Refugees earn more than most Canadians after 25 years

October 9, 2018

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

An internal immigration department document shows that, after 25 years in the country, a typical refugee is earning as much or more than the Canadian norm, which is about $45,000 a year.

The document quotes a senior department official who says the long-term study of refugees’ wages suggests the recent wave of 50,000 refugees from Syria could several decades from now do as well as earlier refugees in regards to earnings.

“In a nutshell this is the trajectory we would expect (all things being equal) from government-assisted refugees and privately-sponsored refugees,” senior immigration department official Umit Kiziltan writes in a memo obtained under an access to information request.

The immigration and tax department data, which tracks refugees’ earnings from 1981 to 2014, shows that average government-assisted refugees earned less than $20,000 a year in their first decade in the country, when many families rely on provincial welfare and other government benefits to get by.

However, after 25 to 30 years in Canada, the average refugee is earning roughly $50,000 a year, about $5,000 more than the average Canadian. The study also shows the earnings gap between government-assisted refugees, who initially do worse than privately-sponsored refugees, basically disappears over the long run.

The largest groups of refugees to Canada in the 1980s and early 1990s came from Vietnam, Cambodia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa. In that era the total number of refugees arriving ranged from 15,000 to 40,000 annually. In recent years Canada has accepted more than 50,000 refugees from war-torn Syria alone.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained the internal government documents, said they contain reliable information that strongly indicate most refugees, no matter where they come from, develop usable skills and do well in the labour market over their careers.

However, even though the senior immigration department’s memo welcomed the news that refugees who arrived several decades ago perform well, Kiziltan cautioned that it’s hard to forecast how more recent refugees will do, given the “cyclical nature of the economy overall and especially (the) human capital of the Syrian cohorts.”

The report, in addition, also does not compare the earnings of refugees who have been in Canada for several decades (which means many would be in their 50s and at the peak of their careers) with the earnings of other Canadians of the same age cohort.

The data on refugees’ slow road to labour-market success in Canada comes on the heels of 2018 controversies over thousands of asylum seekers illegally crossing the Canadian border, a Syrian refugee being charged with the murder of Burnaby teenager Marrisa Shen and a Postmedia story revealing the federal Liberal government has not produced any report in two years on whether recent Syrian refugees are learning English or French, working, receiving social assistance or going to school.

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