Skilled immigrants wasting their talents in Canada

Ongoing issue with degrees of complexity that take time and effort to address. Their children, of course, will not face the same disadvantage as the chart below indicates, given born and educated in Canada:

“There’s a joke in Toronto that the best place to have a heart attack is in a cab because there’ll be a doctor driving that cab,” said Margaret Eaton, executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

In reality, fewer than one per cent of immigrant doctors drove taxis, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. 

But almost half never get to practice medicine in Canada. 

Instead, they wind up as nurses, sonographers and care aides, among other related fields that don’t use their full skill set, even though they may have years of experience abroad.

This is a common experience for skilled immigrants.

Academic studies show that those who do find work in their field often end up working below their level of qualifications.

In Ontario, many foreign-born and educated engineers have ended up becoming IT managers, janitors and truck drivers, 2011 data shows. Top jobs for foreign-born and educated accountants outside of their field include bookkeeping, serving food and working as cashiers.


Part of the problem can be chalked up to the fact that, in recent years, immigrants have been more likely to come from countries like India, China and the Philippines, where the education system is different from the European countries, where immigrants flowed from in decades past. 

In many cases, they may also have a lower level of English skills. 

The cost of this mismatch is significant. 

In 2015, the Conference Board of Canada estimated that if Canadian employers and professional regulatory bodies did a better job of recognizing immigrants’ skills, they would earn an additional $10 billion to $12.7 billion annually and would pay more tax. 

Added to that is the huge emotional toll on these newcomers, especially when they wind up working survival jobs in cleaning, fast-food restaurants and retail, said Naghmeh Rezvani, a career practitioner at the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary.

 In January 2015, the Conservative government introduced a new system for selecting skilled immigrants called Express Entry that tries to tie permanent residency to the economy.

Those with a job offer backed by a labour market impact assessment, which proves they were selected because no Canadians were available for work, receive bonus points that help them get permanent residency more quickly.

Last year, cooks, food service supervisors and retail store supervisors were among the top 10 invited occupations because they had such jobs in hand. They made up almost one out of every five immigrants selected.

This outcome has critics concerned. They say immigrants employers hire are not necessarily the same as those who will boost Canada’s economy in the long run.

“All it is is their first job,” said David Cohen, a Montreal immigration lawyer. “A lot of candidates with excellent human capital are being squeezed out.”

The federal government is looking at doing away with the labour market assessment requirement but plans to increase the role of Express Entry in the future.

Having a job offer on arrival does have benefits. Immigrants who come without one struggle to find work because they lack Canadian experience, soft skills and social networks that would help them break into their field.

The Canadian labour market is “very parochial,” said Kelly Thomson, a  York University professor who studies foreign professionals.

“We have a tendency to compare them to Canadians and say, ‘Oh, they don’t speak as good English,’ instead of thinking, ‘Oh, they speak multiple languages. How is that an advantage for my business?’ or ‘They have a large international network.’”

Those in regulated professions face the biggest struggle. According to staff at the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary, it can take immigrants in many professions at least three years to transfer their qualifications, if they succeed at all. 

Source: Skilled immigrants wasting their talents in Canada | Calgary Herald

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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