Friday, January 6, 2017

US and Canada demographics: immigration, temporary workers, refugees in 1935-2014

I was curious about the differences between American and Canadian immigration systems. After 2016 US elections, we hear a lot about those differences, but I could not find a good source with actual numbers compared. Let's do it here. As usual, here is the Google Docs spreadsheet with all relevant data. As usual, all charts below are interactive, just move your mouse over the line or the legend item.

Let's start with the simplest part - total population numbers provided by Wikipedia:

No surprises here - these countries are economically and culturally close, so population growth patterns are similar.

Let's have a look at natural population growth numbers pulled from UNDESA (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs) and The World Bank:

Here we have an indication that, since early nineties, natural population growth in Canada is slower than in US. How does Canada keep its total population growth rate on par with its neighbor down South? Immigration may be the answer. The following chart shows the number of new permanent residents per year for both countries:

The PR numbers are available for both countries and can be easily compared. Now to the most challenging part: temporary workers and refugees. I decided to focus on temporary resident entry statistics - this data is better structured for both countries. Alternative approach - counting temporary residents who are actually present in the country at the specific date of the year - looked less transparent to me.

For the US, I counted in CW,E,F,GH,I,J,K,L,M,O,S,TN,TD,T,U,V visa holders, putting aside all "visitor" visas like B,C,D,NATO etc. I also did not count Border Crossing Cards. Below is the full list of the US non-immigrant visa types:

Visa typeIncludedDescription
AForeign Government Official
B-1Temporary Visitor for Business
B-1/B-2Temporary Visitor for Business and Pleasure
B1/B2/BCCCombination B1/B2 and Border Crossing Card
B-2Temporary Visitor for Pleasure
C-1/DCombination Transit/Crew Member
CWYCommonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands Transitional Worker or Investor
DCrew Member
EYTreaty Trader or Investor
GYRepresentative/Staff of International Organization
HYTemporary Worker and Trainee (H-2A seasonal agriculture, H-2B - seasonal non-agriculture)
IYRepresentative of Foreign Information Media
JYExchange Visitor
KYFiance(e) of U.S. Citizen
LYIntracompany Transferee
MYVocational Student
NYCertain Relatives of SK Special immigrants
NAFTAYNAFTA Professional
OYPerson With Extraordinary Ability in the Sciences,Arts, Education, Business, or Athletics
PAthlete, Artist or Entertainer
QInternational Cultural Exchange Program Participant
RPerson in a Religious Occupation
SYInformant Possessing Information on Criminal Activity or Terrorism
TYVictim of Severe Form of Trafficking in Persons
UYVictim of Criminal Activity
VYNonimmigrant visa created to allow families to stay together while waiting for the processing of immigrant visas (

For Canada, I included all temporary residents that entered the country via IMO (International Mobility) program and TFWP (Temporary Foreign Worker) program. All IMO and TFWP sub-statuses were used in the calculation. Those sub-statuses correlate with the choices I made in the US visa type list above.

Refugee entries were easy to count. Unfortunately, the data is limited to 1997-2014 for US and 2005-2014 for Canada. I have combined PR, temporary workers and refugees numbers in the same chart.

Lessons learned:

  • temporary workers and refugees numbers are hard to find compared to PR statistics;
  • Canada relies heavily on permanent immigrants and temporary workers;
  • for both countries, the number of refugees arriving each year is much smaller than the number of new PRs and temporary workers and students.

Tools used: Microsoft Excel, online chart editor


Also, there is an excellent 2012 paper by Magali Barbieri and Nadine Ouellette: The Demography of Canada and the United States from the 1980s to the 2000s A Summary of Changes and a Statistical Assessment, although I did not use any numbers from it.

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