In Brief: COVID-19 IMPACTS on Employment Transitions by Immigrants

Vanier Institute’s In Brief Series: Mobilizing Research on Families in Canada

Diana Gerasimov

March 16, 2021

STUDY: Hou, F., G. Picot and J. Zhang. “Transitions Into and Out of Employment by Immigrants During the COVID-19 Lockdown and Recovery,” StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 45-28-0001 (August 20, 2020). Link:

During March and April 2020, 3 million jobs were lost in the Canadian employment market as a result of the lockdowns in response to COVID-19. As economic operations and businesses gradually recuperated from May to July 2020, 1.7 million jobs were recovered.

There are reasons to predict that immigrants in Canada have been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19: data show that recent immigrants tend to have shorter employment occupancies than workers born in Canada, and employees with short job tenures are more affected by layoffs during economic downturns.

Prior to COVID-19…

  • 31% of employed recent immigrants had occupied their position for less than one year compared with 15% of employees born in Canada.
  • In February 2020, 22% of recent immigrants, who are typically more likely to work in lower paying jobs, occupied low-wage jobs compared with 12% among workers born in Canada.
  • The rate of transition from employment to unemployment was low for recent immigrants, long-term immigrants and those born in Canada, fluctuating between 2% and 4% over February 2019 to February 2020.

Weekly surveys conducted during this period by Leger, the Association for Canadian Studies and the Vanier Institute of the Family found that immigrants were significantly more likely than respondents born in Canada to report a decrease in their income resulting from the pandemic and difficulty in meeting short-term financial obligations (e.g. rent/mortgage, paying bills on time).1

Data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) confirm this disproportionate impact, as seen in the differing rates of transition from employment to non-employment – that is, the proportion of people employed in the previous month who were not employed in the current month when surveyed. This study compares these rates among recent immigrants (those in Canada for 10 years or less), long-term immigrants (those in Canada more than 10 years) and people born in Canada, and finds that recent immigrants were the most affected group. In April 2020, 17% of recent immigrants who were employed in the previous month were no longer employed, compared with 14% for long-term immigrants and for people born in Canada.

Among those affected in the rate of transition to non-employment, female recent immigrants experienced the largest increase. Nearly 20% of female recent immigrants who were employed in March 2020 were not employed in April 2020, compared with 13% of women born in Canada.

From February 2019 to April 2020, all three groups had similar transition rates back into the workforce, with recent immigrants having a slightly higher rate than those born in Canada. However, as the partial economic recovery continued to increase, the transition rates for recent immigrants were 5 percentage points lower than those born in Canada in May 2020, 3 points lower in June 2020 and 1 point lower in July 2020.

Female recent immigrants had lower rates of transition from non-employment to employment during the beginning of this slow recovery. Recent immigrant women had the widest gap with women born in Canada: 5 percentage points in both May and June 2020, and 2 points in July 2020.

The gaps between female recent immigrants and women born in Canada became wider when factoring in age, education and geographical location. These variations can be attributed to the difference in employment growth by wage level and industrial sector. Whether these differences will diminish as the economy continues to recover is yet to be seen.

Diana Gerasimov holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Communication and Cultural Studies.


  1. Learn more in Families New to Canada and Financial Well-being During Pandemic.


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