Reports 2009/31

A Comparison of the labour market integration of immigrants and refugees in Canada and Norway

According to the OECD (2008), Canada's immigrants score among the highest in the industrialised world when it comes to employment rates. Measured by employment rate Canada ranked 3rd (only surpassed by Portugal and Switzerland) among foreign-born, whereas Norway ranked 22nd and together with the other Nordic countries lagged behind the OECD-average with 10 percentage points. These numbers and subsequent rankings, based on aggregate figures, hide variations by country of birth and reason for migration. In this report we aim to adjust for these variables when comparing the Canadian and Norwegian statistics as far as the data allows.

Higher share of economic/labour migrants in Canada

Although both countries have seen high immigration numbers over the last years, the reason for immigration to the two countries varies. Canada has a high share of economic/labour migrants, whereas Norway (at least up till 2006) had a much higher share of family and refugee migrants. Around 60 percent of the immigrants who came to Canada the last decade were economic/labour migrants compared to less than 20 percent of the immigrants coming to Norway. In the same period 13 percent of the Canadian immigrants were refugees, the corresponding rate for Norway was 25 percent. These differences in admission category for immigrants are especially significant among immigrants from Asia and Africa. Over the last decade only a few percent of the immigrants from these regions coming to Norway have been economic/labour migrants compared to a majority among the Canadian immigrants with Asia and African background. Immigrants from Asia comprise a large part of the immigrant population both in Norway and in Canada, but the majority of Asian immigrants in Canada come from East and South East Asia, whereas the majority of Asian immigrants in Norway come from the Western part of Asia and the Middle East. From Africa, more than half of the immigrants in Norway come from the eastern part, especially Africa's Horn whereas in Canada the African immigrants are more evenly dispersed with background from all parts of the continent.

More educated immigrants in Canada

More than half of the immigrants from Africa and Asia have higher education (more than 13 years of schooling) upon arrival in Canada. Education level is an important element of the Canadian immigration regime, the points system, and as a consequence a majority of immigrants coming to Canada have higher education. Equivalent figures for Norwegian immigrants suggest that less than a quarter had higher education upon arrival in Norway. Although the figures are not directly comparable they indicate that immigrants in Canada have a higher education level than immigrants coming to Norway.

Many immigrants and refugees know English or French upon arrival in Canada Both English and French, the two official languages in Canada are spoken by people from all over the world and a majority of refugees know one or both of the official languages upon arrival in Canada. For Norway (although we don't have the data to support it) we can assume that close to none of the immigrants and refugees coming to Norway know the Norwegian language in advance. These differences matter and have to be taken into account when comparing the outcome on the labour market for both immigrants and refugees in the two countries.

Higher employment rates among immigrants in Canada than in Norway

In the total population the employment rate in Norway is a few percentage points higher than in Canada. Internationally, both countries have high employment rates, among the highest within the OECD-area. Canada has a higher employment level for immigrants where 77.5 percent are employed compared to 67.1 percent in Norway, a difference of 11 percentage points. At the same time the unemployment rate for immigrants were a little higher in Canada than in Norway, five and four percent respectively. These overall differences in employment rates are not as striking, and to some degree expected due to the different composition of the immigrant populations in the two countries, especially given the differences in reason for migration, country background, education level and language ability.

The differences in employment rates are higher for immigrants from Africa and Asia. In Canada 73 percent of the Africans are employed, compared to 50 percent in Norway. But these figures conceal important compositional differences. 60 percent of the Africans coming to Canada the last years have been economic/labour migrants compared with two percent in Norway. A majority of the African immigrants coming to Norway have been refugees and the refugee component plays an important role in explaining the differences in labour market outcome. Somali immigrants, who are mostly refugees, comprise more than a third of the immigrants from Africa in Norway – and have low employment rates. The same low levels of employment can be observed in Canada for Somali immigrants, but they only comprise four percent of African immigrants.

The example with Somali refugees serves as an illustration for many of the other groups described in this report. Immigrant groups that do well in the labour market in Norway such as immigrants from Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Bosnia also do well in Canada, with only a few percentage points higher employment rate in Canada. Whereas groups that struggle in the Norwegian labour market such as immigrants from Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan also struggle in the Canadian labour market, the main difference between Canada and Norway is that immigrants from these countries comprise a much larger share of the Norwegian immigrant population.

Gender differences among immigrants in both countries

Among immigrants from the Middle East and parts of Africa we see huge differences in employment rates between men and women, both in Norway and in Canada. The general employment level is higher in Canada than in Norway but the differences between men and women are around 20-30 percentage points among immigrants from these regions in both countries.

A 'better' mix of immigrants in Canada?

Canada's system of managed migration is not country specific, and the points based system has no intended bias towards certain countries or regions. This policy has given a mix of immigrants far different from Norway, with a much higher share of economic/labour migrants coming to Canada from regions where in Norway there are only refugees from the same area. Having skilled migrants coming from the same country probably has a positive effect in the integration process for refugees as well, both in terms of establishing networks for jobs, but also in forming the public perception of immigrants from a country or region. Furthermore the system encourages language proficiency as knowledge of one or both official languages gives extra points.

Networks are an important asset in job-search, and networks are likely to be more efficient for migrants from countries where the population from this country represents a higher share of the total migrant population, but if the only network is to be found among other newly arrived refugees this probably represents a more difficult way into the labour market than if there was a mix of different backgrounds. Having role models in the community that are successful in the labour market probably increases the possibility that newly arrived immigrants follow in their paths.

About the publication


A Comparison of the labour market integration of immigrants and refugees in Canada and Norway


Vebjørn Aalandslid

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Reports 2009/31


Statistics Norway



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About Reports

Analyses and annotated statistical results from various surveys are published in the series Reports. Surveys include sample surveys, censuses and register-based surveys.