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Marc Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship speaks in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 6.Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Immigration patterns in Canada have changed drastically in recent years. India, which used to be one of several top source countries for new permanent residents, now dominates all others.

We need to understand that change, especially because things may be about to change again.

Who comes to Canada, and from where, often shifts because of events that are happening overseas.

In the 1990s, many thousands of Hong Kongers chose to leave that British colony in advance of its transfer in 1997 to Communist China. After unification, China took the top spot, followed by India and the Philippines. For about 20 years, Canada welcomed about 250,000 new permanent residents annually, with those countries typically constituting the top three sources of immigrants.

But in the last years of the previous decade, things changed. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government raised the target for the total of new permanent residents admitted to Canada, while also encouraging more international students to study here. India suddenly became by far the No. 1 source country.

In 2021, 406,000 new permanent residents were admitted to Canada. Of that number, 32 per cent were from India, with China accounting for only 8 per cent and the Philippines accounting for 4 per cent. In 2022, India made up 27 per cent of the intake.

Antje Ellermann, founding director of the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of British Columbia, and Sandra Schinnerl, a postdoctoral fellow at the centre, explained that measures designed to make Canada more attractive to international students led to a large increase in the international-student population. Many were from India, hoping to obtain an education, a work permit and then permanent resident status.

Chinese investments in postsecondary education, and its powerful economy, make it increasingly desirable for Chinese students to study and work at home. “India has tried to do the same but with less success, though it is making progress,” Dr. Schinnerl said in an interview.

As for why the Philippines didn’t match India’s surge in intake, Philip Kelly, interim dean at York University’s faculty of environmental and urban change, pointed out the country has one-10th the population of India and China, and sends more foreign workers than students to Canada.

That said, any explanation for changes in immigration patterns is largely speculative. “It is hard to infer anything about what is causing the fluctuations,” Monica Boyd, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto and former Canada Research Chair in Immigration, told me in an e-mail exchange.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, in a written response to questions, said the department “cannot speculate on the reason for an increase in immigration from India.”

Whatever the causes, the surge in Indian intake may soon come to an end. The Globe has written about suspect private colleges – Immigration Minister Marc Miller calls them “puppy mills” – that enroll students who receive little or no real education but who work full-time as they pursue permanent-resident status.

The federal government, in response, is cutting back on the number of international students admitted and limiting access to work permits for some. That may well limit the number of Indian students coming into Canada.

“You will see a realignment of what’s happening in the landscape,” Dr. Schinnerl predicts.

The Liberals’ belated efforts to rein in immigration through the international-student stream may lessen the number of Indians coming into Canada relative to other groups. Nations that have traditionally not sent large numbers of immigrants to Canada, such as Brazil, might become major new source countries.

On the other hand, with so many people of Indian background now in Canada – they made up 3.7 per cent of Canada’s population in 2021, according to Statistics Canada, and that proportion will surely be higher today – and with India’s youthful population, that country could become the No. 1 source country for immigrants for years to come.

Given their great success at integrating into and contributing to Canadian society, that would be a happy future for this country. But with immigration, one thing seems certain.

When governments change the rules, no one can be sure what happens next.

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