Closing the Integration Gap: Assessing Impacts of Social Networks & Integration of Government Assisted Refugee Newcomers

This project brings together Political Science, Economics, and Migration Studies with civil society to examine pressing scholarly, policy, and social questions around refugee integration.

The Syrian refugee crisis has left governments and organizations in need of evidence-based policy for facilitating newcomer integration. Many states are considering adopting a version of Canada’s unique private sponsorship model, which allows groups of citizens to financially and legally support refugees who have been recommended for resettlement by UNHCR. The search for new models is a response to increasing anti-refugee sentiment, and specifically public opinion against government expenditure on large-scale influxes. Public opinion in Canada, on the other hand, remains largely in favor of resettling refugees given that private citizens play an active role in the resettlement process. Privately-Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) also have better integration outcomes than Government Assisted Refugees (GAR).

GARs are recommended for resettlement based almost exclusively on criteria of vulnerability. They have lower literacy rates, lower professional status, and less proficiency with Canada’s official languages. Whereas PSRs arrive to a dedicated sponsorship group, GARs rely almost exclusively on settlement case workers for support. In Toronto, the average case load per worker is around 70 families. GARs thus experience a dual barrier to integration.

While there is strong anecdotal evidence that social networks contribute to better integration, causal mechanisms are not well understood. We propose a randomized experiment to evaluate the impact of increased social ties between recently-resettled GARs and established Canadians. We work with a unique dataset and cohort of respondents through the Together Project.

The Together Project, based in Toronto, is a nonprofit civil society organization matches GARs with “Welcome Groups”, of five or more Canadians, emulating the social network support of the private sponsorship model, but with refugees who have already arrived. Because of the high number of new arrivals, not all GARs can be matched. We work in partnership with Together Project and the Munk School to implement a randomized design to select study participants for matching. By comparing those who are selected to those who are not, we will measure the causal impact of social ties on integration metrics including employment, language, education, and civic engagement. We will also examine the impact of the quality of social ties. Together Project makes its matches using a preference-ranking tool, not unlike a dating algorithm. A good match between GARs and Welcome Groups may be an important determinant of successful integration. We will collect data on outcomes one year after arrival in Canada.

This study has important policy implications. Private sponsorship may have benefits relative to government sponsorship, but it also may generate externalities in terms of negative perception of relatively lower-performing GARs. Our project will provide important evidence to policymakers as they consider the costs associated with resettlement options, and other governments and organizations who might consider replicating it. Second, our project can identify newcomers who benefit most from social networks, or the types of social network dynamics that positively affect the most cases. A long-term, rigorous analysis offers the opportunity to study these dynamics in real time. Finally, findings can show whether volunteerism can strengthen social ties for new arrivals and whether this leads to improved integration, and whether Canada’s two track resettlement model creates two tiered integration outcomes.