Refugees and Income Assistance – Rebutting the “Pensioners’ Myth”

Have you heard rumours that refugees in Canada receive greater assistance from the government than pensioners?

For several years, a persistent chain email has been circulating claiming that refugees receive significantly more money in income assistance than Canadians collecting a pension.  The information, which is based on a letter published in the Toronto Star, is false. The record has been set straight by the federal government and the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Refugees come to Canada in different ways, but no matter the category, refugees receive very limited income assistance from the government.

The true picture is that:

  • Refugee claimants and refugees recognized by the Immigration and Refugee Board receive no special income assistance.  They may, depending on provincial regulations, be entitled, like other residents, to social assistance.
  • Privately sponsored refugees are not entitled to government assistance (including provincial assistance) during the period of their sponsorship (usually for one year after arrival in Canada).  Their income support must be provided by their sponsors.
  • Government assisted refugees have access to financial assistance from the federal government through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP).  This financial assistance is generally for one year maximum and is received only if they do not have their own financial resources or income. The exact rate depends on the size of the family and is tied to social assistance rates.  In Ontario in July 2013, for example, a single person receives $781 per month.  In addition, government-assisted refugees are entitled to a one-time set up allowance, to cover such things as clothes, basic household effects and staples, and telephone installation.  For a single person there is a maximum one-time allowance of $905, plus a $564 loan for house rental and telephone line deposits.

Most resettled refugees arrive in Canada with a significant debt burden, since they are expected to repay the Canadian government for their transportation to Canada as well as the cost of their medical examination undertaken as part of their processing to come to Canada.  Refugee families therefore often begin life in Canada with a debt running to thousands of dollars.  Interest is charged on this loan at a rate set by the Department of Finance each year.

For more information on transportation loans for resettled refugees and the devastating impacts they have, see: and

Have you received a chain email or read a letter to the editor spreading this false information?

  • ‘Don’t believe everything you read in the paper…’ The same applies to the Internet!
  • Think before you click –Sending on this email can have devastating impacts.  It spreads false rumours, hurting people who have already suffered in their home countries. Let’s offer them a better welcome to Canada than unfounded stigmas and prejudices.

How can you set the record straight?

  • Respond to the email with correct information and facts to the person who sent you this false information.  Give them the facts.  Ask them to send this information on to everyone that they sent the message to.  Here is a sample email message that you can use:

The information in this email is FALSE. 

Passing it on can have devastating impacts.  It spreads false rumours, hurting people who have already suffered in their home countries. Let’s show them a better welcome to Canada than unfounded stigmas and prejudices.

Put yourself in the shoes of a refugee in Canada – the TRUE picture is that some refugees who come to Canada receive no financial assistance from the government, and others at most extremely limited income assistance.

  • On top of a limited income, refugees resettled to Canada also arrive with a huge debt because they have to repay Canada for their travel costs.  Imagine arriving in Canada owing a debt greater than what you earned in your entire working life.  Many government-assisted refugees do just that and they must pay back the costs of their transportation to Canada, with interest.  For some families this can be as much as $10,000.  This is a huge burden for a refugee family that is starting fresh in a new country, with a new language to learn and few connections.  For more information, see:

Please send this information back to anyone who has received this false information to set the record straight. For more information see the websites of the department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada ( and the Canadian Council for Refugees (

  • Post a response to this chain email on your website or in your blog, with the correct information.
  • If the rumour is circulating widely in your community, talk to journalists at your local radio station or community newspaper to produce a piece with the correct information.  Take the opportunity to raise the realities and challenges faced by refugees in your community.

Looking for more information?

Explanation of the origins of the email by Toronto Star ombudsperson (below)

You Asked For It, article published by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Sept.-Oct. 2005, responding to the chain email

Citizenship and Immigration Canada: Do government-assisted refugees get more income support and benefits than Canadian pensioners do?.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada: Financial support for Government-Assisted Refugees

For a rebuttal of a US version of the myth, see (a site dedicated to getting the facts on urban legends)

A version of the myth also made an appearance in Australia: ABC, MediaWatch