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Syrian refugees to boost BC economy, SFU students conclude

Two PhD candidates estimate that refugees will contribute $563 million over 20 years

In 2015 Canada is estimated to have processed 10,700 refugees for resettlement. - Photo courtesy of The Canadian Press
In 2015 Canada is estimated to have processed 10,700 refugees for resettlement. - Photo courtesy of The Canadian Press

Two SFU doctoral students have published a study that estimates that BC-bound Syrian refugees expected to arrive in the province before the end of February will generate approximately $563 million in local economic activity over the next 20 years.

Economics PhD candidates Eric Adebayo and Ricardo Meilman Cohn analysed Canadian and United Nations data as part of a study commissioned by the Vancity Credit Union’s humanitarian refugee initiative.

Adebayo and Meilman Cohn, both international students and second-year PhD candidates, used the limited information available on Syrian refugees through the UN High Commission for Refugees and coupled that with past Canadian immigration data to reach their findings.

“What we did was look at the age structure of Syrian refugees,” Adebayo explained. “Then, we looked at the previous earnings of immigrants and refugees [who] have come to Canada.”

The information allowed them to measure the economic activity that could potentially be generated by the 2,500 Syrian refugees expected to arrive in BC over the coming months.

The report, From Crisis to Community: Syrian Refugees and the B.C. Economy, released last month concluded that immigrants and refugees are 30 per cent more likely to start a business, have higher rates of self-employment compared to native-born Canadians, and tend to become consumers in their communities, growing the local economy.

“Throughout [places] like the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, immigrants make up a huge portion of the population, and we tend to find that they improve outcomes in economies,” explained Adebayo.

Other findings from the report suggested that immigration to Canada generally does not decrease wages nor increase unemployment in communities where newcomers are settled.

The vast majority of government-sponsored refugees who arrived in Canada between 2010 and 2012 remained in Metro Vancouver, choosing to reside mostly in Surrey, Coquitlam, and Burnaby.

The report also made key recommendations that could ensure the economic success of the recent migrants. These included access to language classes and settlement and training programs within the crucial first years after arrival. The report also recommended steps be taken to value the foreign-learned skills of refugees and reduce discrimination.

“We wanted to [show] that there is a positive impact on the economy from people of diverse backgrounds,” Adebayo said. “Refugees do contribute to the economy.”

One fact the report does acknowledge is that the amount of economic activity generated by recent migrants is lower than what would be expected of non-immigrant Canadians because of the difficulties refugees face initially adjusting to their new home. Still, the statistics on previous immigrants and refugees show a steady increase in economic activity the longer they remain in the country.

However, Adebayo cautioned against fixating on the numbers.  “The number is not a way to say that refugees are a good investment,” said Adebayo. “[They’re] fleeing a horrible situation and civil war.”

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