Every four years Americans worried about the result of the presidential election say they will move to Canada if their preferred candidate does not win. In 2016 the prospect of President Donald Trump prompted celebrities ranging from Bryan Cranston (of “Breaking Bad” fame) to Barbra Streisand to utter this threat. Cher, an outlier, threatened to move to Jupiter. The megaphone of social media made these calls sound more numerous and louder than ever before. Lost in the cacophony was a question few seem to have considered: Is a permanent move to Canada even possible?
There is a long history of Americans moving north for political reasons. Up to 40,000 United Empire Loyalists trekked to what was then British North America following the war of independence. A similar number of slaves used the underground railroad, a network of abolitionists, to go north to freedom while slavery was legal in the United States. Some 30,000 draft dodgers and army deserters bolted to Canada during the Vietnam war. More recently, there was a noticeable but much smaller uptick during the presidency of George W. Bush (see chart).
It is not yet clear whether the Trump presidency will spark an exodus. Anecdotal evidence suggests an increase in interest. The Canadian immigration department’s website crashed on election night. Royal LePage, Canada’s largest realtor, said the number of Americans looking at homes on its website rose 40% in the last three months of 2016 compared with the same period the previous year. Applications from American students to study at Canadian universities have jumped, at some schools as high as 80%. They may be testing the waters. Yet those who turn ideas into action will find there is no fast track for American immigrants. The days of packing your bags and just moving to Canada are long gone.