Classification of Canadian immigrants into visible minority groups using country of birth and mother tongue

Open Med. 2013 Oct 1;7(4):e85-93. eCollection 2013.


Background: The Permanent Resident Database of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) contains sociodemographic information on immigrants but lacks ethnic group classifications. To enhance its usability for ethnicityrelated research, we categorized immigrants in the CIC database into one of Canada's official visible minority groups or a white category using their country of birth and mother tongue.

Methods: Using public data sources, we classified each of 267 country names and 245 mother tongues in the CIC data into 1 of 10 visible minority groups (South Asian, Chinese, black, Latin American, Filipino, West Asian, Arab, Southeast Asian, Korean, and Japanese) or a white group. We then used country of birth alone (method A) or country of birth plus mother tongue (method B) to classify 2.5 million people in the CIC database who immigrated to Ontario between 1985 and 2010 and who had a valid encrypted health card number. We validated the ethnic categorizations using linked selfreported ethnicity data for 6499 people who responded to the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS).

Results: Among immigrants listed in the CIC database, the 4 most frequent visible minority groups as classified by method B were South Asian (n = 582 812), Chinese (n = 400 771), black (n = 254 189), and Latin American (n = 179 118). Methods A and B agreed in 94% of the categorizations (kappa coefficient 0.94, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.93-0.94). Both methods A and B agreed with self-reported CCHS ethnicity in 86% of all categorizations (for both comparisons, kappa coefficient 0.83, 95% CI 0.82-0.84). Both methods A and B had high sensitivity and specificity for most visible minority groups when validated using self-reported ethnicity from the CCHS (e.g., with method B, sensitivity and specificity were, respectively, 0.85 and 0.97 for South Asians, 0.93 and 0.99 for Chinese, and 0.90 and 0.97 for blacks).

Interpretation: The use of country of birth and mother tongue is a validated and practical method for classifying immigrants to Canada into ethnic categories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada / ethnology
  • Databases, Factual / classification*
  • Databases, Factual / statistics & numerical data
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / classification*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Ethnicity / classification*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Minority Groups / classification*
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Ontario / ethnology