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Why migrants stay in small and mid-sized Canadian cities (WHYMS)


Melissa Kelly and former CERC Migration Research Assistant Michelle Nguyen

This project turns the usual research and policy question 'why do migrants leave smaller centres?' on its head and instead asks those who stay in smaller centres why they do so. Focusing on the lived experiences of migrants, the project aims to identify and compare the various contextual factors contributing to the successful attraction and retention of migrants in small and mid-sized cities in Ontario, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan.

  1. What attracts migrants to small or mid-sized cities and what is important in influencing their decisions to live/stay there for 3 years or more?
  2. How do their motivations and decision-making evolve throughout different life stages, including those of their family/household?
  3. What is the role of municipalities, community organizations, and cultural associations in building connections, creating a welcoming environment, and supporting migrants’ quality of life in small and mid-sized cities?

Many small and mid-sized cities in Canada view international migration as a way to address labour shortages and to counter the effects of population decline. Smaller urban centres often face significant challenges to attracting and retaining migrants, however, with almost 70 per cent of immigrants to Canada settling in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

A number of research studies have found that stable employment, educational opportunities, the creation of a welcoming environment, and the presence of amenities and services contribute to the successful attraction and retention of migrants. More in-depth research is needed, however, to better understand the lived experiences of migrants, and why they choose to stay in smaller cities for extended periods of time.

This project utilizes multiple methods: online surveys, in-depth semi-structured interviews, and focus groups. Each method was designed with the purpose of better understanding the dynamics and factors contributing to migrant retention in Canada’s small and mid-sized cities.

The following are research outputs resulting from the project: 

Kelly, M., Nguyen, M. (2023) Choosing to Stay: Understanding Immigrant Retention in Four Non-metropolitan Counties in Southern Ontario (external link) . Journal of International Migration and Integration.

Nguyen, Michelle and Kelly, Melissa (2023), “Why Immigrants Stay in Small and Mid-Sized Canadian Cities: Report on Findings in Grey and Bruce Counties” Report Prepared for Welcoming Grey-Bruce.

Nguyen, Michelle and Kelly, Melissa (2023), “Why Immigrants Stay in Small and Mid-Sized Canadian Cities: Report on Findings in Lanark and Renfrew Counties” Report prepared for Local Immigration Partnership/Partenariat local pour l’immigration- Lanark & Renfrew. 

CERC Migration

regionalization, cities, immigrants, retention, integration, lived experiences, welcoming communities