*This study of the socio-economic adjustment of refugees in Metropolitan Toronto is part of a larger comparative research undertaking that includes the City of Ottawa and two rural areas- the Countries of Renfrew and Lanark and the Village of Manatick. The inquiry was conducted under the aegis of the Institute of research on Public Policy and supported by Employment and Immigration Canada, the Ministry of Citizenship and Culture, Refugee Unit of Ontario and the Multicultural History Society of Ontario.
Among Toronto's most recent immigrants are those refugees from the tragedy of southeast Asia known as the "boat people." Other peoples have come to Toronto as refugees. Something akin to a sponsorship program, such as Operation Lifeboat, existed in the relationship of Korean Christians from North Korea and Canadian missionaries who had once proselytized them there. No group has aroused such public interest, and it is natural that social scientists and civil servants attempt to measure the rate of adjustment and acculturation among them.
However, the so-called boat people, like all immigrants, have a complex history which defies the easy labels of both the well meaning and the prejudiced observer. Study of their process of integration into Canadian life is valid and important, but tells only half a story. The newcomers from southeast Asia have begun to create their own immigrant institutions and to reconstitute their social life in terms of their true ethnocultural identities and loyal ties. They enrich Toronto's polyphony of peoples, not as a synthetic creation of the host society, "the boat people," but as Laotian, Vietnamese and Kampucheans, as well as Chinese with Laotian, Cambodian, North and South Vietnamese homelands. So far associations have emerged in Toronto to serve at least those six ethnicities, or ethnic sub-identities.
Closer study of the boat people, as with so many other groups in the city, reveals rich and complex nuances of identity, of ethnicity as process, and reminds us of the vital need to begin to preserve the associational records and oral history of immigrants from their first arrival if we are to have a true understanding of our fellow Torontonians.
The plight of refugees has been an issue of international concern since World War Two, and in more recent years, Canada has assumed its share of international responsibility for the resettlement of refugees.
In 1975, following the collapse of the pro-American regime in South Vietnam, Canada agreed to accept 5,000 refugees from that region. As the exodus expanded in 1978, it was announced that up to fifty families per month would be processed and accepted for permanent settlement. Toward the end of the same year, Canada agreed to accept an additional 5,000 Indochinese refugees during 1979. There was an indication that this figure could be surpassed if the private sector agreed to a more active role in the sponsorship program.
The response from the private sector to the government's challenge proved overwhelming. The intensive media coverage given to the boat people in 1979, the rise of advocacy organizations to promote private sponsorship resulted in greater awareness among Canadians of the plight of the Indochinese refugees; and by the end of August 1979, 1,420 sponsorship groups sprung up across Canada. By the end of January 1980, the number rose to 5,457. Between 1979-80 Canada admitted a total of 60,000 southeast Asian refugees, and of those approximately 21,000 were government and 39,000 privately sponsored.
The government's willingness to share, with the private sector, the responsibility for the short-term settlement and integration of refugees has historical and social significance, as well as long-range implications. It marks, for the first time, the involvement of private citizens in Canadian immigration policy -in the tasks previously performed, to a large extent, by the government. The study of the southeast Asian refugees was undertaken to capture the historical and social dimensions of government and private sponsorship and explore the feasibility of a more permanent involvement of the private sector in the resettlement of refugees. The Metropolitan Toronto component of the study is based on interviews with 125 sponsors, and with 125 privately and 50 government sponsored refugees. Information pertaining to English-language training and work history in Canada was gathered on 245 privately and 178 government sponsored members of refugee households.
Socio-Demographic Characteristics of
Privately Sponsored Refugees
Privately sponsored refugees to Toronto began to arrive in the spring of 1979. Their numbers grew gradually and reached a peak in October. Between November-March 1980 the flow continued but at a reduced rate. Among the refugees younger individuals are very strongly represented-42 per cent are between the age of twenty and forty, and 48 per cent are aged nineteen or under. The refugees are almost equally divided by sex, 52 per cent males and 48 per cent female. The majority are of Chinese ethnic origin. The refugee households, upon arrival in Toronto, had an average of three to five members. The size and composition of the household did not significantly change after the termination of legal sponsorship. They appear to be a relatively permanent unit.
English Language Training
Sponsors usually enrolled the refugees in English language classes; 59 per cent were enrolled as full-time and 41 per cent as part-time students. A larger number of males (64 per cent) attended full-time as compared with females (54 per cent). Only 23 per cent completed six or more months of English-language training. The majority (59 per cent) dropped out after three months of study, and females outnumbered males as early drop-outs.
The refugees consider their English language skills barely adequate to get by in everyday life and inadequate for jobs that require English. Nearly half (49 per cent) say that they have enough English to get by in everyday life, and 32 per cent indicate that they can work in jobs that require English. The sponsors give a relatively more favourable evaluation of the refugees' English-language skills. According to them 70 per cent know enough English to get by in everyday life, and 45 per cent can hold jobs which require English.
Employment since Arrival
There are 347 work-age refugees in the sample, and of these 57 per cent secured employment within the first seven months after arrival in Toronto. All others looking for work entered the labour force after eight months or a year. For the majority, first employment was secured through the sponsor. Those who changed places of employment obtained the new position through friends or self-initiative.
The first job held by the refugees usually required some minimal skill. The majority (62 per cent) worked as jewellers, mechanics, carpenters, welders, pressers, furniture makers, and others (28 per cent) were cleaners, labourers, handymen, wreckers, laundrymen, maids, baby-sitters. The majority entered the labour force as full-time workers. The preference for full-time employment and over-time work was more common among males than females.
The preliminary analysis shows that 44 per cent of the refugees who held a job in their native country consider their job in Canada as being worse than that held in their native country. It also indicates that 44 per cent of the refugees, upon entry into the labour force, received below or minimum wage. A larger number of females earned less than the required minimum hourly rate, and more males than females received above minimum wage salaries. This difference is most apparent in the higher listed range-$5.50 and over rate.
Financial Support from Sponsors
The majority (73 per cent) of sponsors provided refugees with rental accommodation, and relatively few (19 per cent) lived with sponsors. The average amount the sponsor paid for rented accommodation per month was $462. During the initial months of settlement, the refugee household on the average received $322 per month for food. The average food allowance per month per individual was $89. The funds for food usually included transportation costs and miscellaneous expenses. However, 61 per cent of the refugees were given additional monies for extra necessities. The majority of refugees appeared satisfied with the financial arrangements. However, 76 per cent indicated that, if in financial need, they would not have felt free to ask the sponsor for help.
Refugee Household as an Economic Unit
The majority of the households (67 per cent) began to contribute toward expenses within six months of arrival. In most cases, however, they did not become totally independent of the sponsor's financial support until the last month of sponsorship.
Frequency tabulations of income per household indicate that, at the time of the interview, 45 per cent of the refugee households had an income at or below the poverty line. Financial independence may not necessarily be related to adequate income.
Socio-Demographic Characteristics of Government-Sponsored Refugees
As with the privately sponsored, younger individuals are very strongly represented among the government-sponsored refugees -48 per cent are between the ages of twenty and forty, and 36 per cent are aged nineteen or under. The percentage of males in the government sample is slightly higher than in the privately sponsored group, 55 per cent as compared to 52 per cent. Similar to the privately sponsored, the majority are of Chinese ethnic origin. Also like the privately sponsored, the refugee households, upon arrival in Toronto, had an average of three to five members. At the time of the interview, however, the tendency was for larger households.
The percentage of those not enrolled in English-language classes is higher for the government than the privately sponsored, 16 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. Among those not enrolled, a relatively high percentage were women.
Of those who attended English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, 75 per cent were enrolled full-time and 25 per cent as part-time students. The preponderance of males in the full-time program, noticeable in the privately sponsored sample, is also expressed in the government assisted sample. The length of attendance in the ESL program is considerably more favourable for the government than for the privately sponsored. Approximately 51 per cent completed the "six months and more" training, and 16 per cent attended at least five months.
The majority, 63 per cent, give a favourable evaluation of their ability to cope in English in everyday life. However, only 17 per cent feel that their language skills are adequate to hold a job which requires English. The assessment of English-language skills made by the government sponsored is similar to that of the privately sponsored respondents.
Employment since Arrival
There are 107 work-age refugees in the sample, and of these 72 per cent secured jobs within the first seven months after arrival in Toronto. All others looking for work entered the labour force after eight months or a year. For the majority, the first employment was secured through CEC. Those who changed places of employment obtained the new position through friends or self-initiative. As with the privately sponsored, the first job offered to the refugees was in service occupations and it required some or minimal skill. The majority, 85 per cent, entered the labour force as full-time workers. Similarly to the privately sponsored, fewer hours of work per week was more common among females.
Preliminary tabulations indicate that the ratio of those who, upon entry into the labour force, received wages below or minimum wage, is slightly lower for the government than the privately sponsored, 39 per cent and 44 per cent respectively. As with the privately sponsored, there is a greater tendency among females to earn less than the minimum hourly rate.
The majority of the refugees appeared to like their job. However, the majority of the refugees who held a job in their native country considered the job in Canada worse than that held in their native country.
Financial Support from CEC
The average amount the refugee was given per month for the rental of accommodation was between $200-$300. This is considerably less than $462, or the average amount paid by the private sponsor. It suggests that the government assisted may have experienced difficulty in finding suitable housing and/or had inadequate accommodation. During the initial months of settlement a refugee household received, on average, $321 per month for food. The average food allowance per month, per individual was $90. These figures are almost identical to those reported by the privately sponsored. The majority, 91 per cent, of the refugees were satisfied with the financial arrangements. However, as with the privately sponsored, overwhelming numbers indicated that, if in financial need, they would not have felt free to ask the CEC for help.
Refugee Household as an Economic Unit
Frequency tabulations indicate that the majority of refugee households became financially independent within five months of arrival. The duration of dependency for financial support appeared shorter for the government than the privately sponsored.
Preliminary tabulations suggest that in the case of government and privately sponsored, financial independence is not necessarily related to adequate income. At the time of the interview, 49 per cent of the refugees had an income at or below the poverty line.