Here are the long-term economic outcomes of refugees in Canada

Shelby Thevenot
Published: November 16, 2020

One of the ways to measure how well certain groups of migrants have integrated into Canadian society, is to look at how they performed in the labour market.

Statistics Canada conducted a study on refugees who came to Canada in 2003. The study compares and contrast four different categories of refugees, how each cohort fared in getting jobs, and how many required social assistance.

Refugees to Canada who come through the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program are selected overseas either as government-assisted refugees, or as privately sponsored refugees. Refugees who make claims in Canada go through the In-Canada Asylum Program. A refugee claimant is a person who has submitted a refugee claim but has not received legal status from the government.

Canada's immigration department, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) supplies open work permits to refugee claimants so that they can work while waiting on a decision on their claim. Those who come from abroad have access to federally-funded settlement services both before arrival and immediately upon landing.

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Researchers in this study compared refugees who became permanent residence with government-assisted refugees, privately sponsored refugees, and claimants who did not eventually become permanent residents over the period of study. Data came from landing records, and taxation data.

Privately sponsored refugees and claimants who got PR see high employment rates

In the first five years after landing or making a claim, privately sponsored refugees have the highest employment rates. This could be partially due to their sponsorship network, and because they are more likely to speak English or French upon landing in comparison to government assisted refugees.

Refugee claimants who got permanent residence reached near parity with privately sponsored refugees after four years. By year six they had the highest rates of employment.

The share of government assisted refugees who reported employment income increased steadily in the first four to five years, eventually settling at 72.4 per cent 13 years after landing. Those refugee claimants who did not get permanent residence reported income at a rate of about 50 per cent throughout the period.

Privately sponsored refugees reported highest income

Of those who were employed, income rose considerably for all study groups except for refugees who did not become permanent residents, though this group saw a moderate increase in income.

Privately sponsored refugees remained the top earners throughout the 13-year period, followed by refugees who became permanent residents. These sponsored refugees had an average income of over $35,000 after 11 years.

Government assisted refugees started off as the lowest earners, but eventually surpassed non-permanent residents income after four years.

Rates of social assistance decline for all groups in time

After the first year, about two thirds of the refugees who got permanent residence and those who did not collected social assistance. Although these rates were lower than government assisted refugees, they were higher than privately sponsored refugees.

The low rate of social assistance among privately sponsored refugees may be due to the conditions of refugee sponsorship. Sponsors must agree to provide the refugees with care, lodging, settlement assistance and support for the sponsorship period, which is typically one year. After this first year, the rate of social assistance goes up from 18.4 per cent to 24.1 per cent. However, by year five privately sponsored refugees see rates of social assistance dip below the first year's rate.

By comparison, the high rates of social assistance seen in government assistance refugees drops dramatically after the first year, from 91.6 per cent to 68.5 per cent in year two. This may be attributable to the Refugee Assistance Program, a social assistance program which provides income support for new refugees to cover first-year expenses in Canada. This group consistently saw the highest rates of social assistance compared to the other four cohorts of refugees. By year 13, about 27.2 per cent of government assisted refugees claimed social assistance.

Of those who collected social assistance, the average income per family member was between 4,000 and 6,000 after 13 years.

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