Immigration between Canada and the United States was once so routine that it was hardly considered worthy of comment. From the 1920s to the end of World War II, Canadians were a plurality of immigrants to the United States, and until about the 1930s the United States was the second largest source of immigrants to Canada, after the Great -Brittany. When Ernest Hemingway went to Toronto to work as a journalist, or Elizabeth Arden moved to New York to pursue her beauty business, no one would have accused them of a bold political act.
These days, however, with most migration to the two countries coming from outside the continent, the few remaining cross-border commuters seem intriguing. A person who trades the United States for Canada, or vice versa, is often seen as manifesting something deep and important about the countries’ comparative political-cultural identities; an assessment of their flaws and divergent virtues.
Immigration data from the past 20 years provides evidence to support the cliché that American emigration to Canada is primarily a left-wing thing: that is, the numbers seem to suggest that a proportion increased number of Americans will pack up and “move to Canada”. every time a Republican president is elected. Here’s how the numbers break down:
During the eight years of George W. Bush’s administration, the number of Americans granted permanent residency in Canada rose from a rate consistent with the late Clinton years (5,602, in the first year Bush’s first term), to nearly double by the time of the 2008 election (10,187). Under Donald Trump’s shorter presidency, we see a similar but less dramatic increase. In Barack Obama’s last full year in office, 8,485 Americans were granted permanent residency in Canada, while in 2019, Trump’s final year, that number had risen to 10,780. (Immigration rates worldwide fell amid the covid-19 pandemic in 2020, so the low number of Americans who migrated that year should not be taken as representative of broader trends.)
So…advantage Canada? Were all those stories about Canada “winning” over filthy American presidents true? Not quite, because the Canadian numbers only tell half of a larger continental story.
Even when emigration rates from the United States to Canada are high, they are almost always dwarfed by the flow of Canadians moving in the other direction – a flow that does not seem to correlate with anything political. observable.
Over the past two decades, the three highest peaks of Canadians obtaining U.S. green cards all occurred during the Bush years, with 21,752 in 2001, 19,352 in 2002, and 21,878 in 2005. Canadian emigration then significantly declined during the Obama years and was mixed. during the Trump era. 2018 marked the first time in the 21st century that the number of Canadians obtaining permanent residence in the United States fell below 10,000 (9,898), but otherwise the numbers hovered around late standards. of Obama. And 2018 was also the only year in the past two decades in which Canada saw a narrow net gain in cross-border migration, making a small “benefit” on the more than 10,000 Americans who came, compared at 9,000–plus the Canadians who left.
I was highly critical of the sensationalized headlines common in the Canadian press during the Trump administration, which often grossly exaggerated the extent to which Americans were “fleeing” to Canada. But it is nonetheless true that we have seen a change in the past 20 years in which the notoriously high levels of Canadian “brain drain” to the United States have eased and tightened. The story of why Canadian out-migration declined from the mid-2000s to the early 2010s is a phenomenon that has escaped much mainstream analysis, in part because it does not fit not easily into one of the ordered moral fables that tend to substitute for meaningful analysis. US-Canadian relations.
This is also the case, however – as the graph above illustrates – that emigration from both countries tends to rise and fall in roughly two places. simultaneously, which suggests that the trends might simply be correlated to a third apolitical variable – say, a strong North American economy providing both countries with the means to prioritize the recruitment of educated workers from each other, or even the internet simply facilitating cross-border romances.
Among the many missed opportunities of the unambitious and hasty renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was the possibility of introducing some kind of Schengen-type regime in Canada and the United States, thus making life and life easier for nationals of a country. work in the other. Although the numbers may be small compared to overall immigration, the settlement of around 20,000 migrants across the border every year is no small thing and remains a testament to the deep economic and personal ties that bring Canadians and Americans together, despite the gratuitous bureaucracy. barriers.
It is in everyone’s interest that this total be higher.