Immigrant kids grow up to outshine the overall population in the labour force

Shelby Thevenot
Published: April 4, 2021

Immigrant children are twice as likely as Canadian children to come from low-income households, but in adulthood, more of them end up getting a post-secondary education, and their salaries are oftentimes greater.

These findings come from a recent Statistics Canada study that looked at data from tax files in 2018. Researchers studied the educational and labour market outcomes of immigrants who arrived in Canada as children before the age of 15.

By age 20, about 70 per cent of immigrants who arrived before age 15 are in a post-secondary institution, compared to 56 per cent of the overall population. Women who immigrated as children make up the majority of these 20-year-olds in post-secondary.

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In 2018, 25-year-olds in the overall population had a median wage of about $29,700, but 25-year-olds who immigrated as children were making an average of $30,300 per year. For 30-year-olds, the median wage overall was about $41,800, compared with $47,400 for 30-year-old immigrants admitted as children. In other words, immigrant children grew up to make about 13 per cent more per year than the overall population.

Immigration class reflected in average earnings

There are three groups of immigrants in Canada: economic class, family class, and refugee class. Economic-class immigrants are the largest category. They come through Express Entry programs, Provincial Nominee Programs, Quebec's Skilled Immigration, and other pathways. Family-class immigrants may be sponsored by a Canadian who is the spouse, parent, or another family member of a foreign national. Refugee-class immigrants are seek asylum in Canada.

The children of economic-class immigrants saw the highest rates of post-secondary participation and annual wages in adulthood.

Up until the age of 23, family class and refugee class kids had higher earnings than their economic class counterparts, because they were more likely to be working than going to school.

Starting at age 24, when most have completed their study programs, the wages of economic-class kids not only surpass their peers who came to Canada through other immigration classes but the overall population as well.

By the age of 30, immigrants who came as children through an economic-class immigration program had median wages of $52,400, in 2018. The overall population was making about $41,800. Thirty-year-old immigrants admitted as children in refugee families were making about $41,600, and immigrants admitted with sponsored families were making about $40,100.

The differences in labour market outcomes is due to how these classes of immigrants are admitted to Canada. Economic-class immigrants get approved to come to Canada for their ability to integrate into the labour market. They arrive to Canada with high levels of human capital: they are young and middle-aged, and demonstrate education, language skills, and in-demand skills that address Canada's economic needs. As such, the children of economic class immigrants are likely to develop human capital characteristics that mirror that of their parents.

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