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Privately sponsored refugees fare better in job market

Syrian Refugees unload off a bus at an airport area hotel to spend the night after arriving in Canada on a Canadian Forces plane at Pearson International Airport in Toronto Ont. on Friday December 1, 2015.


Privately assisted refugees from Syria will likely have an easier time finding employment compared with those sponsored by government.

More than 50 per cent of privately sponsored refugees reported earnings in their first year in Canada compared with 14 per cent of government-assisted refugees, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada data.

In their second year, 70 per cent of privately assisted refugees cited earnings compared with 41.5 per cent for government-sponsored. In year three, 70 per cent of privately sponsored immigrants reported earnings versus 52 per cent for government-sponsored. Although employment rates continue to improve, it is only in year nine and 10 when the earnings of both groups even out, according to the data, which measured the years 2002 through 2012.

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Privately sponsored refugees are typically brought over by a group of volunteers, sometimes associated with a church or community group, that will help on every aspect of resettlement from housing and education to providing jobs. They also become friends and form a refugee's social network. On the other hand, government-assisted refugees don't have the same kind of network and are often more vulnerable, making it harder to find work.

"They have more support," said Jeff Burch, executive director with the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre, which helps immigrants integrate in the Niagara region. "They become very good friends. It's a huge factor in successfully settling," he said.

"They are coming into a built-in network," said Surranna Sandy, executive director with Skills for Change, a Toronto-based settlement agency. "People who come in with connections fare better than people who don't come in without any connections."

Khalid Alkilde, who fled Libya's civil war with his family and moved to Canada last year, is one of many who arrived without a "built-in network." Mr. Alkilde said it has not been easy to secure stable employment. He is working part-time fixing roofs in Hamilton but wants to make use of his engineering diploma.

"I need experience. The income is not enough," Mr. Alkilde said.

Canada's economy has faltered since the price of oil and other commodities plunged. Thousands of natural resources jobs have vanished this year, making the labour market more competitive for the 25,000 Syrian refugees who will soon move to Canada.

The Syrian refugees have one year of government or private support before they will have to find a way to make a living.

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The last time Canada experienced such a huge influx of refugees was after the Vietnam War ended in 1975. More than 60,000 Vietnamese moved to Canada in the ensuing decade, with the majority settling in Ontario and Quebec. Data from the 1986 census show relatively high levels of employment, with about two-thirds of the Vietnamese-born population employed. The data revealed that their employment rates improved the more time spent in the country.

One benefit Syrian refugees will have upon arrival is permanent resident status, which allows them to legally work in the country. It also means prospective employers can access government funds for on-the-job training.

That happened in Nova Scotia, where the province received about 600 Bhutanese refugees over the past five years. The majority had little education after living in a refugee camp for about two decades. The province's main settlement agency worked with a local construction company to give refugees an opportunity to improve their skills. By the end of the apprenticeship, they were employed.

A handful of Canadian businesses have donated funds for settlement and training. Toronto-Dominion Bank's deputy chair Frank McKenna said the incoming Syrian refugees will become part of his bank's potential employee base, although he stopped short of saying TD would specifically hire anyone. "We have a huge labour force worldwide and there is turnover and we are always moving people in and out of TD," he said.

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About the Author
Economics Reporter

Rachelle Younglai is The Globe and Mail's economics reporter. More


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