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The percentage of new immigrants settling in British Columbia has decreased for the fourth consecutive census, with Statistics Canada saying economic factors play a significant role in where recent arrivals end up.

Census data released on Wednesday by Statistics Canada found the percentage of recent immigrants settling in the Prairies has more than doubled since 2001. But the percentage in B.C. has dipped considerably over the same period.

In 2001, B.C.'s share of recently settled immigrants was 20.8 per cent, second behind Ontario's 55.9 per cent.

But in 2016, B.C.'s share dropped to 14.5 per cent, trailing Ontario at 39 per cent, Quebec at 17.8 per cent and Alberta at 17.1 per cent.

Statistics Canada said the "economic conditions in the various receiving regions undoubtedly played a major role in the geographic distribution of immigrants."

It said its labour force survey found Alberta had the largest employment growth between 2011 and 2016.

Queenie Choo, chief executive officer of Success, a Vancouver-based social-services provider, said in an interview that B.C.'s high cost of living – including the price of housing – could have played a role in its decrease.

Ms. Choo said the lure of jobs in Alberta's resource sector could also have been a factor.

Sherman Chan, director of family and settlement services with Multi-lingual Orientation Service Association for Immigrant Communities (MOSAIC), also pointed to B.C.'s housing costs and Alberta's oil jobs.

"People look at what they can afford," Mr. Chan said in an interview.

Henry Yu, an associate professor of history at the University of British Columbia, said the province's housing and job markets are a challenge for immigrants who arrive without much in the way of savings.

Prof. Yu said he was not surprised by the decrease, despite the attention that has been paid to new immigrants who arrive in B.C. with money.

"We tend to focus on the high-profile, like, 'Oh my gosh, there's all these rich Chinese,'" he said in an interview.

Statistics Canada said other factors that could explain the changes in geographic distribution include a provincial and territorial program that allows the nomination of specific immigrants. It said 16.4 per cent of all recent immigrants were admitted under the program. More than half of recent immigrants to Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Yukon arrived through the program, it said.

Statistics Canada said many new immigrants chose to settle in areas "with an established community from their home country."

More than 1.2 million new immigrants permanently settled in Canada from 2011 to 2016. Close to 189,000 – or 15.6 per cent – were born in the Philippines, followed by 147,000 in India and 129,000 in China.

Statistics Canada said the 2016 census marked the first time Africa accounted for the second-highest number of new immigrants by continent, trailing Asia but ranking ahead of Europe.

Although B.C.'s recent immigrant share decreased, Statistics Canada said the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal areas are still the place of residence for more than half of all immigrants and recent immigrants.

Ms. Choo said while the census data capture where new immigrants have settled, some might not stay in the same place.

"There might be a secondary migration. Somebody who landed, this does not mean they will stay there forever. People move around," she said.

Mr. Chan said he would like B.C. to develop a comprehensive immigration strategy that maps out how to attract and retain immigrants.

"So far we don't have anything that can really guide us as to how to plan, to welcome, to prepare and to have them stay in B.C.," he said.