Immigrants remaking Canada’s religious face in surprising ways

Vancouver, Canada - Canada is welcoming more than the global average of immigrants who are Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and non-religious.

The country, however, is taking in less than the global average of immigrants who are Muslim, Hindu and Jewish.

Those are some of the surprising findings of a sweeping global survey on immigration and religion conducted by the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report, titled Faith on the Move, provides an enormous amount of data on the religious loyalties of the world’s 214-million immigrants, a group larger than the population of Brazil.

Canada, which has 7.2 million permanent residents who were not born in the country, is the fifth most popular destination for the world’s immigrants. This country of 34 million accepts twice as many immigrants per capita as the U.S.

The Pew Forum report, which describes migration patterns in every country of the world, makes clear that immigration is changing the religious face of Canada in unexpected ways.

For instance, even though some Canadians believe that Muslim immigrants will soon predominate, only nine per cent of all newcomers are Muslim. That’s in contrast to global people trends, where Muslims make up 27 per cent of immigrants.

The majority of Canada’s immigrants – six in 10 — are Christians. That’s an even higher ratio than across the planet, where Christians make up five in 10 of those moving permanently to new countries (as well as the largest immigrant group in Europe).

Christians who have started new lives in Canada are most likely to hail from Britain (500,000), the Philippines (350,000), Italy (330,000), the U.S. (220,000), Germany (160,000), Jamaica (120,000) and South Korea (100,000).

The second-largest group of migrants to Canada are the religiously unaffiliated. They include atheists and agnostics and the “spiritual but not religious.”

Non-religious migrants account for 17 per cent of newcomers to Canada (roughly the same proportion this cohort accounts for among all Canadians). However, the non-religious make up only nine per cent of all immigrants globally.

The solid majority of non-religious settlers are from mainland China (390,000). Two out of three immigrants from mainland China describe themselves as unaffiliated. They’re followed by non-religious from Hong Kong (140,000), the U.K. (140,000), U.S. (70,000), Vietnam (50,000) and Taiwan (40,000).

A significant factor behind Census Canada discovering more than 35 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents have “no religion” can be chalked up to the unusually high inflow of immigrants from these East Asian countries.

The third-largest group of newcomers to Canada, defined by religion, are Muslims.

And, contrary to widespread belief, most of Canada’s Muslim immigrants do not come from Arab countries. The strong majority are from Pakistan (130,000), Iran (80,000), India (40,000), Afghanistan (40,000) and Bangladesh (30,000). The largest Arab source countries for Muslims are Lebanon (30,000) and Algeria (30,000).

After taking into account the world’s Christians and Muslims (who together account for half the global population), the percentage of those on the move from other religions falls dramatically.

Despite accounting for almost 15 per cent of all residents of the planet, only five per cent of Hindus have ever emigrated.

In Canada, just four per cent of newcomers are Hindus (mostly from India and Sri Lanka).

That is the same proportion of Canadian immigrants who are Buddhist, a percentage slightly higher than the global average.

Despite Buddhism’s historical roots in mainland China, only 10,000 of Canada’s 550,000 mainland Chinese immigrants are Buddhist. Buddhist immigrants in Canada come mainly from Vietnam (90,000), followed by Hong Kong (20,000) and Taiwan (20,000).

The Pew Forum did not officially include the world’s 23 million Sikhs in its country-by-country study. But Statistics Canada independently confirms that Sikhs (from India) make up about four per cent of all immigrants, including almost 200,000 residents of B.C.

Even though only two per cent of immigrants to Canada are Jewish (slightly lower than the worldwide average for Jews), that is mainly a reflection of Judaism being a small religion. Of any religious group, Jews are the most likely in the world to leave their country of origin. The Pew Forum report said 25 per cent of Jews alive today have immigrated, compared to just five per cent of Christians and four per cent of Muslims