SASKATOON -- When Sara Asalya immigrated to Canada with her young family from the Palestinian territories nine years ago, she knew very little English and she had few connections to build on.

“I had no social capital. I had to build it from scratch,” Asalya told in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“But the upbringing experience of immigrant children is about never giving up, about being resilient, about being courageous because they have seen the journey of their parents.”

This mentality persisted as Asalya gained a master’s degree in education and now runs a program out of Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto helping to build up leadership capacity among immigrant women.

But stories like hers are not uncommon, new data suggests.

Young children of immigrants are more likely than Canadian-born children to wind up in university or college, according to a Statistics Canada study this week. This is despite them being twice as likely to live in a low-income household than those born here.

In 2018, 70 per cent of 20-year-old immigrants who came to Canada before they turned 15 were in post-secondary education. This compares with 56 per cent of the overall population of 20-year-olds that same year.

“Most of these families are coming to give their kids a better opportunity, and that’s what [the children] are doing,” Lori Wilkinson, a sociology professor at the University of Manitoba who specializes in immigration and refugee studies, told over the phone.

She said the most recent findings are in line with previous studies, such as those showing child refugees, in general, have a university completion rate higher than those born in Canada.

Wilkinson said no one could discount the “immigrant drive effect,” which stems from families pushing to fight for a better life in a new country after overcoming barriers to get there.

And this is something Asalya says she fully intends to impress upon her three young children.

“I tell them all the time, it’s all about education. It’s the only thing that you have,” she said. “It’s what’s going to define you because we don’t have anything else as other non-immigrants. We don’t have the same privileges and resources.”

Asalya added that “so many immigrants, sadly, give up their careers in order for their children to have the possibility of having the better life that their parents weren’t able to have.”

The study also showed that, child immigrants were more likely to end up in post-secondary if they were women, as is the trend in the general Canadian population.

“I also think that for immigrants and refugees, some of them are coming to Canada because their female children may not have as great an opportunity to pursue higher education,” Wilkinson explained.


Statistics Canada also found young newcomers were more likely to wind up in post-secondary if they were children of economic immigrants -- those selected for their potential to contribute to Canada's economy.

Wilkinson explained that these immigrants, who make up to 60 per cent of all immigrants in Canada, tend to have higher education themselves, and work experience or money to successfully navigate the point-grading system in Canada.

So she said it wasn’t surprising that with families having more money to spend, more of their children to go to post-secondary education at greater rates too.

During her university days in Toronto, Asalya started an immigrant support group at Ryerson University, which has since expanded off-campus to become Newcomer Students’ Association, which helps post-secondary students from across Canada.

She said the pressure to succeed is never lost on many immigrants and their children.

“I can tell you that post-secondary education is really used as a strategy by many immigrants to support their economic integration and to facilitate their transition,” she said. “And sometimes it’s the only pathway.”


Similar to trends in the overall Canadian population, higher median wages also awaited immigrant children who were in post-secondary education.

For 30-year-olds overall, the median wage was $41,810, compared with $47,400 for 30-year-old immigrants who came to Canada as children -- a 13.4 per cent difference.

This trend was most strongly seen in students who were children of economic immigrants, as opposed to those of refugees who are fleeing persecution or conflict, or immigrants sponsored by family already living in Canada.

Asalya says this bottom line is not lost on her either, and it’s why she tells her children education is the best way they’re going to get a leg up in Canada.

“There are so many reasons why immigrant communities and families really invest time and money, sometimes even going into debt to get a degree in Canada.”