Economic woes in the U.S. are driving Americans across the northern border in near-record numbers as they seek better job opportunities and cheaper education in Canada, according to the latest federal government figures obtained by CTV News.

Ottawa approved 34,185 visas for U.S residents last year alone -- a figure that falls just short of the all-time record of 35,060 approved visas in 2010.

“The number one problem in the U.S. economy is unemployment, so it’s natural you're going to see more young Canadians coming back from the States, and young Americans pursuing economic opportunity here,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.

Immigration officials say the slight drop in visa approvals last year was attributed to the rigid applicant screening process and strict rules. Visas are only granted to Americans with pre-arranged jobs and students who are welcomed by cash-strapped Canadian universities.

Many expats are also fleeing the effects of the U.S recession and returning home.  

Canadian Randy Kientz spent most of his life in the U.S., but after losing his business in Reno, Nevada, he decided to head back north.

“It was a deteriorating economy, the housing market was crashing,” Kientz told CTV News, adding that the cost of medical insurance also adds to Americans’ financial troubles.

American Jillayne Bohler, on the other hand, recently moved to Winnipeg to attend university because she could not afford to pay tuition in her home state of Minnesota.

“So I’m paying less than a third of that here, so it makes my parents happy,” Bohler said.

“We definitely have seen an increase in the number of people, to the point that it is a steady stream of Americans trying to come into Canada,” Toronto immigration lawyer Sergio Karas told CTV News.

By comparison, fewer than 20,000 Canadians moved to the U.S. over the past two years -- the lowest number in nearly a decade.

With a report from CTV’s Richard Madan