Refugees Find Financial Success—Eventually

Internal Immigration Department Documents Suggest Refugees Earn More than Most Canadians After 25 Years

Refugees settling in Canada are often falsely accused of draining Canadian coffers, earning more in government assistance than veterans, retirees, and vulnerable populations. The truth is that refugees receive limited financial support from government authorities based on a consideration of applicable provincial regulations.

A new internal document from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, obtained via an access to information request by lawyer Richard Kurland, suggests that refugees go on to out-earn the average Canadian citizen. This document refers to an internal study focusing on Canada’s largest groups of refugees in the 1980s and early 1990s. After 25 years of life in Canada, these refugees, from Vietnam, Cambodia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa are earning an average of $50,000 annually.

Compared to the Canadian average of $45,000, it seems like refugees go on to earn a bit more in the long-term.

Slow Road to Labour Success

This internal document may strongly indicate that the majority of refugees develop valuable skills and enjoy labour market success during their careers, which could mean that Canada’s 50,000-plus Syrian refugees may enjoy similar success in the long term.

In a memo attached to this internal document, a senior department official cautioned that predicting long-term economic outcomes for refugees is inherently challenging, owing to the “cyclical nature of the economy overall and especially (the) human capital of the Syrian cohorts.”

Long-Term Benefits for Both Refugee Parents and Children

Refugee employment and labour success are often regarded as the domain of refugee children. These children frequently receive extensive social support, a taxpayer-funded education in English and French, and the time to develop workforce-friendly skills. Past research by UBC professor Dan Hiebert has shown that refugees that settle in Canada typically take time to adapt, and despite early struggles, eventually enjoy the same success as Canadians.

According to Hiebert, investing in the financial future of refugees requires high levels of social assistance to help overcome the high poverty levels faced in their first years in Canada.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s internal document is one of the first to highlight the success refugees enjoy in the long-term, and a reminder that refugees are contributing members of the local economy. While it does take time, these individuals eventually earn a respectable living on par with most Canadians.