Research finds refugees have same economic success as other Canadians, but it takes time

“After those investments in the beginning years, you find a steady improvement in their economic fortunes over time," UBC researcher says.

Barriers in early years in Canada, like language, tough to fix quickly

A scene from a refugee networking event in Calgary held in 2016. A UBC researcher says data shows refugees, on average, achieve the same economic success as Canadians born in Canada. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

A UBC researcher says three decades of census data shows refugees, on average, cost the country no more in the long term than someone born here.

Professor of Geography Dan Hiebert says the financial status of refugees living in Canada's six biggest cities will eventually mirror the rest of the population, although it can take up to 20 years.

"Really tough times at the beginning, high levels of poverty, high levels of social assistance, as much subsidized housing as they can find," Hiebert told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

"After those investments in the beginning years, you find a steady improvement in their economic fortunes over time, [and] refugees end up with the same income distribution at the household level as other Canadians and also with the same level of home ownership."

Hiebert says the things that keep refugees poorer when they first come to Canada, like language barriers, can't be fixed quickly.

Another hurdle they face, unlike many other immigrants, is the trauma of the refugee experience.

"That can have lingering effects over the first number of years," he said. "People need help and resources to get past that."

Another early barrier is the lack of an existing social network in Canada, which can hurt job prospects early on.

Hiebert's research did not factor in upfront costs of refugee settlement programs.

Listen to the full interview:

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast