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Immigrants’ perspectives on their first four years in Canada: Highlights from three waves of the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada
Grant Schellenberg and Hélène Maheux
The experiences of immigrants during the settlement process can be examined from a number of different perspectives. Over the past 15 years, settlement in Canada has most often been examined in terms of immigrants’ labour market and financial experiences. Among the topics investigated are the earnings trajectories of immigrants after arrival, the economic returns to their foreign credentials and experience, their ability to find employment in their area of specialization, and their incidence of low income.
Settlement has also been examined in terms of communities and social networks; for example, geographic patterns of settlement and the formation of ‘immigrant neighbourhoods’ have been the subject of research for over 30 years. More recently, the roles played by social networks and community-based organizations have been a central focus.
In this report, we examine settlement in terms of the subjective assessments and perceptions of immigrants themselves. After having been in Canada for four years, what do immigrants like and dislike most about living here? What types of difficulties do they face? Do they still believe that coming to Canada was the right decision? Their views provide an important perspective on the settlement process and are a useful complement to existing studies.
The report is divided into three sections. In the first section, immigrants’ perceptions regarding their first four years in Canada are examined. We consider aspects of Canadian life that they like and dislike, their reasons for remaining in Canada and their perceptions of their quality of life and material well-being.
In the second section, we examine the difficulties that immigrants face during their first four years in Canada. The section begins with an overview of the issue, followed by more detailed information on difficulties faced finding employment, accessing language training, finding housing and accessing health care.
In the third section, immigrants’ assessment of their overall experience in Canada is considered, including the extent to which life in Canada has met their expectations, whether they believe coming here was the right decision and their citizenship intentions.
Overall, the report provides a broad overview of new immigrants’ perceptions of life in Canada. Emphasis is placed on their responses to a broad range of questions rather than focusing on a single issue in great detail. Given the breadth of the report, differences in the perceptions of new immigrants are examined across a limited set of characteristics, with particular emphasis on immigration admission categories.
Canada’s immigration policy has been guided by three broad objectives: to reunite families, to fulfill the country’s international obligations and humanitarian tradition with respect to refugees; and to foster a strong viable economy in all regions of Canada.
These objectives are reflected in the three main admission categories of immigration through which people are admitted to Canada as permanent residents: family class immigrants, refugees, and economic immigrants. People admitted through the economic category include principal applicants and accompanying spouses or dependants of skilled workers, business immigrants, provincial/territorial nominees and live-in caregivers.1
Throughout this report, the perceptions and assessments of immigrants are shown separately for individuals in these three categories.
The Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC) was designed to study how newly arrived immigrants adjust over time to living in Canada. During the first LSIC interview, some 12,000 immigrants aged 15 and over were interviewed between April 2001 and March 2002, about six months after their arrival. During the second LSIC interview, about 9,300 of the same immigrants were interviewed again in 2003, approximately two years after their arrival, and in 2005, about 7,700 of the same immigrants were interviewed a third time, approximately four years after their arrival. We refer to these three interviews as Waves 1, 2 and 3 of the LSIC. The sample of approximately 7,700 immigrants that was tracked over all three waves of the LSIC is the focus of this study. This allows us to examine how the perceptions and experiences of new immigrants changed over their first four years in Canada. The terms ‘LSIC respondents’ and ‘new immigrants’ are used interchangeably to refer to this group.
On some questions, LSIC respondents are asked about their views at the time of the interview – for example, if you had to make the decision again, would you come to Canada? On other questions, they are asked about their experiences during a specific period of time – for example, did they seek housing since their last interview? The reference periods for these questions are shown in Table 1.
It is important to note that the characteristics and experiences of the LSIC immigrant cohort may or may not be the same as those of immigrants who arrived in Canada at earlier or later points in time. For example, the downturn of the high-technology sector and the repercussions of September 11 were two events that may have had particular consequences for immigrants arriving in Canada in 2001-2002. Furthermore, the source countries from which immigrants arrive – particularly refugees -- vary over time, introducing compositional differences between landing cohorts. In short, readers should note that we are examining the settlement experiences of a specific group of individuals. That being said, the successes and challenges faced by this group shed light on the process of immigrant settlement more broadly.
Newly arrived immigrants are a highly mobile population and relocating each of the initial LSIC respondents two and four years after arrival posed a difficult challenge. To study immigrant perceptions and assessments of Canada, the loss of approximately 4,300 of the initial 12,000 respondents raises important questions: is sample bias introduced into the LSIC by the loss of some of the initial respondents? Were the initial LSIC respondents who were not relocated for a follow-up interview the ones who were most dissatisfied with life in Canada? If so, the perceptions of the LSIC respondents remaining after 4 years may be more optimistic that those of the sample initially interviewed six months after arrival.
To address this issue, the characteristics of Wave 1 respondents who were and were not relocated for a follow-up interview during Waves 2 and 3 of the survey were analyzed. Characteristics associated with not being relocated were identified and used to create a longitudinal weight that is applied to the data set. This makes some adjustment for bias that may be introduced by sample attrition.In spite of this adjustment, it is prudent to be mindful of the loss of immigrants from the LSIC sample. All in all, the results of this study are representative of the immigrants who arrived in 2001-2002 and who were relocated over the four year course of the survey. The approximately 7,700 LSIC respondents who were relocated are representative of approximately 157,600 new immigrants, of whom 104,400 are economic immigrants, 42,600 are family class immigrants and 9,700 are refugees.2
Section one: Perspectives on life in Canada
Four years after arriving in Canada, LSIC respondents were asked what they like and dislike most about living here.3 Freedom, rights, safety and security, and prospects for the future were among the things they like most, while lack of employment opportunities was one of the things they dislike most.
The largest share of immigrants (19%) said that the climate/physical environment in Canada was what they like most (Chart 1)4. This was the case for almost half (48%) of LSIC respondents living in Vancouver compared with 10% of those in Montréal and 14% of those in Toronto.
Many immigrants identified the social and political environment in Canada as what they like most about this country: 14% said they like cultural aspects such as rights and freedoms, 11% said they like the safety they experience, and 10% said it’s the peace and political stability they like most. While these responses were cited by immigrants in all admission categories (Table 2), they were most prevalent among refugees. Refugees come to Canada to escape the dangers and hardships associated with war, political upheaval and social unrest and the social and political environment they find here likely stands in contrast to what they left behind.
Table 2 What immigrants like most about Canada, by immigration category (Cited 4 years after arrival)
Some new immigrants said that it is the opportunities in Canada they like most. For example, 10% said it’s the educational opportunities for themselves or their family they like most, while 9% said it’s the opportunity to achieve a desired lifestyle or quality of life. But while opportunities for education and lifestyle were cited by many, far fewer said they like the employment opportunities (3%) or economic conditions (2%) here. In this respect, new immigrants appear to be somewhat more positive about their prospects for the future in Canada than they are about their recent experiences in the labour market.
Immigrants were also asked what they dislike most about life in Canada after four years. The climate again featured prominently in this regard, with 27% of new immigrants saying this is what they disliked most (Chart 2).5 This was the case for 27 to 30% of those residing in Montréal and Toronto compared with 7% of those in Vancouver.6 The economic challenges facing immigrants were also evident, with 17% saying that it’s the lack of employment opportunities and 11% saying it's high taxes they dislike most. Immigrants in the economic category were more likely than family class immigrants and refugees to cite these factors (Table 3). Finally, almost one-fifth of new immigrants (19%) said there isn’t anything they dislike about Canada.
Table 3 What immigrants dislike most about Canada, by immigration category (Cited 4 years after arrival)
Overall, new immigrants value the social and political environment in Canada, characterized by its rights, freedoms and security. While this was particularly the case for refugees, such reasons were also prevalent among immigrants in the economic and family categories. On the other hand, aside from the weather, it is the lack of employment opportunities that immigrants dislike most. These views were reflected in the reasons why immigrants remain in Canada.
During their interview 4 years after landing, LSIC respondents were asked about their plans to stay in Canada. Most (81%) said they plan to settle permanently in Canada, 5% said they plan to maintain residences here and elsewhere, 2% said they plan to live in Canada for some time and then return to their home country, and less than 1% said they plan to move to another country. Finally, 10% were uncertain of their plans.
Those individuals who said they plan to settle permanently in Canada or to maintain a residence here were asked about their reasons for staying. Many of the things that immigrants like most about Canada were reflected in their responses (Table 4). Considering all reasons cited, over half of these
Table 4 Reasons for staying in Canada cited by immigrants who plan to settle here permanently, by immigration category (Cited 4 years after arrival)
Other responses testify to the importance of the social and political environment. For example, almost one-third (30%) said the peaceful nature of Canada was a factor in their decision to stay, with this reason cited by 54% of refugees. New immigrants also pointed to Canada’s public institutions, with access to education and the social system (such as health care and other programs) mentioned by 23% and 18% respectively. Political and religious freedoms were another consideration in the decision to stay, cited by 16% of new immigrants.
Fewer new immigrants pointed to the importance of economic factors as a reason for staying: 16% cited job opportunities and 22% cited one or more employment-related reasons for staying, including job opportunities, working conditions, salary or pay, and/or business climate/free market.
LSIC respondents were also asked to identify which of the reasons cited was the most important in their decision to stay in Canada (Table 4). What is striking is that almost 80% of respondents cited one of four reasons – quality of life (32%), the desire to be close to family and friends (20%), the future prospects for their family (18%) and the peaceful nature of the country (9%).
In many cases, the main reasons for planning to stay reflected the unique circumstances of immigrants in different admission categories: 30% of refugees cited the peaceful nature of Canada as their most important reason for staying while 46% of family class immigrants cited the desire to remain close to family and friends. Five percent or less of immigrants in each admission category cited employment-related reasons.
Finally, the small proportion of immigrants who said they planned to leave Canada (3%) was asked about their reasons for doing so. The most frequently cited responses were the desire to be close to family and friends (37%) and the desire to return to their home country (25%). About one-third of those planning to leave (32%) cited employment-related reasons, including better job opportunities, pay, working conditions or business climate elsewhere.7
It is interesting to note that while some new immigrants express dissatisfaction with their economic experiences in Canada, most provide positive assessments about the quality of life here. Further light can be shed on this using information that LSIC respondents provided during their second interview.
After having been in Canada for two years, LSIC respondents were asked if their level of material well-being (such as home, car and disposable income) is better, about the same or worse than it had been prior to coming here (Chart 3). Among economic immigrants, about one-third (35%) said their level of material well-being is better than it had been prior to arrival, about one-third said it’s about the same (31%) and about one-third said it’s worse (34%). In contrast, family class immigrants and refugees had more favourable assessments of their material well-being, with 58% and 69% respectively saying their situation in Canada (after two years) is better than it was before coming here.
The material well-being immigrants experienced before coming to Canada is shaped by many factors, such as the countries from which they came (e.g. Afghanistan, China or France), their socio-economic position in their source country (e.g. being at the bottom, middle or top of the income or occupational distribution), and the circumstances of their emigration (e.g. migrating via a refugee camp). In 2002, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan were the top three source countries for refugees arriving in Canada and Gross Domestic Product per capita was below $3,600 in each of those countries compared with $29,865 in Canada.8 India, the People’s Republic of China and the United States were the top three source countries for family class immigrants, while the People’s Republic of China, India and Pakistan were the top three source countries for economic immigrants, specifically, principal applicants in the skilled worker category.9
LSIC respondents were also asked about the quality of life in Canada (such as safety, freedom and pollution) compared with their situation before coming here. Responses to this question were more positive than those regarding material well-being. Indeed, 84% to 92% of immigrants in each admission category said that their quality of life is better in Canada than it was prior to coming here. Among economic immigrants, 84% said their quality of life is better here, although only 35% said their material well-being is better. The same pattern is evident among family class immigrants and refugees, although the difference between these two measures is smaller in magnitude.
Chart 3 Material well-being and quality of life after two years in Canada compared to situation prior to coming here
Immigrants’ assessments underscore the benefits associated with rights and freedoms, safety and security, and political stability. These social benefits are enjoyed by all members of society and they are available to new immigrants immediately upon their arrival in Canada -- as reflected in their responses after two years. In contrast, material well-being is shaped to a great extent by labour market participation and its outcomes and in this respect is more ‘individual’ in nature. Given that it takes new immigrants time to get established in the workforce, improvements in their material well-being may take more time as well. A key question is how long it takes new immigrants to get established in the labour force and how quickly their material well-being improves.
Labour market research shows that in the years immediately after arrival in Canada, immigrants have earnings below those of similar Canadian-born workers, but that over time this earnings gap is reduced (Frenette and Morissette, 2003). Given this general pattern, how do immigrants perceive the gains they make in their material well-being once they’re in Canada?
Four years after arriving in Canada, LSIC respondents were asked if their material well-being was better than, the same as, or worse than it had been two years earlier (i.e. two years after arrival). In short, how had things changed over the course of their third and fourth year here?
Just over one-half of new immigrants in each admission category reported that their level of material well-being was better in year four than it was in year two (Table 5). Information is not available regarding the magnitude of this improvement. Conversely, 5 to 6% of immigrants in each category said their material well-being was worse. Between these extremes, 37% of economic immigrants, 39% of refugees and 44% of family class immigrants said their material well-being was about the same in year 4 as it had been in year 2.
Table 5 Perceptions of quality of life and material well-being four years after arrival in Canada compared to two years after arrival, by immigration category
LSIC respondents were not directly asked about how they felt about the gains they had or had not made over this period. However, as will be shown in Section 3, immigrants who said their material well-being ‘remained about the same’ or worsened were more likely than others to say that life in Canada has fallen short of their expectations. This suggests that they had expected to make material gains during this period and were disappointed that their situation had remained ‘about the same’. We will return to this point in Section 3.
LSIC respondents were also asked if their ‘quality of life’ 4 years after arrival was better than, about the same as, or worse than it had been 2 years after arrival. About one-half of new immigrants said their quality of life remained about the same over this period, while 44% said it improved (Table 5). Perceived changes in quality of life were also associated with whether or not immigrants felt that life in Canada had fallen short of their expectations.
During the 1990s and early 2000, a considerable number of studies documented the difficulties that new immigrants face in the Canadian labour market. These difficulties are evident in the subjective assessments provided by new immigrants themselves. For example, a considerable share said it’s the lack of employment opportunities they dislike most about Canada.
Nonetheless, immigrants in all admissions categories have very positive assessments of the quality of life here. Safety and security, rights and freedoms, and opportunities for themselves and their families are some of the things they like most. This underscores the value they place on the social and political environment in Canada and the importance of this to their sense of well-being.
Section two: Difficulties encountered
We now turn to the difficulties new immigrants encounter during the first four years of settlement in Canada. We start by examining their overall assessments of the difficulties faced, followed by difficulties in specific areas, including finding suitable employment, accessing language training, finding housing and accessing health care.
Four years after arrival, new immigrants were asked about the difficulties they had encountered in Canada, and to identify which of these difficulties was the most serious. Chart 4 provides an overview of their responses, while Table 6 shows the responses of immigrants in each admission category.
Table 6 Greatest difficulties had to deal with since since arriving in Canada , by immigration category (Cited 4 years after arrival)
Chart 4 Greatest difficulties new immigrants faced since arriving in Canada (Cited 4 years after arrival*)
Finding an adequate job10 was the most often cited difficulty, mentioned by almost half of new immigrants (46%). Economic immigrants were most likely to cite employment difficulties (54%), followed by refugees (35%) and family class immigrants (29%).
Linguistic and cultural adaptations were a challenge for many. About one-quarter of new immigrants (26%) said that learning a new language was a difficulty while 13% mentioned the challenge of adapting to new cultures and values. Linguistic challenges were most prevalent among refugees (41%), although they were also cited by many economic immigrants (23%).
Canadian weather again loomed large, with 16% of new immigrants stating that adjusting to the climate was the greatest challenge they faced.
Social supports and interactions were another challenge for new immigrants, with 13% citing the absence of support from their home country as a difficulty and 7% citing the lack of social interactions/new friends in Canada.
Just over 10% of immigrants cited financial constraints and the recognition of credentials and experiences as difficulties faced since arrival. As will be documented below, many job seekers identified foreign credential recognition as a problem when they were asked about specific difficulties they faced in the labour market.
When asked which of these difficulties was the most important, the largest shares of new immigrants cited the challenge of finding employment and of learning English or French. Together, these two responses were cited by 44% to 59% of immigrants in each admission category (Table 6). Almost half (45%) of economic immigrants said finding employment was the most important difficulty they faced, while this was the case for 22% and 26% of family class immigrants and refugees respectively. Almost one-third (30%) of refugees said learning a new language was their greatest challenge, while this was the case for 14% and 22% of economic and family class immigrants respectively.
Given the extent to which employment and language are challenges faced by new immigrants, we now examine these areas in more detail.
Over the past 15 years, many studies have documented the deteriorating labour market and financial characteristics of recent immigrants. In the initial years after arriving in Canada immigrants have long had earnings below those of their Canadian-born counterparts, with the size of this ‘earnings gap’ narrowing as time passes. However, through the 1980s and 1990s the size of the initial earnings gap increased considerably, raising questions about whether the earnings of immigrants would ever ‘catch up’ to those of their Canadian-born counterparts (Frenette and Morissette, 2003). Furthermore, since the early 1980s the share of recent immigrants in low-income increased markedly, in spite of rising levels of educational attainment among this group (Heisz and McLeod, 2004; Picot, Hou and Coulombe, 2007).
The perspectives and assessments of new immigrants seeking employment provide insights on the challenges and obstacles they face in the labour market. Our discussion is limited to LSIC respondents who were aged 25 to 44 upon their arrival in Canada. Immigrants aged 15 to 24 and aged 45 or older were excluded to remove the effects of students, late labour market entrants and retirees from the analysis. Furthermore, information regarding job search activities is not strictly comparable across all three waves of the LSIC so caution must be exercised when comparing results from Wave 1 with those from Waves 2 and 3.
During the period between 7 and 24 months after arrival, 62% of all new immigrants aged 25 to 44 looked for a job; during the period between 25 to 48 months after arrival 53% did so. The majority of job seekers reported that they experienced a problem or difficulty when searching for employment (Table 7). They were asked to identify all of the problems or difficulties they encountered, as well as the one they consider to be the most serious.
Table 7 Job search experiences of new immigrants aged 25 to 44, by immigration category and time since arrival
Considering all difficulties cited at Wave 3, lack of Canadian work experience was mentioned most often (50%), followed by lack of contacts in the job market (37%) and lack of recognition of foreign experience (37%) and foreign qualification (35%). About one-third of job seekers who experienced difficulties (32%) cited language barriers as a problem (Table 8). The prevalence of other problems is shown in Chart 5.
Table 8 New immigrants aged 25 to 44 who experienced difficulties finding employment: Types of difficulties experienced, by immigration category and time since arrival
Chart 5 Immigrants aged 25 to 44 who encountered difficulties seeking employment: Types of difficulties encountered*
Considering the most serious difficulties cited at Wave 3, LSIC respondents pointed to a number of important issues. First, work experience is central. Of the job seekers who encountered a problem, 19% said their most serious difficulty was their lack of Canadian job experience (reported during Wave 3) and another 9% cited the lack of recognition of their foreign work experience (Table 9). There is likely a well-worn ‘catch-22’ here as new immigrants need appropriate Canadian work experience to find a suitable job, but encounter difficulties finding a job to gain this experience.
Table 9 New immigrants aged 25 to 44 who experienced difficulties finding employment: Most serious difficulties experienced, by immigration category and time since arrival
Second, language barriers are another challenge. Of the job seekers who encountered a problem, about one-in-six (16%) cited language problems as their most serious difficulty. The 2001 Census shows that 18% of immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1996 and 2001 spoke English or French as their mother tongue, while this was the case for 40% of immigrants who arrived during the 1970s11. Given this trend, language barriers are likely to be an increasingly prevalent challenge for immigrants in the labour market.
Third, lack of acceptance of foreign qualifications was cited as the most serious challenge faced by 12% of job seekers.
Fourth, job seekers also underscored the importance of contacts and networks in the job market. Of the job seekers who encountered a problem, 9% said their most serious difficulty was their lack of connections in the job market, 3% cited a lack of Canadian job references and 1% cited not knowing enough people working. This suggests that ‘social capital’ – the networks and contacts an individual can draw upon – as well as ‘human capital’ – the qualifications, experience and skills that individuals offer - are both ingredients for labour market success.
Finally, job seekers pointed to a lack of employment opportunities as the most serious challenge they face. Almost 12% cited a general ‘lack of employment opportunities’ and another 7% mentioned the challenge of finding a job in their field.
All in all, these responses suggest that the challenges new immigrants face in the labour market are multifaceted.
In many cases, new immigrants experience multiple difficulties when seeking employment. To document this, we limit our analysis to four potential problems: 1) lack of work experience 2) language problems 3) lack of foreign credential recognition and 4) lack of job contacts or networks. Eight of the responses listed in Chart 5 were used to construct these groups.12 Table 10 includes job seekers aged 25 to 44 who encountered any problems when looking for work, and shows the proportion who encountered none, one, two, three or four of these four problems under consideration.
Table 10 New immigrants aged 25 to 44 who experienced difficulties finding employment: Number of specific problems encountered (Range 0 to 4)*, by immigration category and time since arrival
Overall, the majority of these job seekers reported multiple difficulties. Considering the period 25 to 48 months after arrival, 30% of these job seekers encountered two of the four problems and 26% encountered three or all four of them. In short, lack of work experience, language problems, lack of foreign credential recognition and lack of job contacts are often ‘overlapping’ problems facing immigrant job seekers. For example, almost two-third of job seekers who reported a language problem also reported that work experience was a difficulty. Considering the remainder of Table 10, 29% of job seekers encountered only one of these four problems, and 15% did not encounter any of them.
Accessing language training13
Many new immigrants say that learning a new language is a challenge they face in Canada. In this context, difficulties encountered en route to language training are an important consideration.
Between 7 and 24 months after arriving in Canada, 26% of new immigrants took at least one language course and another 12% looked for information regarding language training (Table 11). Refugees were more likely to have taken a course (49%) than immigrants in the economic class (25%) or the family class (23%). This is consistent with the fact that refugees were most likely to say that language barriers pose a difficulty for them. During years three and four, 10% of new immigrants had taken language training and 9% had looked for language training information. Again, participation was most prevalent among refugees.
Table 11 Language training activities of new immigrants during first four years in Canada by immigration category and time since arrival
LSIC respondents who had taken language training or had sought information regarding language training were asked about problems they had encountered in this area. Between 25 and 48 months after arrival, about 20% of new immigrants who had taken a language course experienced a problem, while 42% of new immigrants who sought information regarding training (but did not take a course) did so (Table 12).
Table 12 Percent of new immigrants who experienced a difficulty accessing language training by immigration category and time since arrival
Time constraints and financial constraints were among the most serious problems encountered by new immigrants en route to language training (Table 13). In this respect, their experiences are much like those of Canadians in general. Statistics Canada’s 2003 Adult Education and Training Survey shows that financial and time constraints are the barriers to training most frequently cited by Canadians with unmet training wants and needs (Peters, 2004). Again, such constraints are prevalent among new immigrants seeking language training. The availability of language courses was also near the top of the list, cited as the most serious difficulty by 14% of new immigrants who encountered a problem en route to language training.
Table 13 Difficulties encountered when taking or seeking language courses, by immigration category and time since arrival
Finding housing is a key task for new immigrants, particularly those who are not joining family members already here. During their first six months in Canada, about three-quarters of new immigrants (77%) looked for housing, while during their third and fourth years in Canada, 43% of new immigrants did so (Table 14). The declining proportion seeking housing over this period suggests that many had gotten ‘settled in’ and were no longer in the housing market. Nonetheless, the fact that 43% of new immigrants had looked for housing during a two year period underscores the residential mobility of this group, especially considering that about 13% of all Canadians change residences in a given year.
Table 14 Selected housing characteristics of new immigrants, by immigration category and time since arrival
Turning to difficulties encountered, the share of ‘housing seekers’ experiencing a problem declined from 38% during the first six months to 18% during years 3 and 4. Considering all immigrants (whether or not they sought housing), the shares experiencing a difficulty declined from 29% to 8% over these periods. This was attributable to both a decline in the share of immigrants looking for housing and a decline in the share of those looking who experienced a problem.
Chart 6 Percent of new immigrants who encountered difficulties finding housing, by time since arrival in Canada
The types of problems new immigrants encountered when trying to find housing changed over their first four years in Canada. During the first six months, lack of credit, poor knowledge of their city, and lack of transportation were among the problems encountered (Chart 7). However, these problems were far less prevalent two years and four years after landing. One explanation is that over time immigrants were able to establish credit records, learn about their city, and obtain their driver’s license or become familiar with public transportation thereby making these factors less problematic when seeking housing.
Conversely, the difficulties associated with housing costs were more consistently evident over time. Six months after arrival, about half of the housing seekers who had experienced a difficulty (54%) said housing costs were a problem and this still topped the list four years later. Likewise, the suitability of accommodation remained a challenge, likely reflecting the large size of immigrant households and the limited availability of larger units on the market.
Over time, the difficulties new immigrants encounter when seeking housing come to reflect the challenges facing Canadians in general. For example, affordability and suitability are two of the criteria Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) uses to define ‘core housing need’. CMHC reports that affordability is the primary obstacle that Canadians encounter when seeking accommodation (CMHC, 2006).
Chart 7 New immigrants who encountered difficulties finding housing: Types of difficulties encountered*, by time since arrival in Canada
LSIC respondents were asked if they had experienced any problems or difficulties getting access to or using health services in Canada. At six months, two years and four years after arrival, about 15 to 20% of new immigrants say they encountered such problems or difficulties. Economic immigrants were more likely than family class immigrants and refugees to mention such difficulties (Chart 8).
Chart 8 Percent of new immigrants who encountered difficulties accessing health care, by time since arrival in Canada
Turning to the types of difficulties encountered, we again see that some problems are transitory in nature (Chart 9). For example, the share of immigrants citing language problems as an obstacle to health care declines from 24% six months after arrival to 13% four years after arrival. Similarly, the share of immigrants saying they did not know where to go for health care declined over this period.
Conversely, among the individuals who encountered a difficulty accessing health care, long waiting lists are increasingly prevalent – cited by one-half of individuals who had encountered a problem six months after arrival and by three-quarters of individuals who had encountered a problem four years after arrival. Finding a doctor accepting new patients is also a frequently cited problem.
Again, these problems are not unlike those facing Canadians more generally. As Statistics Canada’s Access to health care services in Canada series shows, “…waiting for care remains the number one barrier for those [individuals] having difficulties accessing care” (Berthelot and Sanmartin, 2005).
Chart 9 New immigrants who encountered difficulties accessing health care: Types of difficulties encountered*, by time since arrival in Canada
When asked a general question about the challenges they face in Canada, the largest share of new immigrants say that it's finding a job that is most difficult. The detailed information provided by job seekers indicates that there are a number of factors at play here – including credential recognition, lack of Canadian work experience, language barriers and lack of social networks. Typically, these are not obstacles faced by job seekers born and raised in Canada and in this respect new immigrants face a unique set of challenges.
In other domains, such as accessing language training, finding housing and accessing health care, there are some obstacles that are unique to new immigrants. Lack of credit history, knowledge of the local area, language barriers and transportation constraints are challenges faced by some individuals, particularly during the initial stages of settlement.
In other cases, the challenges facing new immigrants are much like those facing Canadians more generally. In the area of training, time constraints and financial constraints are frequently cited challenges; in the area of health care, waiting times are a top priority; and in the area of housing, affordability remains a key consideration.
Section three: Assessment of life in Canada
Overall, new immigrants experience highs and lows during their first four years in Canada. Their assessments of the quality of life here testify to the positive aspects of settlement, while the difficulties they encounter testify to the many challenges. On balance then, how does life in Canada measure up to their expectations? Do immigrants feel they made the right choice in coming here?
Immigrants come to Canada with expectations – whether realistic or not - about what life will be like here. To what extent are these expectations being met? To address this, LSIC respondents were asked whether life in Canada is better than they had expected, about what they had expected, or worse than they had expected. By comparing their responses at 6 months and 4 years after arrival, some insights regarding their experiences can be gained.14
The possible responses to these expectation questions are shown in Chart 10. In the top left hand corner of the matrix are individuals who, six months after arrival, said that life in Canada was ‘much better’ or ‘better’ than they had expected and who still felt the same way after four years. In short, their expectations of life in Canada have consistently been exceeded. Along the downward diagonal to the right are individuals who, at six months and four years after arrival, said that life in Canada was about what they expected it would be. And in the bottom right corner are individuals who said, at six months and four years, that life in Canada had fallen short of their expectations.
Two additional groups are identified in the matrix. At the bottom left are individuals who, at six months, said that life in Canada was worse than or about what they had expected, but who had a more positive assessment after four years. In other words, their assessment of life in Canada improved over the four year period. And at the top right are individuals who, at six months, said that life was better than or about what they had expected, but who had a more negative assessment after four years. In short, their assessment of life in Canada deteriorated.
The distribution of new immigrants across these five categories is shown in Table 15. Several points can be made. First, about two-thirds of new immigrants reported a fairly positive congruence between their expectations of life in Canada and their experiences here. More specifically, 21% of them said their expectations of life in Canada have consistently been exceeded, and another 16% said their expectations have consistently been met. In addition, another 29% reported that life in Canada was initially worse than or about what they had expected, but that their situation improved over time. In this respect, their assessment was positive. Combining these three groups, the expectations of two-thirds of new immigrants have been exceeded, met or improved upon.
Table 15 The degree to which expectations about life in Canada were met after four years, by immigrant category
Conversely, there is a low or declining degree of congruence between the expectations and experiences of about one-third of new immigrants. More specifically, 11% reported that life in Canada has consistently fallen short of their expectations, and 23% reported that life in Canada was initially better than or about what they had expected, but this assessment deteriorated over time (Table 15).
Second, there are noticeable differences in the congruence between expectations and experiences reported by immigrants in the different admission categories. More specifically, 15% of economic immigrants reported that their expectations have consistently been exceeded, while this was the case for about 33% of family class immigrants and refugees. Conversely, economic immigrants were more likely than others to feel that their expectations have not been met. One possible explanation is that economic immigrants had higher expectations than others regarding their employment prospects in Canada but have experienced difficulty realizing these. On a positive note, economic immigrants were more likely than others to say that although their life in Canada initially fell short of their expectations, things have improved since (31%).
In Section One, immigrants’ assessments of the changes in their material well-being and quality of life were documented. These assessments are correlated with whether or not they feel their expectations of life in Canada have been met (Chart 11). Of the immigrants who said their material well-being improved between year 2 and year 4 (i.e. it was ‘better’), 73% said their expectations of life in Canada have been exceeded, met or improved upon.15 In contrast, immigrants who said their level of material well-being stayed the same or worsened were less likely to have a positive assessment in this respect. This pattern is evident among immigrants in all categories.
Chart 11 Percent of new immigrants who say their expectations of life in Canada have been exceeded, met or improved upon, by perceived change in level of material well-being
During each of the three LSIC interviews, respondents were asked, “If you had to make the decision again, would you come to Canada?” Overall, 72% of new immigrants said ‘yes’ to this question each of the three times they were asked it. Another 12% said ‘no’ or expressed uncertainty during at least one of the first two interviews, but by the third interview felt they had made the right decision in coming here (Chart 12). Altogether, 84% of immigrants were positive about their decision to come to Canada after being here four years. This figure was 80% among economic immigrants and over 90% among refugees.
Chart 12 New immigrants' perspectives on whether they would make the same decision to come to Canada again
While most new immigrants believe that coming to Canada was the right decision, those who did not experience improvements in their material well-being or quality of life were less positive in this regard (Chart 13). For example, among economic immigrants whose material well-being improved between year two and year four, 73% consistently said that coming to Canada was the right decision.16 Among those whose material well-being stayed the same, 63% consistently said that coming to Canada was the right decision, while this was the case for 47% of those whose material well-being deteriorated between years two and four. The correlation between perceived changes in material well-being and positive views about immigrating to Canada is stronger among economic immigrants than family class immigrants and refugees. The same pattern is evident when perceived changes in quality of life are considered.
Chart 13 Percent of new immigrants who consistently say they would make same decision to come to Canada, by perceived change in material well-being between year 2 and year 4
Furthermore, new immigrants who feel their expectations about life in Canada have been met have more positive assessments of their decision to come here than individuals who feel their expectations have not been met. As shown in Chart 14, 81% of immigrants who said their expectations have been exceeded, met or improved upon consistently said that coming to Canada was the right decision. In contrast, 55% of new immigrants whose expectations remained unmet or have deteriorated are consistently positive about their decision.
Chart 14 Percent of new immigrants who consistently say they would make same decision to come to Canada, by whether or not expectations about life in Canada were met
The generally positive views that new immigrants have regarding their decision to come to Canada are also reflected in their plans to become Canadian citizens. In order to become a Canadian citizen, landed immigrants must reside here for at least three years. By the time they were interviewed four years after landing, 15% of new immigrants had already obtained Canadian citizenship and another 56% had already initiated the process (Chart 15). Combining these two groups, over 70% of new immigrants had already completed or had initiated the citizenship process. Another 22% said they intend to become Canadian citizens but had not yet started the process. The remaining 7% either said they were uncertain about their citizenship intentions or did not intend to apply for citizenship.
While perceived changes in material well-being are associated with views about whether coming to Canada was the right decision, changes in material well-being and ‘met expectations’ were not strongly correlated with citizenship intentions (see Tables 16 and 17).
Table 16 Citizenship status and intentions* by change in material well-being between year 2 and year 4, by immigration category
Table 17 Citizenship status and intentions* by degree to which expectations have been met by immigration category
Overall, most new immigrants have very positive views about the social and political environment in Canada. They point to the importance of safety and security, rights and freedoms, peace and stability and public institutions as aspects of Canadian life that they like most. These are important considerations in many new immigrants’ decisions to stay in Canada
However, new immigrants have less favourable assessments of their experiences in the Canadian labour market, with difficulties finding suitable employment remaining the problem they most frequently encounter. This is consistent with a growing body of economic research that documents the deteriorating financial and labour market characteristics of new immigrants. The perspectives of new immigrants also testify to the multi-dimensional nature of the problem. Individuals seeking employment report numerous difficulties, including lack of recognition for their educational credentials obtained abroad, lack of Canadian work experience and lack of recognition of work experience obtained abroad, language barriers and lack of contacts and social networks in the work force. In many cases, new immigrants seeking employment face two or more of these barriers.
In other domains, such as finding housing, getting language training or accessing health care, new immigrants face challenges. Some of these are transitory in nature and are experienced during the initial stages of settlement, such as lack of credit history, transportation constraints and lack of knowledge of their city. After four years in Canada, the challenges facing new immigrants in these areas look much like those facing Canadians in general – concerns regarding housing affordability, waiting lists for health care services and financial and time constraints to training.
In spite of these challenges, most of the new immigrants who remain in Canada for four years are positive about their decision to come here. Most consistently say they would make the same decision to come here again and the majority has already initiated the process to become Canadian citizens. Furthermore, about two-thirds of them feel that their expectations of life in Canada have been exceeded, met or improved upon. That being said, the outlooks of new immigrants who have not made material gains while in Canada express less positive views. These individuals are more likely than others to feel their expectations about life in Canada have not been met and that coming here was not the right decision.
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