The Hongcouver

Here are immigration statistics Vancouver isn’t supposed to see. Why the secrecy?

Data showing the source countries and immigration programmes used by new arrivals has been removed from the BC Stats website

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 July, 2015, 4:54am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:49am

Attached hereabouts is a set of immigration data that Canadian statistics authorities do not seem particularly keen to share with Vancouverites, or anyone else for that matter.

Exactly why is unclear. It makes no sense to withhold this information if the goal is an understanding of the nature of immigration to British Columbia.

Simply glance at these documents, which depict the source countries and source programmes for immigration to BC, and the casual observer might see a bunch of boring numbers. Look harder. They help reveal the transformation of Vancouver itself.

For instance: they demonstrate that Vancouver is a global capital for wealth-determined immigration, with 36,892 such immigrants activating permanent residency in BC from 2005-2012 (see note below); about 66 per cent of these were from mainland China. That proportion increases to 81 per cent if we include Taiwan and Hong Kong (virtually all Chinese immigrants to BC settle in greater Vancouver).

By comparing other data, these statistics also reveal some uncomfortable truths about  millionaire migrants; namely, that many tell authorities they plan to live elsewhere in Canada before settling in BC. Only 20,041 were approved to move to BC from 2005-2012, according to a separate Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) spreadsheet, meaning that about 46 per cent of all millionaire migrants known to have activated their visas in BC in that period either deceived authorities about where they planned to live or changed their minds between approval and arrival and didn’t bother telling anyone their plans.

The South China Morning Post has already reported all of these findings, here and here  so the statistics in question have already proved extremely useful. I’m sure there are other important facts that remain to be gleaned from them.

These statistics (including 2013 data that I exclude from my totals in order to make an accurate comparison with the CIC spreadsheet, which lacks full-year 2013 data) used to be freely available via links on the BC Stats website. For reasons I cannot even recall – luck, perhaps - I downloaded all the data in PDF form last September rather than relying on the links, which is why I’m now able to share it in its raw form.

But in January, when I went to see if the BC Stats site had been updated with 2014 data, I found that every year’s links had been removed. I asked a contact at BC Stats why, and was told the data had been removed “temporarily” due to “technical issues” and it was hoped the information would be restored to the site in March.

I forgot all about this exchange until I read an item  in the Vancouver Sun by reporter Tara Carman last week. Carman recounted that she was told she needed to file an access-to-information request to obtain any such data from CIC; it was separately provided by BC Stats but with the unhelpful proviso that it not be published.

The SCMP obtained the data under no such proviso, so here it all is (in PDF form, in case the images here are a little blurry): 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. For that handy CIC spreadsheet - which lists all Canadian immigration applications and approvals by country of origin, province of destination and immigration category from 2002 to June 2013, and was provided to the SCMP by immigration lawyer Richard Kurland - just follow this link (you’ll have to sign up to Dropbox). You’re welcome.

As for 2014 data, well, I guess that requires an access-to-information request.

Asked about Carman’s account, my contact at BC Stats was now unable to say whether the data would ever be restored to the site. The source said a data-sharing agreement (presumably with federal authorities) was in the process of being drawn up, and this would help determine what BC Stats would publish in the future.

All of this comes at a time that Vancouver is hungry for data that might help explain the city’s housing unaffordability crisis. And immigration data is a vital piece of that puzzle.

It is data that allows us to cut through the husk of politics, anecdotes, opinions and self-interest surrounding any issue to reveal those precious kernels of truth.

So, why the secrecy?

[NOTE: The known 36,892 investor migrant arrivals in BC from 2005 to 2012 greatly understates the actual arrivals, since it excludes all who activate permanent residency elsewhere – namely, Quebec – and then travel onwards to BC. This link shows hpw the total arrivals in BC under both the federal and Quebec immigrant investor schemes from 2005-2012 likely exceeded 45,000, and explains how that estimation was made.]


The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email [email protected] or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.