While reading the NY Post this morning I found this short opinion piece. It states:

While “a politically divisive debate continues to rage” in the United States over a Census question on citizenship, Canada’s census has been asking about it since 1901, reports CBC’s Kathleen Harris. The long form asks, “Of what country is this person a citizen?” and allows three answers: “Canada, by birth,” “Canada, by naturalization” or “Other country — specify.” And for all the US fears that “the question would discourage immigrants from participating in the census,” the Canadian government’s “data quality assessment indicators have not flagged any issues specifically related to the citizenship question.” More: “The Library of Parliament could not find any significant debate, controversy or court case related to the inclusion of a citizenship question on the Canadian census form.”

This makes me wonder if Canadian and American immigration can be quickly compared like this. Are they apples to apples? How are the Canadian and American immigration landscapes similar and different? I'm more concerned with information about illegal immigration, but general information greatly appreciated as well.

  • 5
    This question would probably be great for a thesis, but for this site, you should consider narrowing it down to something more specific that can be answered in a few paragraphs.
    – Joe C
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 19:47
  • @JoeC I'm content with 5 paragraphs, however generalized they'd need to be. Direction to learn more from there would be enough. If it helps narrow things, illegal immigration is my biggest concern, so other aspects can be neglected.
    – user2578
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 19:59
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    This comparison seems strange because the US long form census (~1 in 6) has also had the citizenship question on it. In 2010 the long form was not used as the yearly American Community Survey. (~1 in 8 over 5 years) asked roughly similar questions including citizenship.
    – katatahito
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 5:53
  • @katatahito Those seem reasons for it not being strange.
    – user2578
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 5:59
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    I suspect that the difference in concern over the citizenship question lies more in differences in the census methodology and the political impact of the results than in differences in immigration policy. The political impact of the results is going to be rather lower in Canada since there seem to be fewer than 1/10 as many illegal immigrants per capita as in the US. If what you're trying to get at is whether Canada's finding that the question doesn't hurt data quality would also apply in tbe US then you want to compare deportation programs and public trust in census confidentiality.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


This is an interesting question, but even before I get to some data...

Are they apples to apples? How are the Canadian and American immigration landscapes similar and different?

Right from the start I would say the answer is no, it's definitely not an apples to apples comparison simply based on geography. Given the economic situations for a number of Latin American countries below the United States, there is certainly more immigration (both legal and illegal) to the United States than there is to Canada.

Taking a look at the Migration Policy Institute's map (data from 2019), you can see that all told there's a pretty big discrepancy between the total number of global migrants in each country...

  • Canada: 8.05 million
  • United States: 50.63 million

And then taking immigrants from Mexico for example...

  • Migrants in Canada from Mexico: 87 thousand
  • Migrants in United States from Mexico: 10.85 million

Here are some sources and interactive visualizations that speak pretty directly to sheer volume of immigrants and emigrants in different countries across the world (including the US and Canada)...

This Pew Research article also has some interesting data on citizens' perspectives on immigration across a number of countries (including Canada and the United States).

I'm more concerned with information about illegal immigration, but general information greatly appreciated as well.

Just by its very nature, it's harder to find concrete data on illegal immigration. However I did find at least one source for each country that tries to estimate it...

  • Canada: While there are no accurate figures representing the number or composition of undocumented migrant population in Canada, estimates range between 20,000 and 500,000 persons. (CIMM)
  • United States: ~11.5 million in February 2022 (CIS, see "Figure 1. DHS and CIS Estimates...")

More broadly, the United States' state department claims...

The United States hosts more immigrants than any other country, with more than one million people arriving every year as permanent legal residents, asylum-seekers and refugees, and in other immigration categories. In addition, hundreds of thousands of foreign-born individuals become naturalized U.S. citizens every year. The total across these categories, coupled with the United States’ openness to people of all races, ethnicities, and religions, makes the United States the world’s most generous country for immigration.

Assuming this claim and the other data points shared above are at least mostly accurate, I think they give a pretty clear picture of the differences in the landscape. Without taking sides I feel it's fair to say that given the significant difference in volume and more specifically illegal immigration, it certainly makes sense that the topic is more contentious in the United States. That being said, I think the two governments certainly do work together on immigration to some extent and both work with Latin American governments on immigration policy.

As noted by the commenters, this could really be a whole thesis but I hope I've provided a good foundation and some starting points. Here are a few more sources and articles I found interesting (the first three are focused on comparing policy)...

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    Thank you for the answer. I'm not sure about only 11M estimated illegal immigrants being the correct figure. They've been saying that number for 15 years, but they haven't been deporting anywhere near estimated uncaught illegal border crossings. Anyway, even just that is contentious.
    – user2578
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 20:11
  • Yeah, that's fair though I did say those sources only try "to estimate". You think I should call those statistics out even more as unreliable or cite a different source? Also, is there something more specific you're looking for in order to accept an answer? Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 20:26
  • Wrt changing the answer, no that's not necessary. --- I remember asking the question three years ago, but don't remember answers. So, sure, here's the selection. I may change it if another answer comes along.
    – user2578
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 1:58
  • @frеdsbend "they haven't been deporting anywhere near estimated uncaught illegal border crossings": you can expect roughly 1% of the illegal immigrants in the US to die in any year, so you'd need at least 110,000 new illegal immigrants per year to keep the number constant (plus some will leave on their own in addition to those being deported, making the actual figure somewhat higher than the actual death rate multiplied by the size of the population).
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 14:55
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    In other words, Canada greatly benefits from the US serving as a buffer against illegal migration. Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 17:35

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