Early and diverse friendships lead to better income for immigrants: StatsCan study

As lasting friendships go, Jasim Khan got lucky when he immigrated from India to study at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops B.C.  

The university assigned Khan an international student advisor, Reyna Denison, to help him transition to the new country.

"I was a teenager and I had never lived by myself. If I look back fifteen years ago, having Reyna's support guiding me every step of the way … it was critical," said Khan.

Over the years, Khan nurtured a close friendship with Denison. And that turned into an unexpected job opportunity. 

When Khan visited Kamloops again last year to meet old friends, Denison encouraged him to apply for an assistant instructor's position that opened up in her department.

Khan applied and got the job, working as a co-ordinator with international students and teaching English. 

"There's no way I would have otherwise known about the job," recounted Khan. 

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Khan's story of friendship opening doors to an economic opportunity down the road is supported by a new study released by Statistics Canada. 

It examined immigrants between the ages of 25 to 54 who arrived in Canada in 2001 and studied how their social capital — defined by their network of relatives, friends and community ties — influenced their employment income over a period of 15 years. 

The study found that having friends in Canada led to higher employment income in the long term. 

Immigrant women who made friends in Canada within six months after their arrival earned about $6,000 to $8,000 more than those who didn't have such friends. 

The report also shows having a diverse pool of friends from different ethnic backgrounds affects income. 

In the case of men, having friends from different ethnic backgrounds contributed to better earnings — around $8,200 higher compared to those whose friends belonged to their own ethnic background. 

Rose Evra, the study's co-author and a senior analyst at Statistics Canada, explains a diverse friendship circle leads to more employment-relevant information through channels they would otherwise not find.  

"The message here to new immigrants is to make friends as soon as you can, and also be open to making friends of different origins, because you'll be able to learn much more than if your friends are of similar profiles as you," said Rose. 

That's also the message Queenie Cho, CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S — a non-profit organization that runs an immigration settlement program in Vancouver  — has for newly-arrived immigrants. 

She believes going beyond one's community, learning new languages and understanding different cultures plays a big part in one's career development. It even helps if you're getting into entrepreneurship. 

"Very often, we observe that people who want to start a business look for networks not only within their ethnic group but beyond it — to understand communities and customers they're trying to connect with," said Cho. 

Khan continues to rely on his close friends to make career choices. After working in Kamloops, he moved to Vancouver to pursue a sales associate role at an international money transfer company.

And at every step, he sought advice from friends who've tread a similar career path in Vancouver.

"Friends always give you great insight — whether it's about a company, the salary trend in an industry or the city in general. Having a local network of friends gives you an added bonus ... it gives you confidence," said Khan. 

Having benefited from "social capital" of his own, Khan tries to link friends who have recently arrived to Vancouver with job opportunities at his company. 

And in the meantime, he encourages them to go on a friend-hunt alongside a job-hunt. 

"If you're brave enough to move to a strange land, you're brave enough to make friends."