Immigrant wages rising, but gaps with Canadian-born earners persist

Recent immigrants to Canada are earning more money than ever. The median income of people who arrived in Canada in 2014 was $24,000 a year later, the highest on record for landed immigrants since 1981.

The longer immigrants live in Canada, the more they make, but not for all countries, StatsCan data shows

New citizens take an oath earlier this year in Ottawa. Statistics Canada figures show recent immigrants to Canada are earning more money than ever. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Recent immigrants to Canada are earning more money than ever, according to new Statistics Canada figures. 

The median income of people who arrived in Canada in 2014 was $24,000 a year later, the highest on record for landed immigrants since 1981.

This increase is partly due to the so-called Canadian Experience Class — a centrepiece of the previous Conservative government's economic immigration reforms, which fast-tracks permanent residency for newcomers who already have work experience in Canada.

"There are more immigrants coming in through this class," said Statistics Canada senior analyst Scott McLeish. "They already have experience working in Canada in high skills occupations. So they're starting from a different point than other immigrants."

Statistics Canada arrived at these numbers by looking at 2015 tax returns from immigrants.

The rise in median wages is the good news. But immigrants still make significantly less than people born in Canada. While non-immigrants earned on average $36,300, immigrants made $29,770, according to the 2016 census.

This immigrant wage gap varies by province, with the widest gap in Alberta and the narrowest in Nova Scotia.
In the Northwest Territories and in Newfoundland and Labrador, immigrants earn on average more than people born in Canadians.

Immigrants earn more the longer they live in Canada

Immigrants tend to make more money the longer they live in Canada. In 2008, an immigrant who had been in Canada for seven years made almost $11,000 more than one who had arrived a year before.

This residence gap is most acute for immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Recent immigrants from those regions earn much less than those from Asia, Latin America, and Europe.

It's a different situation for immigrants from the United States. Wages for recent American immigrants tend to be higher than those who have been here longer. 

According to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, the main factors of the wage gap are language skills, foreign qualification and skill recognition, and discrimination.

Some provinces are better at retaining immigrants

The vast majority of immigrants who land in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia stay in those provinces, Statistics Canada has found. Atlantic provinces can't say the same, especially among Economic Class immigrants and refugees. (Economic Class refers to those who come to Canada for work. Family Class immigrants are those who come to join family members who already immigrated.)

Only 14 per cent of Economic Class immigrants who landed in Prince Edward Island still lived there five years later.

Still work to be done, expert says

Though the economic situation has generally improved for immigrants in Canada, there is still work to be done, according to Stéphane Reichhold, head of the umbrella organization that groups immigration resources in Quebec (TCRI).

This often has to do with recognition of education or work experience from countries outside of Canada, he said.

"Often, people are restarting," Reichhold said. "They already worked in their country of origin and they restart at the bottom of the scale."

According to Reichhold, the majority of Economic Class immigrants are underemployed, meaning they have jobs that do not correspond to their level of experience or education compared to the Canadian-born population.

He has worked at the umbrella organization since 1990, and has seen some improvement in the economic situation for immigrants.

But, he said, there is a much higher rate of unemployment, use of social services and poverty for people from countries in North Africa than those from Europe or North America, for example.

"The cultural-linguistic factors are part of it. Discrimination and racism factors are there."

For an immigrant looking for higher-paying work in Quebec, speaking both English and French is often necessary, Reichhold added. But most immigrants who come to Quebec are not fluent in both official languages, he said.

"Most of them speak little to no English, because they were told if you want to live in French, come to Quebec," he said.