Immigrants use of welfare a mixed bag, documents show

Posted on January 16, 2011 in Inclusion Debates

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Last Updated: January 11, 2011.   By Brian Lilley, Parliamentary Bureau – Ottawa

Do immigrants and refugees really end up on welfare in greater numbers than the general population?

A review of data from Statistics Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada shows it depends on the type of immigrant.

As a whole, immigrants have a somewhat higher incidence of welfare usage than the general population, but some classes of immigrants use the system far less. The data also shows that while welfare usage goes down for both economic class immigrants and refugees the longer they are in Canada, the rate of welfare dependency often rises for family class immigrants.

In 1995, 10.5% of the general population was receiving social assistance compared to just 8.7% of all economic class immigrants who had landed the year before. A decade later the welfare rate for the general population had declined to 5.2% but was even lower for economic class immigrants at 2.3%.

“Immigration makes money for Canada,” lawyer and immigration policy analyst Richard Kurland told QMI Agency. “Data shows that immigrants, being less likely to be on welfare are a better bet.”

Kurland credited the immigration process, which screens out are the medically inadmissible and those that cannot work for the lower rate of welfare dependency.

Family class immigrants, often the spouses, parents and grandparents of economic immigrants or refugee claimants, are a different matter.

In 1995, family class immigrants who had landed in Canada just the year before were less likely to be on the welfare roles with just 7.3% of people in that class taking assistance. In 2005, the numbers had jumped with 12.2% of the family class group from 1994 taking social assistance.

“In all likelihood it’s not spouses, it’s parents and grandparents,” said Kurland. “After 10 years, the family is no longer legally obligated to pay for parents and grandparents, the state takes over.”

The government has come under fire for restricting this class in recent years accepting just 15,000 family class applicants in 2010 while the backlog of applications has grown to 100,000.

Refugees had the highest level of welfare use in the early years. They also accounted for the highest persistent use of welfare and the biggest improvement in outcomes. In 1995, more than half of refugees, 55.5%, were on welfare by 2005 that figure had dropped to 13.9%.

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