News / Edmonton

'It’s more like the big four now': Alberta increasingly popular among immigrants

More and more immigrants are coming to Edmonton instead of the traditional 'big three' cities

Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto have traditionally been the go-to places for immigrants to Canada, but more and more newcomers are choosing to put down roots in the prairies, particularly Alberta.

Over the past 15 years, the number of recent immigrants (meaning someone who got their landed immigrant or permanent resident status in the last five years) who have moved to western provinces has more than doubled.

That's according to census data released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday.

It seems Alberta is particularly appealing: the percentage of recent immigrants to Canada who chose to live here rose from 6.9 per cent in 2001 to 17.1 per cent in 2016.

That's the biggest increase in the western provinces.

Erick Ambtman, executive director of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, said in the past, his organization always spoke about how newcomers settled in the “big three” cities: Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. These days, that’s no longer the case.

“It used to be that people have never heard of Edmonton, never heard of Alberta. And now we’ve noted we’re as reputable or well known of a destination as Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto,” he added.

“It’s more like the big four now."

In the Census Metropolitan Area of Edmonton, which includes adjacent municipalities like Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan, immigrants make up 23.8 per cent of the total population. But if you focus on Edmonton’s city limits, that number jumps to 30 per cent, or a total of 274,360 people.

Ambtman believes the main reason immigrants come to Alberta is because of its economic opportunities.

“Newcomers seem to have a perception that you’re more likely to find work in your field in Alberta than if you go to one of those other well-known places,” he said.

But there’s also the fact that as immigrants build ethno-cultural communities here, more people from that country of origin are likely to follow suit.

An To came to Canada from Vietnam as an international student at MacEwan University in 2012, secured an open work permit after two years and achieved permanent resident status in June 2017.

“I didn’t decide (at first) because a lot of things were difficult for me,” she said, citing language and cultural barriers as some reasons for why she was hesitant to permanently settle in Canada. “But after two or three years I felt there was a lot of connection so maybe it’s a good place for me to start my life again.”

One of the hardest parts was adjusting to Edmonton’s long winter, as well as Canada’s wide open spaces.

“At first I felt isolated, because the landscape, compared to the population back home, you see a lot a of people and it’s mostly crowded,” she said. “Compared to Edmonton, you don’t see as many people, especially in the winter.”

But she said the warmth and welcoming nature of Canadians have convinced her to make Canada home.

“In some way I do feel, over the years, my connection to the community and the place is getting stronger,” To said.

“I feel a bit more Canadian every year.”

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