, and redefining what is essential work, Pandemic Borders explores what international migration will look like after the pandemic, in this series titled #MigrantFutures

Canada has a reputation, both at home and around the world, as a beacon of tolerance when it comes to acceptance of immigrants and refugees. Part of this is due to the favourable attitudes of Canadians on the issue. Over the decade, the balance of opinion in Canada has become increasingly positive about the number of immigrants arriving in Canada and the benefits they bring to the country’s economy.

Is the dramatic impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, causing Canadians to reconsider their perspective? Are they drawing inward and protective? AAre they becoming more wary of outsiders such as new immigrants who could show up to take precious jobs from those already here and introduce new health risks? Has the pandemic and its impacts diminished the public’s openness to newcomers?

The reality is that Canadians have actually become more open, not less so. Over the past year, the Canadian public has become increasingly accepting and supportive of immigrants and refugees, continuing a trend dating back several years but to levels not recorded in more than four decades of survey research.

The evidence comes from the Focus Canada surveys conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, a not-for-profit agency with a mandate to promote relevant and original public opinion and social research on the issues shaping Canada’s future. The latest survey – conducted with a sample of 2,000 Canadians in mid-September – finds that:

  • A record high two-thirds of Canadians now reject the idea that immigration levels are too high, with this view strengthening across the country
  • More than half agree immigration is essential to building the country’s population, compared with one in three who disagrees. This current sentiment reflects a sea change in perspective from the 1980s and 1990s, when most Canadians consistently took the opposite view.
  • More than eight in ten now agree that immigration has a positive impact on the Canadian economy, and roughly the same proportion reject the idea that immigrants take jobs away from other Canadians.
  • For the first time in the survey research dating back four decades, a plurality of Canadians rejects the ideas that too many refugees are not legitimate.
  • Fewer than half of Canadians agree with the statement that too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values, the smallest proportion expressing this view yet recorded since this question was first asked in 1993.
  • By a five-to-one margin, the public believes immigration makes Canada a better country, not a worse one, and they are most likely to say this is because it makes for a more diverse multicultural place to live.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this latest trend is that it has taken place across the country and among all demographic segments of the population; in some cases, especially so where opinions about immigration have been the least positive, including Canadians with lower levels of education and income, as well as supporters of the federal Conservative Party. While divisions remain along regional, generational and political lines, in some cases these have diminished over the past year. This suggests that whatever fault lines may continue to divide Canadians, immigration is now less likely than before to be among them.


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