Share: Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn I recommend visiting to read:%0A%0A {0} %0A%0A {1}

The Return of Brain Drain? We Haven’t Seen It Yet

There’s been renewed discussion of the issue of “brain drain” – skilled workers leaving Canada for the U.S.


A recent article from the Financial Post provides a good rundown of the issues. While immigration drives population growth in Canada, a significant number of people also migrate from the country during normal pre-COVID-19 conditions. With political changes, it became more difficult to immigrate to the U.S. after 2016, for Canadians and everyone else.


The US is the main destination for Canadians, and by 2018 emigration out of Canada had dropped almost 30%. COVID-19 of course further tightened borders and migration, with record low numbers of both immigrants and emigrants.

Now that there’s a new administration in the U.S., what will this mean for emigration and the labour market? One of the reasons for the Canadian population boom of the last five years, was the combination of increased immigration AND decreased emigration. While immigration looks likely to stay high – the federal government has set targets that way until at least 2023 – will we see a large cohort leaving Canada?

The cause of brain drain has been consistent for decades: the appeal of a higher wages and a larger market of employers in the United States. Currently, the unprecedented cost of housing in Canada – both rental and ownership – is also contributing to the attraction to the U.S. Moreover, the COVID-19 remote work experiment has introduced a new paradigm for global skilled work.

The post-COVID-19 labour market could go in either direction. If there’s no need to relocate, skilled workers can live in Canada while earning a U.S. salary, in USD. At the same time, if there is no need to reside close to your job, will people migrate to lower-cost destinations, or pursue better weather and lifestyle? We’ve already seen the emergence of “digital nomad” work visas in European and Caribbean nations aimed at capturing a remote workforce.

There’s little doubt that Canadian office leasing benefitted from record high immigration, combined with record low emigration. Thus far, “brain drain” has been anecdotal, and until borders are fully re-opened post-COVID-19, it’s unlikely it will be a factor. More importantly than brain drain, Canada continues to receive a “brain gain”; most immigrants to Canada are in the professional and business services category, with skilled workers comprising >25% of immigration. Admittance as a skilled worker weights heavily towards young, educated people, which drives professional employment and downtown leasing. The end of COVID-19 will likely be a net benefit for Canadian real estate, as new immigration more than replaces whatever emigration emerges.

Data sourced from Statistics Canada. © 2021 Cushman & Wakefield. All rights reserved. The information contained within this report is gathered from multiple sources believed to be reliable. The information may contain errors or omissions and is presented without any warranty or representations as to its accuracy.

Related Insights

Research • Investment / Capital Markets

Canadian Cap Rates Perspective Report

Get the latest commercial real estate cap rates in major Canadian markets.

Kristina Bowman • 7/16/2024
Canada Skyline

Canadian Lodging Industry Overview

Our annual Lodging Industry Outlook recaps the results for this past year, highlight some of the key transactions, and identify emerging trends.
Brian Flood • 2/21/2024

Interest Rate Report Q4 2021: Inflation Isn't Coming, It's Already Here

The final quarter of 2021 was a hodgepodge for the economy. Canada achieved high rates of vaccination and began a booster campaign, schools remained open for the fall semester, and return-to-office momentum picked up.

Interested in learning more?

Get in touch and we can assist with any additional information you need.
With your permission we and our partners would like to use cookies in order to access and record information and process personal data, such as unique identifiers and standard information sent by a device to ensure our website performs as expected, to develop and improve our products, and for advertising and insight purposes.

Alternatively click on More Options and select your preferences before providing or refusing consent. Some processing of your personal data may not require your consent, but you have a right to object to such processing.

You can change your preferences at any time by returning to this site or clicking on Privacy & Cookies.
These cookies ensure that our website performs as expected,for example website traffic load is balanced across our servers to prevent our website from crashing during particularly high usage.
These cookies allow our website to remember choices you make (such as your user name, language or the region you are in) and provide enhanced features. These cookies do not gather any information about you that could be used for advertising or remember where you have been on the internet.
These cookies allow us to work with our marketing partners to understand which ads or links you have clicked on before arriving on our website or to help us make our advertising more relevant to you.
Agree All
Reject All