Is it harder to immigrate to Canada or the USA?

Canada and the United States are neighbouring countries that share the largest land border in the world. They are both desirable countries to immigrate to, known for their strong economies, excellent quality of life, and good work opportunities. There are so many factors that determine how hard it is to immigrate to a country, and it depends on the individual person and also the reason they are immigrating. In general, it is harder to immigrate to the USA for education or as a refugee, but it is harder to immigrate to Canada for family reunification. Both countries are similar when it comes to immigrating for work opportunities.

Both countries accept a large volume of immigrants each year, though, in general, Canada has a more liberal immigration policy and accepts more immigrants per capita. Two main differences between the countries’ systems are is that 1) the USA prioritizes family reunification whereas Canada favours economic factors and 2) the USA struggles with illegal immigration in a way Canada does not.

Some of the factors that determine how difficult it is to immigrate to Canada or the USA are the characteristics of the individual (education, skills, marital status) and the reasons they are immigrating (education, work, family). We will look at some of the reasons why people immigrate and evaluate whether it is easier to move to Canada or the USA.

Immigrating for work opportunities

One of the main reasons that people immigrate to a new country is for new employment opportunities. They might feel that there are opportunities to find better work with higher salaries.

Canadian immigration: Canada has an express entry immigration process for skilled immigrants who want to permanently move to the country. People who are eligible for this program are people with a certain level of education and skill, and who also speak one of the official languages (French or English) at a high level. If you qualify for this program, applications can be processed fairly quickly, in about 9 months or less. These candidates are eligible for permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship.

United States immigration: The USA also has employment-based immigrant visas, for those whose primary purpose is the move to the States to work. If you are highly skilled or have a professional degree, you may qualify for the preferential categories that receive priority placement to enter the country.

Is it harder to immigrate to Canada or the USA for work opportunities? In this category, the two countries are very similar. Basically, it is easier to immigrate for work as a skilled worker in both countries. 

Immigrating for family reasons

As mentioned earlier, this is one category where the countries differ. The USA is more likely to prioritize family reunification for reasons to immigrate than Canada, however, both have programs to allow family sponsorship. 

Canadian immigration: Canada has a family sponsorship program where citizens or permanent residents of Canada can sponsor a relative to come to Canada. 

United States immigration: Similarly, the US has a family immigration program where family members can be sponsored to come to the US. Both immediate relatives and family preferences (more distant relations) can be sponsored, but the first category is a priority and has no limit each year. 

Is it harder to immigrate to Canada or the USA for family reasons? Considering that family reunification is a priority for the USA’s immigration policy, it makes it easier for family members to immigrate to the US.

Immigrating for education

A lot of people will move to a new country for education purposes. Perhaps the school or program they want to enroll in is located elsewhere, or they see education as a pathway for immigration. 

Canadian immigration: In Canada, the pathway to immigration for an international student is quite clear and common. If you attend a Canadian post-secondary school and graduate from it, you will be granted a Post-Graduation Work Permit, which is an open permit to work in any field or job in Canada. This allows those students to eventually gain their permanent residency and then their citizenship.

United States immigration: Each year, thousands of international students move to the US for educational purposes on a student visa. Unlike Canada, they are not given an automatic work visa after graduating from the program. To extend their stay, they need to request an extension to ensure they are allowed to continue on in the country. Or, if they get a job, then they can change their status to continue to work in the country.

Is it harder to immigrate to Canada or the USA for educational reasons? It is harder to immigrate to the USA for this reason, because the country does not grant automatic work visas to graduating students the way Canada does.

Immigrating as a refugee

Refugees are a special class or immigrant because they are fleeing their own country and seeking asylum somewhere else. Both Canada and the USA accept refugees each year, though Canada outpaces the US, especially considering its small population size. In 2018, Canada settled the most refugees in the world to help with the Syrian refugee crisis. That year, Canada accepted 28,000 refugees, with the US coming in second at 22,900.

Refugee immigration can be a hot topic in policy and immigration, with different governments changing the number of people they will accept. In 2019, the US decreased its cap on refugee admissions, reaching a historic low, and is no longer the top country for refugee admissions. 

Is it harder to immigrate to Canada or the USA as a refugee: While the total number of people accepted each year fluctuates, and Canada and the US have similar numbers, Canada is a more “refugee-friendly” country, accepting high volumes of people per capita.


There is even more that we can look at in relation to immigration—it is a complex topic with many different angles. Both Canada and the USA are countries made of immigrants and welcome high volumes of new immigrants each year. Overall, it is harder to immigrate to Canada due to family sponsorship, but easier for education and as a refugee. In terms of work, both countries are similar. 

Either way, it’s important to thoroughly review both country’s laws and regulations surrounding immigration, and perhaps work with an immigration lawyer if you are considering moving. 

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