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It won’t be easy for many Syrian refugees to immediately find work in Canada but they may have more luck in the Prairies and western provinces, government data suggest.

The refugees who will soon move to Canada will have one year of government or private support before they will have to fend for themselves – a daunting task for those unfamiliar with the language and culture.

“It won’t be quick and easy,” said Mario Calla, executive director with Costi Immigrant Services, a Toronto-based agency that helps newcomers integrate into the country. “Those who don’t speak English, it will take them pretty well up to a year because they are learning English. Those who do speak English, it may take them four to six months. It is unlikely that the first job will be in their field,” he said.

Data show that immigrants who have lived in Canada for less than five years have had an easier time finding work in Alberta and the Prairies. Manitoba and Saskatchewan had the highest level of employment among new immigrants at 80.2 per cent, according to Statistics Canada’s data for last year. Alberta’s employment rate among new immigrants was 77.8 per cent, whereas Quebec was 57.9 per cent and Ontario was 63.2 per cent.

Employment rate by region

For immigrants (aged 25 to 54) who landed five or fewer years ago

Manitoba and Saskatchewan72.9%80.2%
British Columbia66.1%64.7%

Source: Statscan

The high oil prices likely helped new immigrants find jobs in Alberta. But data show that even before the Great Recession, the employment rate among immigrants was higher in the Prairies and Alberta compared with Ontario and Quebec. In 2007, immigrants who had been in the country for more than 10 years had higher employment rates in the Prairies and Atlantic provinces than Canadian-born citizens in those provinces, according to Statistics Canada.

“It used to be that immigrants did not diversify outside of big cities,” said Peter Showler, a former chair of Canada’s immigration and refugee board. “Ordinarily they find employment far faster than the one year.”

The jobless rate among new immigrants is higher than the national average, given language and cultural barriers as well as foreign credentials that are not normally recognized here. But the longer immigrants live in Canada, the easier it is to secure work. Two-thirds of the immigrant population who have lived here for less than five years found jobs, according to Statistics Canada.

After 10 years, their employment rate is 80 per cent, slightly below the 83-per-cent rate for those born in Canada. There was practically no difference between immigrants and Canadian-born workers in Manitoba. That province had the smallest gap, followed by British Columbia and Alberta. Whereas, Ontario and Quebec showed lower rates of employment for immigrants, according to Statistics Canada.

“The employment rates out west are more equal for immigrants and non-immigrants,” said Andrew Fields, a labour analyst with Statistics Canada.

In addition, data show that refugees sponsored by the federal government were less likely to work during their first year in Canada compared with those sponsored by private groups.

Data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada show 13.7 per cent of government-assisted refugees reported earnings in their first year of living in Canada. That compares with 53 per cent for privately assisted refugees. Although after five years in the country, it evens out with about two-thirds of government and privately sponsored refugees reporting earnings.

Immigrants have found work in areas typically shunned by those born in Canada. Those areas include accommodation, food industries and other services such as nannies, maintenance workers and daycare workers.

“Many do take survival jobs,” said Rita Chahal, executive director with Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, the largest resettlement agency in Manitoba.

The arrival of 25,000 Syrian refugees comes at a precarious time for Canada’s economy. The country’s jobless rate has reached 7.1 per cent amid the plunge in oil prices. About 30,000 natural resources jobs have disappeared due to the slump in crude and metal prices.

However, Costi Immigrant Services’ Mr. Calla said this is the first time he has seen such an outpouring of support from businesses, which gives him confidence that refugees will find work.

“We have had individual calls from employers who have said we are prepared to hire these people,” Mr. Calla said.

The previous time there was a surge in refugees was in 1999 when the government flew 5,000 Kosovo refugees to Canada.