Immigrants Beat Canadians At Starting Businesses: StatsCan

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Immigrants have beaten Canadians at entrepreneurship over the past three decades, says a report by Statistics Canada.

And it offers more proof that Syrian refugees could be good for Canada's economy in the long run.

syrian refugee canada
Syrian refugee Osama (left) holds his baby daughter as they arrive at the Welcome Centre at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Dec. 18, 2015. (Chris Young/CP)

The StatsCan report, which was compiled in partnership with researchers at UBC and the Institute for Research in Public Policy, is the first to address "business ownership and job-creation activities of immigrants," it says.

Its main finding was that immigrants, including refugees, tend to surpass Canadians at private business ownership and self-employment — proportionally, anyway.

The report drew its conclusions by contrasting immigrants who arrived in various years against "comparison groups" that included mostly Canadians, and people who moved to Canada before 1980.

It also examined entrepreneurship in a number of categories: incorporated private companies, unincorporated self-employment, and people who drew most of their income from self-employment.

This chart compares immigrants (in green) and Canadians (in red) in three categories: self-employment, income primarily from self-employment, and private business ownership:

(Scroll over the bars to see what the percentages are)

StatsCan found that 5.3 per cent of immigrant taxfilers who came to Canada in 2000 owned private companies by 2010.

In a comparison group of non-immigrants, 4.8 per cent owned a business the same year.

Researchers observed a similar trend among the self-employed. Immigrants who came to Canada in 2004 had a self-employment rate of 19.6 per cent in 2010, compared to 16.1 per cent among a comparison group.

But not all self-employed immigrants derived most of their income from that work. About half of them (46 per cent) worked other jobs that supplemented their pay. The rest of them (54 per cent) earned most of their money through self-employment.

Eleven per cent of immigrants who arrived in 2004 earned mostly self-employed income by 2010, more than the comparison group's 7.5 per cent.

StatsCan also looked at immigrants who moved to Canada between 1980 and 2000.

Approximately 5.8 per cent of these immigrants owned private companies in 2010, more than the 4.8 per cent among the comparison group.

Self-employment was also higher among these immigrants at 22.3 per cent. It was 16.1 per cent for comparable Canadians and longer-term arrivals.

About 11.6 per cent of immigrants who came to Canada between 1980 and 2000 made most of their money from self-employed work, topping the 7.6 per cent earned by the comparison group.

This chart compares immigrants (in blue) and Canadians (in red) in three categories: self-employment, income primarily from self-employment, and private business ownership:

(Scroll over the bars to see what the percentages are)

But StatsCan also found that immigrants don't quite match Canadians when it comes to job creation.

The agency calculated job creation by dividing the number of positions created by private companies by the total number of immigrants who arrived between 1980 and 2000.

The same was done for a comparison group.

By this measure, immigrant-owned businesses created approximately 0.170 jobs per person, compared to 0.237 jobs per comparison-group member.

The statistics nevertheless show a strong propensity for entrepreneurship among people moving to Canada — and it boosts a case for accepting Syrian refugees that Vancity credit union made last year.

syrian refugees canada airport
The first Syrian refugee family to disembark at Toronto Pearson International Airport makes their way into the Canada Border Services Agency's processing area on December 11, 2015. (Photo: Kenneth Allan, Canada Border Services/Anadolu Agency and Getty Images)

The financial institution estimated that refugees could contribute as much as $563 million in economic activity in B.C. alone over the next 20 years.

It noted that immigrants are "highly entrepreneurial people" who were "30 per cent more likely to start a business than non-immigrants."

"Even though there will be a financial cost to settle the refugees, it must be taken into account that immigrants have children, integrate over time, change the structure of the labour market and support a strained public pension system," Vancity's report said.

"The long-term fiscal impact of accepting refugees is typically positive."

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