B.C. immigration crashes to 15 year-lows

Net number of immigrants down 66% in the first half of this year; could have strong real estate implications

As a panel discussion on foreign home ownership prepares to convene next week in Vancouver, the latest statistics show that international immigration to British Columbia has crashed to 15-year lows.

The first half of 2015 has seen a net increase of less than 6,000 immigrants into B.C., compared with more than 18,000 in the same period last year.

This was the first time in more than 15 years, BC Stats said, that B.C. experienced a net loss of non-permanent residents.

If the current trend continues, immigration to B.C. will fall below the annual inflow that forms a key foundation of housing demand forecasts.

The dramatic decline began in the fourth quarter of 2014 when net immigration fell to negative 1,808 people – meaning that many more people left B.C. for other countries than arrived. This was the first net loss of immigrants to the province in more than a decade.

Cameron Muir, chief economist with the BC Real Estate Association (BCREA), expressed surprise when Business in Vancouver informed him of the BC Stats figures.

“That is first I heard of it,” Muir said.

BCREA, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and Central 1 Credit Union of B.C. are among the groups that have based recent housing market forecasts on B.C. retaining immigration levels of around 35,000 immigrants annually.

Muir is among a four-person expert panel assembled by the Urban Development Institute, Pacific Region for an October 7 discussion on the controversial topic of foreign home ownership in Vancouver.

Central I Credit Union, whose bullish housing forecast for B.C. to 2018, released earlier this year, hinged on projections of continued high immigration levels, reported this week a “sharp decline in immigration from Asia and Pacific area countries.”

Senior Central 1 economist Bryan Yu said the loss of immigrants could result in a cooling of future housing demand in B.C.

The immigration collapse did not surprise Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.

“It’s all about the temporary foreign workers (TFWs) leaving Canada,” said Kurland.

The Conservative government set April 1, 2015 as the deadline for the temporary low-skilled workers to leave the country after changing the rules in 2011. Formerly, TFWs had only to re-apply, but new rules require them to leave the country for at least four years before re-applying.

The exodus from B.C. has begun, Kurland said.

“There are also no new temporary workers coming in,” said Kurland, a partner with Kurland, Tobe.

There are an estimated 70,000 TFWs in B.C., the third highest among provinces, so net immigration levels could stay low for some time, Kurland suggested.

A 90-day provincial moratorium on applications under B.C.’s revised Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) that was lifted July 31 may have also choked off the flow of middle-class immigrant entrepreneurs, according to Grace Wong, the new chair of Success, a non-profit immigrant settlement agency in Vancouver. The PNP program allows immigrants to qualify quicker for permanent residency if they invest up to $200,000 in a business.

“It takes a while to see the effect of such changes,” Wong said.

Muir agreed the drop in immigration this year is likely reflective of a loss of temporary foreign workers, which he said would have more of an effect on the rental housing market than foreign home ownership.

But Yu suspects more is going on than the loss of lower skilled temporary workers.

“More concerning is [the] further down trend in the number of permanent resident immigrants to the province,” Yu said, noting that the inflow of such immigrants to B.C. fell 19% through the first half of this year.