Ontario has an immigration problem that's hurting its economy

Toronto's Pearson International Airport (Getty)

Ontario has something of an immigration problem, according to a new report from the Conference Board of Canada.

The issue isn’t that there are too many immigrants coming to the province, rather they aren’t being spread out beyond the Greater Toronto Area.

The report found the region, which accounts for 45 per cent of Ontario’s population, welcomed 106,000 immigrants in 2018 — that’s 77 per cent of the province’s newcomers.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board.

“Yes, high immigration in the GTA enriches the regional economy, but it also puts pressure on local infrastructure and services.”

Only 31,000 newcomers have made other parts of the province their home. These areas stand to reap the benefits of immigration by filling voids in their economies.

“Across Ontario, we have an aging population, a low birth rate, and in some areas, high out migration,” said Antunes.

“Additionally, immigration can help fill the labour shortages in these metropolitan areas.”

Sources: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada.

The report suggests a series of solutions to tackle the imbalance, including an Ontario regional immigration strategy. It would involve all levels of government, businesses, workforce development groups, immigrant-serving organizations, local immigration partnerships, as well as universities and colleges.

The Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) is what the Conference Board of Canada calls “perhaps the biggest policy lever that the Ontario government can use to improve regionalization.” The province could do this by changing targets to increase the rest of the province’s share of immigrants coming in.

Employers can also be better engaged — outside of the GTA — so they understand the benefits of hiring international talent without fear of perceived costs of integrating immigrants.

“One of the critical roles that business groups can play is sharing information with employers on matters such as the eligibility of immigrants and international students to work in Canada, how to connect with international talent, how to navigate the immigration system, and how to build intercultural competence,” said the report.

Businesses outside the GTA can also do a better job of marketing themselves. For example, employers can point out lower home prices than what can be found around the Toronto area when reaching out to oversea networks.

Finally, municipalities are encouraged to play a leadership role in “setting a positive tone within the community about the value of immigration.”

One way to do this is to hold town halls and other events to share stories from immigrants and employers.

Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitte@jessysbains

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