A researcher at the University of Alberta says that highly skilled second-generation migrants earn less than the general population, despite being more likely to have a university degree.

"I call it the ethnic penalty," said Reza Hasmath, an associate professor in political science who wrote a book on the subject. "You have a certain education level and you expect to get a certain type of wage based on that education."

His research found that is not the case for recent migrants, nor for their children who enter the workforce. In an analysis of Statistics Canada numbers Hasmath found that, on average, visible ethnic minorities are more likely to attend university, but tend to earn less.

On average, migrants make 71 cents for every dollar Canadians of European descent earn. Canadian-born individuals belonging to visible ethnic minorities on average earn 81 cents on the dollar compared to their counterparts of European descent.

'When you interview the various migrants coming in they often talk about their second generation, they talk about their children and they're doing this to have a better life for the children.' - Reza Hasmath

Hasmath said that in his research, which included analysing statistics and interviewing migrants, second-generation immigrants made less money, despite being less willing to take low status and low-paying jobs. He also found they were less likely to have professional jobs or hold management positions.

"When you interview the various migrants coming in they often talk about their second generation, they talk about their children and they're doing this to have a better life for the children," said Hasmath.

He said part of the reason for the income gap is that migrants don't have access to the same social networks as the general population. For those seeking professional jobs it is often about who, rather than what, you know.

"Two-thirds of high status, high-paying jobs are found through social networks so it plays a tremendous role in finding information and finding that first job."

Hasmath said that his research did not indicate the issue was individual discrimination.

"It's not necessarily related to appearance, but it is statistical discrimination."

He suggested that the income disparity could be addressed by developing better social networks.

"It's about integration and long-term integration," he said.

Already, Hasmath said he's seeing change. It now takes less time for migrant families to close the income gap compared to previous decades. 

While previous studies found the descendants of migrant Canadians of visible ethnic minorities earned comparable wages to those of European descent within five generations, Hasmath's findings suggest it could only take three generations going forward.