(CNN) — Remember when your anti-Trump friends vowed to pack their bags and flee to Canada after the 2016 US presidential election?
Well, surprise! (or maybe not): Despite the heavily touted rhetoric, available data shows few Americans actually followed through on that threat. Or at least, they haven’t yet.
According to statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the number of people from the US applying for permanent residency between January and March rose 3.6% from 2016 to 2017.
That doesn’t exactly constitute a mass exodus, especially when looking at the raw numbers: 1,882 Americans have applied for permanent residency in Canada in 2017, just 66 more applications from the same time period in 2016.
As for visas and authorizations issued to people from the US from January to March, the amount increased a mere 1%, from 2,497 in 2016 to 2,523 in 2017.
Moving to Canada is more difficult than it seems
Immigrating to Canada takes more than wishful thinking. Immigration lawyers surmise potential US applicants may have been dissuaded by the process.
Most immigration programs require a permanent job offer from a Canadian employer, one year of skilled work experience in Canada, a high level of English — and possibly French — and a significant amount of cash.
Having a Canadian spouse or relative to sponsor you helps, as does an acceptance letter from a Canadian school, but immigration lawyers say neither is a guarantee.
“Immigrating to Canada is not easy right now, and I imagine a lot of people who were interested in immigrating to Canada, once they did some research, realized that it was a longer and more difficult process than they expected,” said Nova Scotia-based immigration lawyer Suzanne Rix.
That could change, thanks to a fast-track application process the Canadian government launched in mid-June for high-skilled workers. It builds on efforts of Canadian technology companies to attract global talent that would transform Toronto into the next Silicon Valley, as new US immigration policies close the doors to would-be applicants.
Interest in immigrating to Canada was strong, but fell off after election
The interest among Americans to immigrate to Canada may have been sincere initially.
American searches for “How can I move to Canada” shot up 350% in a span of four hours on Super Tuesday, when President Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination in March 2016, according to a data editor at Google. The search spiked again in November as he clinched the presidency.
On election night, the desperation was so acute the Canadian immigration website crashed due to a “significant increase in the volume of traffic.”
Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia took advantage of the peaked interest and doled out a tongue-in-cheek tourist campaign that translated into a veritable “Trump bump,” according to residents.
Lawyer Cedric M. Shen provides immigration services to Americans and Canadians going both ways.
Dozens of calls, emails and website inquiries from Americans wanting to move north flooded his office in the weeks following Election Day. There was swearing and crying, he said, but by the new year it had tapered off — only to spike again on Inauguration Day, then quickly die off again.
“As with the US, you can’t just get a visa or permit and move to another country without being sponsored or qualified in some way,” he said. “If someone calls and says, ‘I don’t know anyone, I just want to move to Canada,’ and after asking a few questions you find out there’s no job, no family and you don’t want to go to school — there’s not much you can do.”
However, Canadians still seek American residency
Shen said the last time a political change lit up his phone lines was after the 2015 election of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Despite the fawning attention he gets from the rest of the world, many Canadians took issue with his Liberal Party politics and still do today.
And the interest among Canadians looking to move to the US remains today, he said.
“There’s no shortage of interest from Canadians who want to move to the US one way or another, even after the election,” he said. “We get dozens of calls and emails a day.”