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Are Refugees More Likely to Leave Initial Destinations than Economic Immigrants? Recent Evidence from Canadian Longitudinal Administrative Data

Posted on:
February 2, 2020

Executive Summary

“Unlike economic and family class immigrants, who mostly make their own choice about where to settle in Canada, the initial geographic location of refugees is strongly influenced by government resettlement programs. Government-assisted refugees (GARs) are assigned to one of many designated communities based on a pre-approved regional quota of refugee allocation and the match between a refugee’s needs and community resources. Privately sponsored refugees (PSRs) are received by their sponsors, who are scattered across the country. While previous research suggests that refugees, especially GARs, are more likely to undertake secondary migration than other immigrants, no large-scale quantitative study has compared the rates of departure from initial destination cities for different immigrant categories in the long term.

This study asks two sets of questions. First, are refugees more likely to leave their initial destination city than economic immigrants when group differences in sociodemographic and contextual characteristics are taken into account? Among refugees, are GARs more likely to leave their initial destination city than PSRs? Second, to what extent does the impact of unemployment on secondary migration vary by admission category? Among refugees, are GARs more likely than PSRs to leave their initial destination city when they experience unemployment?

This study uses the Longitudinal Immigration Database. The analysis focuses on immigrants aged 20 to 54 at the time of landing who arrived in Canada from 2000 to 2014. It follows the immigrants’ mobility status longitudinally from their year of arrival to their 10th year in Canada. Census metropolitan areas (CMAs) and census agglomerations (CAs) are used as geographic units (cities) to measure the immigrants’ secondary migration. This study handles the boundary changes of CMAs and CAs over time by constructing consistent boundaries.

The results show that refugees were more likely to undertake secondary migration than economic immigrants during their first 10 years in Canada. However, the difference was mostly accounted for by the fact that refugees tended to settle initially in smaller cities than economic immigrants. PSRs’ higher propensity to migrate than economic immigrants was fully explained by their tendency to settle in cities other than the Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver CMAs. GARs were slightly more likely to leave their initial destination than economic immigrants and PSRs, even after a number of measurable characteristics were taken into account. Overall, the majority stayed in their initial city of residence, regardless of admission category.

Multivariate analysis indicates that experiencing unemployment in the previous year similarly increased the likelihood of both economic immigrants and GARs leaving their initial destination city. For PSRs, unemployment was not significantly associated with leaving the initial destination city, probably because they were more attached to their adopted community.

The observation that resettled refugees are not substantially different from economic immigrants in their tendency to move away from small cities is noteworthy since many refugees’ initial destinations are not self-chosen. This study’s findings shed light on the geographic mobility of different categories of immigrants and inform discussions regarding appropriate resettlement policies.”

Conclusion and discussion

This study compares the propensity of resettled refugees (government-assisted refugees [GARs] and privately sponsored refugees [PSRs]) and economic immigrants to leave their initial city of destination. Using data from the Longitudinal Immigration Database, this study improves upon previous studies by analyzing the timing of secondary migration of a broader arrival cohort of immigrants (2000 to 2014) at lower levels of geography (census metropolitan areas [CMAs] and census agglomerations [CAs]) for a longer period (the first 10 years after arrival).

The results show that refugees are more likely than economic immigrants to undertake secondary migration during their first 10 years in Canada. However, this is mostly explained by the fact that refugees tend to settle in smaller cities initially. PSRs’ higher propensity to migrate than economic immigrants is fully explained by their tendency to settle in non-gateway cities. GARs are slightly more likely to leave their initial destination than economic immigrants and PSRs, even after a number of measurable characteristics are taken into account.

Event history analysis shows that an experience of unemployment in the previous year similarly increases the likelihood of leaving the initial destination city for both economic immigrants and GARs. For PSRs, unemployment is not significantly associated with leaving the initial destination, probably because PSRs are more attached to their adopted community.

More importantly, the predicted probabilities of secondary migration highlight that, regardless of admission category, the majority of immigrants remain in their initial destination even 10 years after arrival. Previous studies tended to suggest that policies designed to steer immigrants away from gateway cities would be ineffective because immigrants prefer larger cities and have the right to move wherever they want. However, this study’s results show that most new immigrants stay in their initial destination.

The observation that resettled refugees are not substantially different from economic immigrants is particularly noteworthy, given that many refugees’ initial destinations are not self-chosen but assigned by the government. Without this assignment, most refugees would probably never set foot in small cities where they have no economic or social connections.

Overall, the findings are consistent with Åslund’s study (2000) on secondary migration in Sweden: the refugee dispersal policy does not necessarily lead to secondary migration. Most refugees stay in their initial destination city. These findings improve understanding of the mobility of different categories of immigrants, and inform discussions regarding appropriate resettlement policies.

Source:

Research at a Glance is designed to inform the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) community and other interested parties about recently published, policy-relevant research from government, academic and NGO sources. The views expressed in the documents described do not necessarily reflect those of IRCC.

Summary

This study asks two sets of questions. First, are refugees more likely to leave their initial destination city than economic immigrants when group differences in sociodemographic and contextual characteristics are taken into account? Among refugees, are GARs more likely to leave their initial destination city than PSRs? Second, to what extent does the impact of unemployment on secondary migration vary by admission category? Among refugees, are GARs more likely than PSRs to leave their initial destination city when they experience unemployment?
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