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Beyond the Big City: How Small Communities Across Canada Can Attract and Retain Newcomers

Posted on:
August 18, 2019

Victoria Esses & Charlie Carter
Public Policy Forum (PPF) in partnership with
Pathways to Prosperity (P2P)
Released August 6, 2019

Executive Summary and Findings

“Canada is an open, accepting, and generous country. It is built on diversity, and communities are stronger when they welcome and work with newcomers who want to build a better Canada. But with the natural trend of intensification and urbanization, most newcomers to Canada settle in just a few major cities, which offer greater economic opportunities and cultural diversity. The rest of the country has not experienced the same rewards from new people bringing new ideas, and small centres have not proportionally enjoyed the benefits of immigration. Instead, many small centres and rural areas are experiencing declining economic prospects and even shrinking populations, creating a cycle of decline and consequent low attraction of new residents, furthering decline.

The Public Policy Forum, in partnership with Pathways to Prosperity, conducted research to determine how newcomer attraction and retention could be enhanced to contribute to the success of smaller centres and less densely populated regions across Canada. A literature review and jurisdictional scan were conducted to bring together the best available evidence on newcomer attraction to and retention in small centres and rural areas. Data from the Longitudinal Immigration Database (IMDB) were also analyzed to better understand the mobility and retention rates of immigrants in small centres in Ontario. These findings were validated and expanded on through community consultations with 199 key stakeholders in five small centres across Ontario.

Key findings

·         There is an overall trend of immigrants who were destined to live in smaller centres not residing in these intended destinations at landing. While they intended to live in a small centre, they choose to reside elsewhere. These losses are not offset by an inflow from other areas in the province or from other provinces, and there is a persistent issue of either zero or negative net migration for many of these communities. In addition, with a close linear relationship between ‘immigration stock’ and retention rates, some smaller centres in Ontario are in double-jeopardy, as these communities do not receive a lot of immigrants to begin with and do not retain immigrants.

·         Multiple factors contribute to whether immigrants choose to move to a new community, including perceptions of the community, the presence of family, friends and/or other immigrants, employment opportunities, educational opportunities, access to cultural and religious amenities, employer support, and their desire for a small-centre lifestyle.

·         Many of the same factors that influence attraction also determine whether immigrants will stay. The following factors have been shown to play a role in immigrants’ decision to leave a community: lack of large immigrant population, lack of cultural and religious amenities, lack of adequate settlement services, lack of fulfilling employment, inadequate employment opportunities for spouses, inadequate public transportation, inadequate housing, and racism and intolerance.


Small centres and rural areas must be involved in making themselves stand out. Some strategies that have been used to promote, attract, and retain immigrants in small centres and rural areas include providing online information portals, welcoming community campaigns and events, employer-supported initiatives, and incentives for relocation to small centres and rural areas. Yet a piecemeal approach will not be enough to reinvigorate small centres. It will take a collective effort on the part of multiple levels of government, business associations and employers, community leaders and civil society, and the settlement sector. It will require both short-term initiatives, within a three-year timeframe, as well as longer-term efforts.

We suggest the following for initial consideration:

·         Provide and enhance mobile settlement supports for small centres and rural communities, with online and telephone question-and-answer services for municipalities, service providers and newcomers;

·         Develop and implement a campaign, in collaboration with business associations and multi-cultural councils, to engage and educate employers and communities on the value of immigrant talent and how newcomers can help vitalize the local economy and demographics;

·         Optimize employment support programs, including intercultural competency training for employers and adjacent service providers, connector programs, and succession facilitation for businesses;

·         Implement municipal programs that support international student connections to their local communities to encourage them to stay after graduation; and,

·         Work across government to identify new policy opportunities to invest in community development such as rural broadband infrastructure, affordable childcare, rural and remote training and education initiatives, and public-private partnerships that try new approaches to affordable housing and transportation.

As the cost of housing in major urban centres outpaces earnings for many people, small centres can compete to attract newcomers and Canadians alike. Canada’s small centres have unique attributes and many of them can make a compelling lifestyle proposition for potential new residents. Sensible policy solutions and collaboration will help Canadian small centres and rural communities benefit from the economic and social contributions of newcomers.”

Download the full report:

Related documents | Documents connexes (en anglais) :

·         Appendix A – Jurisdictional Scan

·         Appendix B – IMDB Analysis

·         Appendix C – Community Consultations

·         Small Cities Immigration Challenge – Infographic

·         About the Project

Also from Public Policy Forum | Également du Forum des politiques publiques :  

·         2019-07 : Analysis: As opposition to immigration grows elsewhere, Atlantic Canadians’ support is strong—and rising

·         2019-07 : Immigrant entrepreneurs: Highly desired, hard to attract

·         2019-07 : Atlantic Newsletter #5: Immigrant entrepreneurs, plus: Bravely building policy for the future of work

o   Immigrant entrepreneurs: Highly desired, hard to attract

o   Immigrant entrepreneurs share a piece of advice

o   Analysis: As opposition to immigration grows elsewhere, Atlantic Canada’s support is strong – and rising

·         2019–07 : The Future is Due North (project) | Le Nord, l’étoile qui nous guide (projet)

·         2019-06 : Atlantic Newsletter #4: How small communities in rural areas can attract and retain newcomers

o   For Acadians, newcomers are economic saviours but linguistic threats

o   Mill town’s struggle reveals rural areas’ unique immigration challenges

o   Opinion: The corrosive power of “Where are you from?”

·         2019-06 : Report Preview: Do Canadians’ fears about automation push them to populism?

·         2019-05 : Brave New Work Newsletter #2: Gig work, inclusion and modernizing EI

·         2019-04 : Keeping international students in Atlantic Canada: EduNova’s big experiment

·         2019-04 : Opinion: The danger of over-selling the Canadian dream to international students

Also from Pathways to Prosperity | Également du partenariat Voies vers la prospérité :  

·         2019-07 : La paternité en contexte migratoire : Étude exploratoire sur des pères immigrants d’origine africaine en Abitibi-Témiscamingue

·         2019-07 : More than Economic Integration: An Independent Evaluation of ISANS’ English in the Workplace Program

·         2019-06 : Accessing Canadian Healthcare for Immigrants: Empowerment, Voice, & Enablement (ACHIEVE)

·         2019-06 : Developing an Interpretive Argument to Guide the Use of Portfolio-based Language Assessment in Beginning Adult English Language Literacy Classes

·         2019-06 : Do Immigrants who Land in Atlantic Canada With Family Stay?

·         2019-06 : How Do We Know What’s Working? Measuring Settlement Outcomes for Individuals and Communities

(P2P-IRCC International Metropolis 2019 Preconference presentations)

·         2019-06 : Comment savons-nous ce qui fonctionne? Mesurer les résultats d’établissement pour les personnes et les communautés (Pré-conférence de VVP-IRCC au Congrès international de Métropolis 2019 : Présentations)

·         2019-06 : Accessing Canadian Healthcare for Immigrants: Empowerment, Voice, & Enablement (ACHIEVE)

·         2019-03 : Fixing the Migrant Mismatch: What Happens When Firms Value Immigrants Differently than Governments?


Research at a Glance is designed to inform the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) community and other interested parties about recently published, policy-relevant research from government, academic and NGO sources. The views expressed in the documents described do not necessarily reflect those of IRCC.


The Public Policy Forum, in partnership with Pathways to Prosperity, conducted research to determine how newcomer attraction and retention could be enhanced to contribute to the success of smaller centres and less densely populated regions across Canada.