Canada’s plans for record-setting population growth are being sidelined by the coronavirus.
The country’s population rose by 76,221 to 37.97 million during the first three months of 2020, the smallest increase in a first quarter since 2015, Statistics Canada said Thursday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made immigration a major plank in Canada’s economic strategy. Last year, the country took in 208,000 new residents between July and September -- the biggest quarterly influx of migrants in records going back nearly 50 years. But a sharp slowdown is now expected.
Travel restrictions to curb the COVID-19 pandemic were put in effect in the second half of March and have remained in force for the second quarter. Data from the immigration department show it’s hampering the flow of newcomers.
Temporary immigrants were among those most affected in the first quarter. The net increase in temporary immigrants was nearly 80 per cent lower than the same period last year, due mostly to a drop in those with study permits, Statistics Canada said.
Meanwhile, there were 4,000 more permanent immigrants in the first quarter than during same period last year. Most came in before the travel restrictions began in March.
Andrew Agopsowicz, senior economist at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto, said that while he expects to see further deterioration in immigration in the second quarter, he’s not too worried about the long-term picture.
“The worry is just in the short run,” he said by phone. “Will it put pressure on cities that rely on new immigrants to fuel demand for housing? Is it going to be difficult for the country to make up for the backlog over the summer months when people are not able to get their applications processed?”
He added: “In the long run, there’s always been a strong demand for immigration to Canada.”
Still, there are no signs that Canada is going to be opening its borders to international travelers anytime soon. On Tuesday, Canada and the U.S. agreed to extend the ban on non-essential travel between the two countries to July 21.