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Canada's surging cost of living fuels reverse immigration

Published Dec 11, 2023 13:24
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2/2 © Reuters. Justinas Stankus, 38, who came to Canada from Lithuania in 2019 and is studying at the University of Toronto, walks his dog in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, November 29, 2023. REUTERS/Wa Lone 2/2

By Wa Lone

TORONTO (Reuters) - The dream of making it big in Canada is turning into a battle for survival for many immigrants due to the high cost of living and rental shortages, as rising emigration numbers hint at newcomers being forced to turn their back on a country that they chose to make their adopted home.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made immigration his main weapon to blunt Canada's big challenge of an aging and slowing population, and it has also helped fuel economic growth. That drove Canada's population up at its fastest clip in more than six decades this year, Statistics Canada said.

But now a reversal of that trend is gradually taking hold. In the first six months of 2023 some 42,000 individuals departed Canada, adding to 93,818 people who left in 2022 and 85,927 exits in 2021, official data show.

The rate of immigrants leaving Canada hit a two-decade high in 2019, according to a recent report from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), an immigration advocacy group. While the numbers went down during pandemic lockdowns, Statistics Canada data shows it is once again rising.

While that is a fraction of the 263,000 who came to the country over the same period, a steady rise in emigration is making some observers wary.

For a nation built on immigrants, a rising trend of people leaving Canada risks undermining one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau government's signature policies, which granted permanent residency to a record 2.5 million people in just eight years.

Reuters spoke with a half a dozen people who have either left the country or are preparing to do so, because of the high cost of living.

Cara, 25, who came to Canada in 2022 as a refugee from Hong Kong, now pays C$650 ($474) in monthly rent for a single-room basement apartment in Scarborough in eastern Toronto, which is about 30% of her monthly take-home salary.

"I never realized that living in a Western country, you can only afford renting a room in the basement," she said. She declined to give her real name because she fled Hong Kong after participating in the 2019 protests triggered by a now-abandoned extradition bill.

Cara works three part-time jobs, making Ontario's minimum wage of C$16.55 per hour, and goes to an adult learning school to earn university credits.

"I almost use every single penny," she said, while in Hong Kong she was able to save about a third of her monthly salary.

To be sure, emigration as a percentage of Canada's overall population touched a high of 0.2% in the mid 1990s, and currently stands at about 0.09%, according to official government data.

While the numbers are small now, lawyers and immigration consultants warn that a pick-up could cast a shroud over Canada's appeal as the one of the favoured destinations for newcomers.

"There's a real importance in creating positive experiences in those early years" so that people decide to stay, said Daniel Bernhard, CEO of ICC.

Immigrants blame the sky-rocketing housing costs as the biggest reason for their decision to consider a new country.

On average in Canada about 60% of household income would be needed to cover home ownership costs, a figure that rises to about 98% for Vancouver and 80% for Toronto, RBC (TSX:RY) said in a September report.

Myo Maung, 55, migrated to Canada from Myanmar over three decades ago and made a successful career as a real estate agent and a restaurateur. But he plans to retire in a country like Thailand since he cannot see himself maintaining his living standard in Canada on his retirement income.

Phil Triadafilopoulos, a political science professor specializing in immigration at the University of Toronto (UofT), said rapid immigration is exacerbating the housing shortage.

"It's not surprising then that people who have options... either go to another country or go back home having had a taste of the situation in Canada," Triadafilopoulos said.

Last month Trudeau's government capped its target for new residents at a half million per year from 2025 onwards to ease pressure on the housing market.

But for some it is too little too late.

Justinas Stankus, 38, who came to Canada from Lithuania in 2019 to pursue a doctorate in political science at the UofT is considering relocating to Southeast Asia where the cost of living is lower and where he could still pursue his research.

Stankus, who pays C$2,000, including utilities, for a one-bedroom apartment, said increasing living expenses has made it difficult to afford basic necessities.

"With a graduate student's budget, it is not sustainable," Stankus said.

Cara from Hong Kong says she feels trapped and wants to go. "Whenever I get a chance to leave, I will take the chance."

($1 = 1.3718 Canadian dollars)

(This story has been corrected to address Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by his full name and title, and to add that Scarborough is part of Toronto in paragraph 9)

Canada's surging cost of living fuels reverse immigration

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Comments (2)
Daniel Dutra
Daniel Dutra Dec 12, 2023 3:37
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The reason for this is very simple. It is because the carbon tax has been been thrown into the cost of doing business, and every business now being forced to recover tax buy paying it and flipping the tax for a profit in the cost of the goods or services that each business provides in the logistics process of that product on the way to the end user in markets we buy our merchandise. This tax flip starts with the farmer, then gets flipped again by the trucker or transportation, then flipped again in manufacturing, then flipped again in trucking, then flipped again in wholesalers, then flipped once more in transportation, then finally gets flipped once more in the retail sector where finally the consumer pays for all of the above prooduct logistical tax flips. This is the true and real main reason for inflation, and the government knows it, and the worse inflation gets the more the government makes in this scam tax disguised as a green climate, global warming tax thats doing nothing.
Daniel Dutra
Daniel Dutra Dec 12, 2023 3:21
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Yes imagration has put alot of pressure on the housing mkt and increasing inflation, but what everyone has failed to realize and what our political leaders do not want you to know is that it is the Carbon Tax that has exponentially increased the costvof living. Politicians say they are doing it for the climate, and punishing drivers for fueling their vehicles and residents and businesses for heating their dewlings. The government knows full well and avoids the carbon tax discussion like the plague because they know the tax not only effects the fuel we buy, but every other product that is already taxed. A tax on too of an already taxed item that increases withectheccistvof energy. People think they’re going to the store to buy their milk, cheese and eggs and only being charged the 12% in PST/GST, but in reality it is is more likely that the tax that they are paying is more like 50%-60%.
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