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World Refugee Day is an annual occasion designated by the United Nations, serving as a powerful reminder of the strength, courage and resilience of millions of forcibly displaced people worldwide.
Observed on June 20th, the day allows us to raise awareness and celebrate the inspiring journeys of refugees while advocating for their rights and well-being.
As an organization committed to meeting the emerging and diverse needs of all people in Canada, World Refugee Day offers LMIC an opportunity to explore the labour market outcomes of refugees in Canada.
Meaningful employment is an important part of the successful settlement of refugees
The global rate of displaced persons is growing, with a significant rise in the number of individuals seeking refuge across international borders to escape persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations and environmental disasters. This global crisis has reached an unprecedented scale, with the total number of transnational refugees and asylum seekers reaching 31.7 million by the end of 2021.
As a world leader in the resettlement of refugees, Canada has welcomed 1,088,015 refugees since 1980 and more than 75,000 in 2022 alone.
Meaningful employment is an important part of the successful settlement of refugees.1 A growing body of research shows that supporting refugees as they enter local labour markets is critical for their social and economic participation,2 providing a means for not only economic self-sustainability—allowing for the maintenance of an adequate standard of living—but also the development of a sense of purpose, structure, identity and belonging,3 as well as for improved physical and mental health outcomes.4
Despite these well-documented findings, refugees face significant economic and civic integration barriers.5
According to Arthur et al. (2023), “many refugees remain stuck in entry-level, precarious, and lower-paid jobs at the bottom tier of the labour hierarchy, commonly known as survival jobs…[with] limited opportunity for advancement… little time for training and advancement, and in jobs not commensurate to refugee workers’ skills and experience.”6
There is a significant lack of information about refugees and the labour market in Canada
In Canada, the data on refugee labour market integration and outcomes is both dated and extremely limited in scope.
Available data relies heavily on surveys conducted by and for academia or program evaluation. It primarily focuses on language acquisition, mental health, trauma and social integration services. We find that the data is often outdated and frequently does not differentiate between refugees and other immigrant groups.
The limited Canadian data does reveal, however, that refugees are significantly more likely than other immigrants to work temporary jobs, experience lower wages, collect some form of social assistance and work below their levels of expertise.7
The data also suggest that entering the labour market is difficult for most refugees, with unemployment rates that remain higher than other immigrant groups in Canada even five years after arrival.
Structural barriers affect refugee access to the labour market and training. Although research examining the labour market outcomes and experiences of refugees in Canada is scarce, a substantial body of literature centred on the experiences of refugees in Europe and the United States highlights systematic and practical challenges. These include language and cultural barriers, interrupted or disrupted work histories, lack of recognition of ‘foreign’ credentials, inadequate educational background or lack of educational documentation, health-related issues, lack of professional networks, discrimination, unconscious bias in refugee applicant selection and structural imbalances within the labour market.
LMIC is embarking on a research initiative on the labour market outcomes of refugees in Canada
Despite the abundance of global evidence highlighting the labour market outcomes, opportunities, challenges and barriers refugees face in the labour market, there is a notable lack of Canadian research on this subject.
To help fill this substantial information gap, LMIC is embarking on a research initiative focused on the labour market outcomes of refugees in Canada.
This qualitative study will explore the labour market outcomes of refugees, focusing on the experiences of Afghan refugees in Canada, many of whom resettled in Canada following the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and forces in 2021.
Recognizing that economic integration cannot be viewed in isolation, our research plans move beyond only assessing employment rates and income levels. We will investigate the impact of health conditions on labour market participation, the role of language proficiency in accessing opportunities, the influence of race, racialization and religious identities, the importance of social networks in finding employment, and the effectiveness of government and other support systems in facilitating successful economic integration.
By learning from the experiences of Afghan refugees as a case study, this research initiative will shed light on their labour market experiences and broader contexts and identify effective strategies, policies and interventions that promote economic stability and overall well-being and social cohesion for refugees in Canada.
We look forward to filling this critical and urgent labour market information gap in Canada.
Dr. Suzanne Spiteri is a sociologist with several years of experience in both qualitative and mixed-methods data analysis. She leads labour-related projects that explore labour market tightness and the labour market outcomes of under-represented groups.
1 Arthur, N., McMahon, M., Abkhezr, P., & Woodend, J. (2023). Beyond job placement: Careers for refugees. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 1-19.
Fedrigo, L., Cerantola, M., Frésard, C. E., & Masdonati, J. (2023). Refugees’ meaning of work: A qualitative investigation of work purposes and expectations. Journal of Career Development, 50(1), 52-68.
Hess, J. M., Isakson, B. L., Amer, S., Ndaheba, E., Baca, B., & Goodkind, J. R. (2019). Refugee mental health and healing: Understanding the impact of policies of rapid economic self-sufficiency and the importance of meaningful work. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 20, 769-786.
2 Zacher, H. (2019). Career development of refugees. International Handbook of Career Guidance, 359-384.
3 Fedrigo et al., op. cit.
4 Dowling, A., Kunin, M., & Russell, G. (2022). The impact of migration upon the perceived health of adult refugees resettling in Australia: A phenomenological study. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 48(7), 1536-1553.
5 Martén, Linna, Jens Hainmueller, and Dominik Hangartner. Ethnic networks can foster the economic integration of refugees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116.33 (2019): 16280-16285.
6 Arthur et al., op. cit.
7 Wilkinson, L., & Garcea, J. (2017). The economic integration of refugees in Canada: A mixed record? (pp. 9-12). Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.