Background: Immigration has been and remains an important force shaping Canadian demography and identity. Health characteristics associated with the movement of large numbers of people have current and future implications for migrants, health practitioners and health systems. We aimed to identify demographics and health status data for migrant populations in Canada.
Methods: We systematically searched Ovid MEDLINE (1996-2009) and other relevant web-based databases to examine immigrant selection processes, demographic statistics, health status from population studies and health service implications associated with migration to Canada. Studies and data were selected based on relevance, use of recent data and quality.
Results: Currently, immigration represents two-thirds of Canada's population growth, and immigrants make up more than 20% of the nation's population. Both of these metrics are expected to increase. In general, newly arriving immigrants are healthier than the Canadian population, but over time there is a decline in this healthy immigrant effect. Immigrants and children born to new immigrants represent growing cohorts; in some metropolitan regions of Canada, they represent the majority of the patient population. Access to health services and health conditions of some migrant populations differ from patterns among Canadian-born patients, and these disparities have implications for preventive care and provision of health services.
Interpretation: Because the health characteristics of some migrant populations vary according to their origin and experience, improved understanding of the scope and nature of the immigration process will help practitioners who will be increasingly involved in the care of immigrant populations, including prevention, early detection of disease and treatment.