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The Nepali-Canadian Living Standards Survey: Newcomer Incorporation in the Greater Toronto Area.


The question of how new immigrant groups incorporate into Canadian economic and social life is particularly crucial when a nativist mood in domestic politics threatens Canada's multicultural model and places critical attention on the immigration of visible minorities. Immigration policy discourse in Canada has prioritized the utility of immigrants to economic and social development in an effort to ensure that immigration is a net benefit. The rigorous "point system" that selects newcomers on the strength of an applicant's human capital (education and language proficiency) is intended to encourage immigration of individuals who possess high potential for making contributions to Canadian economic and social life, but a failure of efforts to incorporate immigrants could frustrate them and feed the antipathy of native-born Canadians, even though all of their ancestors arrived at one time or another as immigrants. The purpose of this paper is to assess the economic and social incorporation of Nepali-Canadian immigrants, who are new arrivals to Canada's multicultural mosaic, by comparing their current status to the native-born.

The past several decades has seen a shift in the origin of most immigrants coming to Canada, with most now arriving, in greater numbers, from Asia and the Middle East. As "visible minorities", these new immigrants do not assimilate into their host society as readily as earlier waves of European immigrants, if by assimilation we mean that they eventually become indistinguishable from the host society. Canada's official multicultural policies, moreover, encourage cultural minorities to retain their distinctiveness, but at the same time the point system selects immigrants based on qualities that ought to ensure that they become productive members of society. Many scholars have, however, pointed out that the economic outcome of immigrants, particularly those of non-European origin, has been in decline over much of the same period (Reitz and Banerjee 2007). Garnett Picot (2008) argues that this is due to the shift in immigrant origins and the failure of Canadian employers to recognize foreign educational credentials and experience. He adds that immigrants are one of the most vulnerable groups during economic downturns, such as the decline of high technology industries in the late 1990s, and the 2008 recession. Economic incorporation is vital as well to social incorporation, as immigrants who have met their economic expectations of migration were more likely to be attached to their new home (Kazemipur and Nakhaie 2014)

The intersectional nature of immigrant incorporation was a feature of the current study at its inception. Much research on immigrant living standards is collected through Statistics Canada, a federal agency, and the explicit purpose of this data is to provide bureaucrats with tools to calibrate immigration policy and programming. Academic access to this data allows for critical reassessment, but the parameters of the data and the phenomenon it measures are defined by the state for its own interests. The Nepali-Canadian Living Standards Survey seeks to assess similar phenomenon, but at the outset it was a project proposed and pursued by members of the Nepali-Canadian community because it was in their interests to understand their place in Canadian society and not to be subsumed into other "South Asian" groups in larger statistical data collected by the state.

The following paper presents the results of this survey. In the first section, we describe the collaboration between the principal investigator, the community steering committee and the survey volunteers, as well as the sampling frame, strategies and interview procedures. In the next section we focus on the economic incorporation of participating households, including family income, labour and markers of middle class membership. The following section looks at social incorporation, which includes discussion of Nepali cultural engagement and assessments of immigrant overall satisfaction. In the final section we conclude that the successful incorporation of Nepali-Canadians is more likely to occur the longer that immigrants have had to settle here, but that even comparatively long-term immigrants fall short of median native Canadian standards, likely because of poor returns for their high human capital in the labour market.


The concept of immigrant incorporation that we employ in this study is similar to the ideas of assimilation and integration that provide a framework for most contemporary literature on immigration. These ideas are, however, not equivalent, and signal different expectations of the trajectories of immigrants in their host societies. In its earliest form, the concept of assimilation was based on a classical view that immigrants to the United States in particular would, over time, shed the cultural values of their homeland as they assimilated into the social mainstream. This view was based on the experience of the immigration of Europeans to the United States of America in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century and, to an extent, following the Second World War. Although those immigrants initially complicated the AngloProtestant character of the U.S., their origins in Southern and Eastern Europe meant that they were more readily absorbed into the dominant racialized structure of American society, although that society became transformed in the process (Alba and Foner 2015).

Abdelmalek Sayad (2004) has argued that the language of assimilation used to describe the phenomenon of immigration relates through a digestive metaphor the assumption that newcomers will be absorbed into the host society. There have been recent attempts to revive it so that, according to Alba and Nee (1997), the continuity between earlier and later waves of immigration can be understood. Their attempt to complicate the linear assumptions of the classical understanding of immigration as being a simple one-way cultural shift from the old world to the new was made in recognition of the diverse experiences of immigrants who arrive from the Global South, but in the end they still define it "as the decline and at its endpoint the disappearance of an ethnic/racial distinction and the cultural and social differences that express it (863)."

This definition renders assimilation incompatible with at least the official discourses of Canadian multiculturalism, in which policies and resources are directed towards maintaining those ethnic distinctions. Crucially, however, those distinctions are ideally not meant to be material, as ethnic differences ought not to mark disparities of economic equality or produce social exclusion, although the reality for immigrants all too often fails to approach this ideal. Canadian immigration policy shifted to the multicultural model in part because of the changing origins of immigrants, as by the early 1970s increasing numbers began to arrive from Asia, so that by 2001 over half of immigrants were from neither Europe nor the United States (Statistics Canada 2016a). In Canada the concern is less with the assimilation of these new immigrants, but rather with their integration into Canadian society, a metaphor that does not assume the eventual disappearance of their cultural identity.

Understanding immigrant integration, however, is to understand only social processes that obtain in the host society. Sayad (2004), writing about immigrants in France, suggests that successful integration is an outcome read primarily from the perspective of the host country; a successfully integrated immigrant is one who contributes materially to their new state or, minimally, is not a drain on state resources or a danger to public order. Integration, he writes (2004, 216), is a process understood either as successful, or as a failure, and moreover one that still involves a movement from "radical alterity" to a newly adopted national identity. French immigration policy, of course, differs profoundly from Canada's because the imperative of republican equality subordinates all other cultural values and thus discourages plural ethnic identities. Canadian immigrants may be encouraged to maintain these plural identities, but measures of successful integration remain. These include levels of economic prosperity, household stability, gender equality, educational achievement, as well as other markers of middle class status that are associated with the native-born population.

We use the term "incorporation" in this paper intentionally in order to signal a process of immigration that is neither assimilationist nor integrationist. In this paper we follow Gary Freeman's (2004, 945) description of it "as the product of the intersection of migrant aspirations and strategies with regulatory frameworks in four domains--state, market, welfare and culture". Many scholars speak of different "incorporation regimes", or state polices and procedures that, like the Canadian "point system", include some migrants and exclude others because of utilitarian, post-colonial, cultural or racial criteria. Immigrants who have their own criteria for selecting destinations often encounter frameworks that lack coherence because of institutional tensions between integrational and multicultural priorities within host states, tensions that shape political discourses in the native-born population as well. The process of immigrant incorporation--literally uniting into one body--is thus dialectic, with the bodies of both the immigrant and the host state being transformed as a result. We find that even though incorporation is but another digestive metaphor, it is more appropriate to the context of immigration outside of the province of Quebec, where there is more emphasis on immigrants integrating culturally and linguistically into the host society, because of an explicitly multicultural framework that defines Canada's immigration policy.


The Nepali-Canadian Living Standards Survey was conducted with the collaboration of the Canadian Newa Guthi (CNG), a Nepali organization based in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) that represents the Newa community, a Nepali ethnic group that is native to the Kathmandu Valley. The CNG approached the first author of this paper with a request to assist it by conducting a study on the status of NepaliCanadians in 2014 in the belief that Nepali-Canadians lacked good information about themselves as a distinct immigrant group. Nepali-Canadians are a very small and recent addition to Canada's multicultural mosaic, and it would be very easy for them to become obscured among more populous and established South Asian groups that are prominent in the GTA. The prominent Hindu temples, mosques and gurdwara of Mississauga, Brampton, Scarborough and Toronto proper announce the social and economic presence of earlier waves of South Asian immigrants coming from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but none of these were built by Nepalese, nor do they reflect Nepali traditions.

There are few good estimates of the number of Nepali-speaking immigrants in Canada, apart from the 6600 Bhutanese refugees who came from camps in eastern Nepal as part of a United Nations brokered agreement. This paper does not include information about Lhotsampa households, as their arrival from Nepal was part of a UN brokered agreement that contains specific provisions that did not apply to other immigrants from Nepal (Government of Canada 2015). The Canada 2011 Census reported 9780 Nepalese by ancestry living in Canada, though it is not clear that all of these arrived from Nepal. In addition to Bhutan, ancestral Nepalese may also arrive from India, Myanmar (Burma), Hong Kong, Great Britain and other places where the Nepali diaspora has spread. The 2011 Census figures are no longer accurate; as our results illustrate below, over half of the families we surveyed arrived after 2012, after which the pace of immigration from Nepal seems to have accelerated; indeed, the 2016 census reported 14,390 Nepalese-Canadians to be living in the country (Statistics Canada 2018). Though the survey team did not include Lhotsampa organizations in our sampling efforts, our sample does not specifically exclude Nepali households by origin.

The survey questionnaire was developed collaboratively between the first author and members of the CNG. The first author has extensive ethnographic experience in Nepal dating back to 1991, and the CNG steering group included a former Nepali civil servant (pharmacist), a programmer and researcher with the World Wildlife Fund, a graduate of Tribhuvan University's M.A. Program in Sociology, and several others with extensive post-secondary credentials that, as we will discuss below, seem almost a requirement for Nepali immigration to Canada. In negotiating which data was to be collected and how, the steering group drew on the Nepali Living Standards Survey, which is a modified version of a survey used by the World Bank to evaluate living standards in less developed states. The group was eager to find out more about Nepali household income, employment, education, health status and incorporation into Canadian society, in order to provide a snapshot of the living status of this small but distinct immigrant group. In consideration of cultural sensitivities, however, and to minimize the alienation of potential participants by the symbolic violence of invasive questions on highly personal matters, the group elected to gather most information through categorical and incremental variables as opposed, say, to asking for precise estimates of income and consumption. While this limited the precision of the data from which to analyze the material progress of Nepali-Canadian immigrants, the working group believed that this would encourage participation. The survey questionnaire collected demographic data on each household, including information on the immigration process, education, health and family structure; on income, consumption, and investment; and finally on social incorporation into Canadian society. Four concluding questions were also included to subjectively assess participant's satisfaction with their experience in Canada so far.

The intention of the steering group was to build a random sample of sixty Nepali families living in the GTA, in which we included the cities of Ajax, Brampton, Burlington, Markham, Mississauga, Oakville and Pickering. A random sample was drawn from the membership lists of the Non-Resident Nepali Association, which is the largest Nepali organization in Canada and which includes all castes and ethnicities present in Canada. Our survey questionnaire quite pointedly did not inquire about the caste or ethnicity of the household, even though this was usually apparent from the participant's last name, and did not conduct any analysis on these categories, which are pervasive in similar studies conducted in Nepal. The randomized group was concentrated in Toronto, Brampton, and Mississauga, where most Nepalese in the GTA live, so we focused our efforts there. Initially the response to our invitation, made by e-mail, was meagre with only 18 of the 100 households contacted responding. The steering group was concerned that there was a selection bias in those who did respond as generally established Nepali-Canadians tended to take out membership in the NRN, so we further invited 100 randomly selected members from Nepali Canadian Community Service, another Nepali organization that focuses on new immigrants, and the CNG, from which we recruited another ten participants. Participant recruitment through the internet proved to be difficult, so to expand the sample we collected sixteen interviews from the annual tax clinic held by the CNG for Nepali families who earned less than $30,000 in the past year, all but one of whom arrived in Canada after 2012, and CNG volunteers also collected surveys from an additional eighteen participants through convenience sampling. Although our effort to obtain a random sample for this study was not accomplished in practice, we made every effort to obtain a representative sample.

Surveys were conducted in participant's homes, at the tax clinic, or in a location convenient to each participant. These interviews were conducted by volunteers from the CNG, both from the steering groups and from four Nepali speaking university students who volunteered to assist the group. All of the study personnel were required to attend a training session in which interview techniques were harmonized and procedures to obtain informed consent were reviewed. Interviews were conducted between November 29, 2015 and April 17, 2016. In sum sixty-two families participated, usually represented by the male or female head of the household.

In table 1 we show some of the basic demographic characteristics of the sample. The sixty-two households surveyed comprised 219 individuals living in Canada, with a median family size of four (mean 3.53). None of the families with children surveyed were led by divorced or separated parents, a unique characteristic when compared to the native-born population. The fact that there were so few divorces may be a reflection of the relatively low frequency of divorce in Nepal, where obtaining one is difficult both legally and culturally. It is also remarkable that there were only three individuals over the age of sixty reported, indicating that family class sponsorships which reunite parents with children who have immigrated to Canada is not yet common in Nepali-Canadian families. That may be because, as this table also indicates, many Nepali-Canadians have arrived only recently when compared with other South Asian groups, and the incomes of most households would preclude the possibility of sponsorship.

Most Nepali-Canadian immigrants in this sample began arriving after 1995, and over half of those in 2012 or afterwards, making this immigrant community one of the more recent South Asian groups in Canada. This reflects social and political conditions in Nepal for the past two decades. Survey participants were asked to state their reasons for immigrating to Canada with a range of options on the questionnaire: for economic reasons, education, peace and security, and other. In practice these motivations would overlap, but it is significant that twenty-eight participants (45%) indicated "peace and security" as being the dominant reason. A rebel Maoist insurgency in Nepal that spanned a decade from 1996 until 2006 killed over 13,000 people, setting back economic and political progress in the country, and the political turmoil ever since has further eroded stability. Other motivations given on the survey were education (22%), economic opportunity (23%), and other, or nonspecified (10%). It is interesting that twenty-three participants who arrived in Canada in the years after the peace accord of 2006 ended the civil war, still cite "peace and security" as their primary motivation, indicating that many in Nepal remain concerned over their safety. We do not probe further into these motivations in this paper, but suffice it to state here that Nepal's recent troubled past distinguishes Nepali-Canadians from other South Asian immigrant groups in Canada to which they are frequently conflated in many immigration studies.

The comparatively recent arrival of Nepali-Canadian immigrants is an important factor in their level of economic and social incorporation. The experience of other recently arrived South Asian immigrant groups in Canada shows that earlier efforts to incorporate have raised the social status of these groups over time. The Tamil community, for example, did not establish itself until after 1983, and despite significant family struggles in the first few decades, it has become a prominent and economically significant community on the GTA (Tyyska 2005; Vimalarajah and Cheran 2010). We expected to see a similar process in the Nepali-Canadian community. For the purposes of crosstab analysis, we have divided the sample population roughly equally into two groups that allowed us to compare early immigrant households, who arrived in Canada before 2012, with later arrivals. Earlier arrivals, we hypothesized, would show better economic and social outcomes than later arrivals, who may still be struggling to gain stable employment and locate social networks to which they could belong.


Family income is a key measure of immigrant incorporation, and the Canadian government is particularly focused on ensuring that new Canadian immigrant families have earnings commensurate with that of native-born Canadians (Li and Li 2016). Figure 1 illustrates the household income for the sample, divided into two groups for comparison. The first group is of thirty households established in Canada before the median migration year of 2012, and the second group of thirty-two are those who arrived on or after that year. What the figure shows is that the income for those who arrived earlier is significantly higher than for those who arrived later. This is an expected result, as earlier arrivals have had time to establish themselves by finding employment and obtaining adequate housing, whereas late arrivals are still in the process of doing so. Most of the recent immigrants, moreover, reported an annual income of less than $40,000; by comparison, the 2014 low income measure for a family of four was $43,546 and the market basket measure, a measure based on the costs of goods and services required to provide a basic standard of living was $39,749 for the City of Toronto in the same year (Statistics Canada 2015). Most recent arrivals appeared to be just approaching low income thresholds.

While this data shows the expected relative deprivation of new immigrant families, the more established households also compare less favourably with the households of native-born Canadians. Although the categorical nature of the survey data makes a more precise comparison impossible, the latest available data showed that the median family income for the metropolitan Toronto area in 2014 was $83,010 (Statistics Canada 2016a). About a year later, our survey found twenty-three of the thirty households in the early arrival group (76.7%) falling short of that level, suggesting that even after at least four years of settlement in Canada, there remained a significant income lag between Nepali and native-born Canadians. This finding is consistent with other studies of immigrant incorporation in Canada, which all point to the deterioration of economic outcomes for new immigrants to Canada since the 1980s, or roughly after there was a dramatic shift towards Asia as a predominant source of new immigration.

Nepali-Canadians were certainly not content with this situation. Participants were asked whether they had plans to change or upgrade their employment in the future, and thirty-six of sixty-one participant indicated that they were seeking a change (there was one non-response). Not surprisingly this was less so for earlier immigrants, of whom 65% (nineteen participants) stated that they were not looking for better employment, but newer immigrants overwhelmingly wished for improvement. Discontent about employment was not only related to income because, on paper at least, most Nepali Canadian immigrants arrived possessing high levels of human capital. Members of the sample held a total of thirty-eight Bachelor's degrees (or other post-secondary certificates), sixty-four Master's degrees and five PhDs, and many participants and members of the steering group frequently remarked on the incommensurability between immigrant qualifications and employment.

The data seems to suggest that Nepali-Canadians possess more academic credentials than the native-born population; while the most recent available data (OECD 2016) for Canada shows that 28% of the Canadian population have completed university, 57.5% of our sample have completed a Master's degree or higher. This is of course intentional, as the highly restrictive "point system" for immigration incorporation in Canada emphasizes human capital credentials and language skills as criteria for immigrant selection, on the assumption that these qualifications will translate into their successful integration into the employment market (Costigan, Lehr and Miao 2016). However, numerous studies show that this is not necessarily the case. Jeanna Leigh Parsons (2016) recently argued in a qualitative study that the "point system" did not lead, at least for the first six years, to full employment for new immigrants. In this study, immigrant men experienced status loss after arrival, and frequently their qualifications went unrecognized on the labour market. Similarly, Kaushal and Lu (2016) show that employment growth for immigrant men in Canada lags behind that of immigrant men in the U.S. due in part to the fact that their academic qualifications do not match labour market demand. They also argue that more generous welfare provision in Canada depresses labour market integration in comparison to the U.S.

Only two participants in our sample reported to be unemployed, although three reported that they had worked no hours in the past week; a further thirteen reported working part-time (less than 30 hours, as defined in the Province of Ontario), and the rest reported to be working full-time. Despite Canada's supposed generous provision of welfare, then, most Nepali-Canadians were fully employed, although many of those were dissatisfied with their occupation and their incomes, which lag significantly behind the native-born population. After their arrival in Canada, many of them have found that their academic credentials were not adequately rewarded, just as is the case for many other visible minority immigrant groups (Li and Li 2016; Sapeha 2014). At the same time, this data suggests that some earlier arrived Nepali-Canadian immigrants were at least approaching full incorporation into the labour market.

In Canada, overall, women's participation in the labour market is a key factor in household income. According to Statistics Canada (2016b), 69% of all families with at least one child under the age of sixteen in Canada had dual incomes, which is a dramatic increase from the national average of 36% in 1976. Much of that increase has come from the increased participation of women in the workforce. The data in figure 2 shows that Nepali-Canadian women are also participating in the workforce, though less frequently than the Canadian norm; only twenty-eight of fifty-four families (45.2%) that provided information on women's employment in the survey were employed. Of the remaining twenty-six women who were not employed, eighteen had arrived after 2012, but the year of arrival was not a significant indicator that women were less likely to be employed. Women's employment appears to be an important contributing factor for rising family incomes for Nepali-Canadian households.

Having only one member of the family working, with a few exceptions, meant that family income fell well below the Canadian median, and this appears to be due to women not being integrated into the workforce. Our survey is not otherwise definitive on why this would be the case. The level of educational attainment for Nepali-Canadians, which might be expected to be a factor in women's non-participation in the labour force, appears not to be significant. Nepali-Canadian women held fewer credentials than the men, but with roughly 80% of the women holding a BA or a higher degree, education did not seem to be a barrier to employment even though a number of highly educated women were not employed. Thirty-three families in the survey reported children under the age of ten, and of these, 21 had only one adult in the workforce, indicating that childcare is a barrier to employment. Given the already limited income of these families, the inability to secure day care for children not yet at school would necessitate at least one parent being at home, and even those with children at school would find their access to employment limited by the need to supervise young children.


Household income is an important marker of middle class status, but our survey data assessed several others as well. One such indicator is the rate of home ownership. 70% of immigrant families who arrived before 2012 reported owning their own homes, with roughly 85% of the recent group still renting. Our data suggests that, with time, most Nepali-Canadian immigrants will have a foothold in the real estate market, and given that GTA is one of the inflated markets in Canada, this is no small feat. A majority of families with an annual income over $40,000 owned their own homes, and over 20% of families earning less were also home owners, suggesting that some Nepali-Canadian immigrants arrived in Canada with sufficient capital to acquire a home earlier on.

Similarly, Nepali-Canadians were active investors; thirty-nine of sixty-two participants reported that they were life insured, twenty-one had registered retirement savings, and fifty-five had guaranteed income certificates (GICs) and/or mutual funds. Of those the majority were, surprisingly, Nepali-Canadian immigrants who had arrived on or after 2012. Our data cannot provide details of how much was invested or where, nor can we assess whether families arrived in Canada with extensive capital, but overall we take this pattern to be indicating the growing incorporation of these families into the Canadian middle class.

One of the most significant investments made by Nepali-Canadian families is in their children's education through Registered Educational Savings Plan (RESP) contributions. RESPs are savings accounts that not only accrue interest as with other investment plans, but also accrue annual government grants to a maximum of $5000 a year per child. As a vehicle for preparing to fund their children's post-secondary education, they are very popular with Canadian families, and are even more so among Nepali-Canadians, with thirty-four of forty-five families with children under the age of twenty (75.5%) reporting making RESP contributions for their children. RESP contributions may only be made for children under the age of eighteen. The RESP contribution rate did not vary significantly between families with male or female children, and even though the rate of RESP participation was not as high for those families who arrived after 2012, a majority of those with children (66.7%) also invested in their children's education. In 2015, the Canadian government estimated that 50% of all Canadian children had received a portion of the Canada Education Savings Grant, paid as a proportion of investments made into RESP accounts (Employment and Social Development Canada 2015). Nepali-Canadian investments in education are consistent with what other research has found regarding immigrant commitment to providing their children with the opportunity to get a post-secondary education. Though the fungibility of the human capital of first-generation immigrants appears to be limited, their commitment to raising that capital for their children is key to what is generally held to be better outcomes for second-generation immigrants (Picot 2008).


Assessing the level of cultural incorporation of Nepali-Canadian immigrants into Canada is complicated by an official multicultural policy that encourages new immigrants to continue their cultural practices after their arrival; indeed, despite recent politically motivated rhetoric about vetting new immigrants for "Canadian values", there are few "old stock" Canadian cultural practices that new immigrants would be compelled to adopt that would conflict with their own. Multicultural policies, however contested, mean that cultural incorporation in Canada is unique in comparison with other States in which immigrant integration, or even assimilation, into an existing national identity is the aim of immigration policy. Nepali-Canadian organizations such as the Canadian Non Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) and the Nepalese Canadian Community Services (CNNS), work to provide services for all Nepali-Canadians, while others such as the Canadian Newa Guthi and the Magar Association Canada tend to organize specific Nepali ethnic groups in the Canadian context.

Although much of the survey instrument elicited information on family demographics, employment, income and consumption, several questions were included to assess cultural incorporation. One of those questions asked how many times in the past year had household members attended cultural events held by Nepali-Canadian organizations. A comparison of the means of the number of events attended by participants who arrived before or after 2013 revealed an interesting discrepancy, as the mean for those who arrived before 2012 was 11.52, as opposed to those who arrived afterwards, which was 3.44 events attended in the previous year (t=3.485, sig. = .001). It appears from our data that those immigrants who arrived earlier are more integrated into Nepali-Canadian cultural organizations than those who arrived later. This may indicate that newer immigrants may be more preoccupied with becoming economically incorporated in the Canadian labour market or, alternatively, that the need to build Nepali cultural connections increases the longer that first-generation immigrants live here. Several participants indicated that they celebrated cultural and religious events, but that they did this informally with other Nepali families and not with an organization.

The variety of cultural events that participants described attending in the survey were mostly public and religious, chief amongst which was the annual Dashain festival, a nine-day-long celebration of the victory of good over evil that is the most important annual festival in Nepal itself. Even those who attended fewer cultural events reported observing Dashain, a religious festival that was sanctioned by the Hindu State in Nepal as a means of unifying the nation and suppressing indigenous religious practices and is not observed in India (Hangen 2005). While most Nepali-Canadians celebrated Dashain, as well as Tihar (the Nepali variant of the South Asian festival of Deepwali), more specific caste or ethnic religious festivals were celebrated by diverse Nepali-Canadian groups; the Newari festivals of Mha Puja and Yomari, for example are organized by the Canadian Newa Guthi in the GTA, and Losar, the Tibetan New Year is celebrated by some Janajati (indigenous and non-Hindu) organizations and the Sherpa community.

The work of Nepali-Canadian organizations is not limited to mounting religious festivals. Many of them provide services to new immigrants that assist with their incorporation into Canadian society. The Canadian Newa Guthi, for example, offered the annual tax clinic described above to new immigrant Nepalese in the GTA, as well as numerous health programs; the Canadian Branch of the Non-Resident Nepali Association has been focused on a mentorship program, encouraging immigrant investment in Nepal, and has been exploring acquiring space for a Nepali cultural center somewhere in the GTA. What all of these programs have in common is a focus on assisting new Nepali-Canadians to establish themselves in Canada. In the survey, we asked two other questions that assessed the degree of cultural incorporation of new immigrant Nepalese: "how likely you are to recommend your contacts to apply for immigration to Canada?", and "how happy are you with the social life here in Toronto?" As table 2 illustrates, the responses to both questions, both means of five-point Likert scale responses, illustrate that Nepali community programming is more than just appropriate:

The first question was intended to measure participant satisfaction with their overall experience in Canada, assuming that the better that experience, the more likely it would be that they would recommend Canada to would-be immigrants from their friends and family back in Nepal. Twenty-nine participants reported that they were somewhat likely or very likely to recommend immigration to others, and only nine were somewhat not likely or not likely to. Interestingly, twenty-four participants were neutral on the question, and there was no significant difference between recent and earlier arrivals. The response to this question is thus somewhat neutral, indicating that many Nepali-Canadians continue to experience difficulty incorporating into Canadian society. This was particularly the case for those in the $40,000 to $80,000 income range, indicating some frustration keeping up with middle-class living standards.

The second question is a better indicator of social incorporation, and the responses to it show a sharper difference between early and later arrivals, although this is at the threshold of statistical significance. Twenty-eight participants reported being "somewhat happy" or "very happy" with their social life, and ten reported being "somewhat not happy" or "not happy". A fairly large number, twenty-three, said they were neutral on the question. Again this is not a statistically significant result, but in this case the level of dissatisfaction was higher for the new arrivals, and was particularly so for those households earning less that $40,000 a year. This was also the case for those who participated less in Nepali community events, as low income seems to be a barrier to participation. As well, new arrivals may not be aware of cultural opportunities or may be too focused on meeting the material needs of their families.

Although the GTA is now a metropolis in which visible minorities are now a majority, it is still a vast, diverse and potentially alienating place for Nepali immigrants to make their home. In addition to the daunting task of securing a sustainable family income, new immigrants have to find their social and cultural place here, and just because there no longer appears to be a dominant culture in which to integrate, it is still a strange place in which they arrive as Others. Their cultural incorporation into the Canadian multicultural regime is an ongoing process that may span generations, and may never reach a point of completion that visible minorities and invisible majorities would agree upon.


One of the limitations of surveys of new immigrant groups is that they tend to be a glimpse of a specific moment in a dynamic process of incorporation that often unfolds over many years and even generations. Basing an evaluation of that process in comparison to the native-born population at a specific moment is thus problematic, but by examining this process in comparison to earlier and later immigrants, we have tried to account for its dynamic character. Immigration from Nepal to Canada is a comparatively new phenomenon, and judging from our data, we can expect that the numbers of Nepalese coming to Canada will grow in the future as potential immigrants there come to know of the opportunities here, and as other destinations become more limited globally. What we have found is that Nepali-Canadian immigrant families appear to be struggling in the first four years of arrival, but over time their households have become materially and socially more incorporated into the GTA, although they still seem to lag behind the status of native-born Canadians.

Our data shows than many Nepali-Canadians are aware of this disparity and that they are striving to close this gap. One of the most significant reasons for this disparity appears to be that the high level of human capital that they are bringing with them in the form of academic credentials are not commensurate with available employment. This may be because, as Picot (2008) suggests, Canadian employers do not adequately recognize these credentials or, as Kaushal and Lu (2016) argue, because the point system does not actively match credentials to labour market opportunities as in the US; either way, both early and later arrived Nepali-Canadians are seeking to improve their status. A re-evaluation of the point system to better match skills to existing employment opportunities may help to rapidly incorporate future Nepali immigrants, but for those already here, policy makers could find resources to facilitate retraining so that Nepali-Canadians, both male and female, can find secure and meaningful employment.

Our study also found that female participation in the labour force is lower than for the native-born population, even despite the higher academic standing of these women, and that this lack of participation negatively affected family income. This was largely due to childcare responsibilities, which underscores the need to expand the availability of childcare for new immigrants, in particular. Governments alone should not be solely relied on to find solutions to these problems. Many Nepali-Canadian voluntary associations have the networks and expertise as well to address these needs, and more advocacy and cooperation between them and with various levels of government could enhance these efforts.

Overall, the status of Nepali-Canadian immigrants was mixed, though hopeful. Immigrants did not comment on a lack of resources from the federal, provincial or municipal levels, and the data showed that most families were putting aside savings, and investing for the future. This was particularly true for those with children, which indicates that the pay off for first-generation human capital extends to the second generation as parental expectations and investments bear fruit. The social and cultural incorporation of Nepali-Canadian families reflected in part the struggles many of them experienced economically, as income appeared to be a barrier to participation in Nepali cultural events. At the same time, our study suggested that the degree of incorporation of first-generation Nepali-Canadians grows with time, as new immigrants find social networks in which to practice their own culture. One of the limitations of the current study is that it did not assess the degree of social incorporation outside of the Nepali community, and later iterations of this study should devise ways of doing so. That would be crucial too in research on how second-generation Nepali-Canadians balance their identity between cultures.

Finally, the "point system" that uses human capital criteria to admit new immigrants may not yield the income and employment outcomes that Nepali-Canadian immigrants seem to expect, but it does effectively screen for the sort of anodyne "Canadian values" that some politicians are eager to test newcomers for. What the Nepali-Canadian living standard survey establishes, above all, is that Nepali-Canadians are striving to establish themselves as middle class members of the multicultural GTA despite facing structural barriers to achieving that status. Conversations about "Canadian values" should be focused on identifying and ameliorating those barriers, rather than placing the onus on immigrant communities to integrate into social and economic structures that distinguish and discriminate between newcomers and the native-born.


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This survey was funded through a Council for Research in the Social Sciences (CRISS) grant, awarded by the [acuity of Social Sciences, Brock University.

TOM O'NEILL is Professor of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. As a socio-cultural anthropologist, his research interests include Nepali youth who worked as carpet weavers, youth transnational labour migration, and the effects of Nepal's Maoist insurgency on its children and youth. His most recent research has been on second-generation Tamil-Canadian youth political identity, and Nepali youth political engagement. He is a co-editor, along with Dawn Zinga, of Children's Rights: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Participation and Protection (2008, University of Toronto Press), and the author of The Heart of Helambu: Ethnography and Entanglement in Nepal (2016, University of Toronto Press).

UTTAM MAKAJU is currently the vice-president of the Canadian Newa Guthi, and a former Board member of Nepal TV Canada. He holds an M.A. in Sociology and a Bachelor's of Education from Tribhuvan University in Nepal, and a Social Service Worker Diploma from Seneca College, Ontario. He has contributed articles about Newa culture, traditions and community events to various local publications, and frequently performs Newa music at national and international festivals.

RINJAN SHRESTHA was born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal. He moved to Toronto with his family in 2009. He has a Ph.D. degree in wildlife ecology from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway and currently works for the World Wildlife Fund, Canada as the lead specialist/Asian Big Cats.

NARESH TAMRAKAR is currently the public relations officer for the Canadian Newa Guthi, where he has an interest in community development. He received his MBA and an MA in Sociology from Tribhuvan University in Nepal, and has been working in the accounts and finance field both in Nepal and Canada. Since 2010 he has been the media coordinator at Mindshare Canada, a media company in Toronto.

BIMAL M. SHRESTHA is the founder, life-member and has served as the General Secretary of Canadian Newa Guthi since 2008. He is a graduate in Pharmacy and served for more than two decades with the Government of Nepal as the Senior Pharmacy Officer. In Canada he currently works as a community interpreter and translator for refugees, and has volunteered with Canadian Diabetes Association since 2011.

BIRENDRA RATNA STHAPIT holds an M.A. in Anthropology and an M.A. in Business Administration from Nepal. He has more than 20 years experience working in not-for-profit-organizations in Nepal and five years with Canadian Newa Guthi as a member. He currently works as a concierge in Canada.
TABLE 1. Sample Family Characteristics (n = 62)

Family size [median (range)]                   4(1-10)
Marital status
  Married                                     59
  Divorced                                     0
  Single                                       2
Family composition
  Children 10 years and under                 45
  Youth 11 to 20 years                        29
  Adults 21 to 30 years                       32
  Adults 31 to 60 years                      110
  Adults 61 and over                           3
Year of arrival in Canada [median (range)]  2012 (1995-2015)
Country arrived from
  Nepal                                       47
  United States                                5
  UK/Europe                                    4
  Other                                        5
Current immigration status
  Permanent resident                          46
  Citizen                                     13
  Other                                        2

TABLE 2. Group Means for Cultural Incorporation Questions

Question       Mean for arrivals earlier   Mean for arrivals after 2012
               than 2012 (n = 30) (*)      (n = 32) (**)
Recommend?                 3.70                         3.28
Social Life?               3.55                         3.03

(*) t = 1.466, p = 1.45 (**) t = 1.978, p = .053
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Title Annotation:Greater Toronto Area, Ontario
Author:O'Neill, Tom; Makaju, Uttam; Shrestha, Rinjan; Tamrakar, Naresh; Shrestha, Bimal M.; Sthapit, Birend
Publication:Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
Geographic Code:9NEPA
Date:Mar 20, 2019
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