Happy 150th Birthday Canada! As a Canadian, what do you wish for your country’s birthday? This is a milestone that should fill us with hope. Hope for what, you ask? Let’s begin with hope for our most skilled and educated, yet under-utilized members of our communities. Today, I’m going to highlight three key issues for immigrants who wish to give their best to Canada. … Immigrants. … First, I’ll address immigrant unemployment. Then, I’ll focus on professional certification for immigrants. And finally, I’ll underscore the benefits of a liberal immigration policy. In the words of one of my clients, “Let’s go Canada!”

So, let’s talk about immigrant unemployment. Canada will admit about 300,000 new permanent residents this year. There is no doubt these newcomers to Canada arrive on our shores with hopes and ambitions to build a better life for their families. However, their intellectual, labor, and financial resources are under-utilized by Canada. Work opportunities elude our immigrants.  Immigrants today face a significant challenge to find fulfilling employment that utilizes their skills and talents. A 2011 Royal Bank of Canada study states, “If immigrant wage gaps and excess unemployment[1] were completely eliminated, it would mean more than $30-billion in additional earnings – about 2 per cent of GDP.” In 2013, just over 20% of Canada’s population were immigrants – that is a significant portion! In 2014, 14 per cent[2] of recently landed university-educated immigrants were unemployed – more than their native born Canadians with a certificate or a diploma. Too many people are living on hope, instead of a fair wage.

Recently, I was reminded once again of our highly qualified, yet under-utilized immigrants. Over green tea and delicious rolls stuffed with cream cheese, an Egyptian-Canadian woman, and I talked about her family’s experience entering the work force in Canada. She was a licensed pharmacist in Egypt and her husband has a PhD in electrical engineering from a Canadian university; he graduated in 2006. They immigrated to Canada as a family in 2015. They have four children, and neither of them can find work. Her husband is doing volunteer research related to his field of study in hopes of developing career opportunities. She is having difficulty navigating the Canadian pharmacy exam requirements, so she’s not sure that she will ever be able to work as a pharmacist in Canada.

This brings me to my second point. One of the reasons that highly skilled and educated immigrants are challenged with unemployment or underemployment is that the professional certification process in Canada is a maze of obstacles. In an article entitled Re-accreditation and the Occupations of Immigrant Doctors and Engineers, Monica Boyd and Grant Schellenberg [3]state, “The purpose of accreditation is to assure public health and safety. … The collision of national immigration policies with professional accreditation thus creates a paradox: while highly educated immigrants are recruited on the basis of their potential professional contributions to Canadian society, the re-accreditation requirements they must meet often act as barriers to the full utilization of their skills.”

In another article by René Houle and Lahouaria Yssaad[4], the specific problems related to recertification are described in greater detail suggesting the following potential barriers:

  • The content of foreign education may be deemed less relevant in the Canadian labour market
  • Linguistic ability in English or French may be inadequate
  • Entry procedures in some professions may be challenging
  • Employers may be unfamiliar with foreign degrees
  • However, …our decentralized accreditation system is definitely a barrier to expediting their chosen career path

Decentralization of our professional certification requirements means that numerous trade and professional organizations are involved and each province has their own standards for evaluating degrees and setting certification norms for both trades and professions. This creates a void of information for permanent resident applicants. The first issue related to the decentralization of professional designations is that it is impractical for our federal government to convey the re-certification requirements to those applying for permanent residency, contributing to a lack of transparency that one might argue is unethical.

Second, it is impossible to access a single location with information pertaining to the most common professional certifications. For those who immigrate to our country after the completion of their education, it feels as if they must start over again, which is something that most newcomers are not expecting when they arrive.

But why should we care about the challenges facing our immigrants, and how does a liberal immigration policy benefit Canada anyhow? If you ask a business analyst, she may relate the level of monetary investments contributed by our immigrants. A CEO of an oil and gas company here in Calgary may admit that his company has far greater access to foreign markets because key staff are bi-lingual and bi-cultural. A senior citizen with an Anglo-saxon heritage may give you a very different answer than a senior citizen who’s an immigrant.

Personal perspectives aside, let us consider the demographic composition of Canada. An article in the Globe and Mail[5] from 2013 gives us this to ponder: “without … immigration flow, Canada’s population aged between 20 and 44 years old would be declining. That [age group], which constitutes most of the labour force, is the one that creates new households, buys new houses, has children and pays the greater part of taxation revenue. Without immigration, Canada’s natural population growth would not be enough to sustain economic growth and welfare. … A large percentage of every province’s immigrants are in the 20-to-44 age group, meaning that the benefits of household formation are spread all across Canada. This helps explain why the housing market in Canada has been so resilient during the past five years.” (end quote) Since before confederation, immigrants have been instrumental in building strong communities and contributing to Canada’s prosperity.

So, what do we wish for Canada’s birthday? I wish for a clear, easy-to-navigate system of professional recertification and a transparent path toward their chosen careers before immigrants arrive on our shores. Ask your government representatives to put forth policy initiatives that serve Canada’s under-employed and unemployed immigrants. Let us embrace the richness of a cultural mosaic that most of the world envies. “Let’s go Canada!”

[1] Anna Mehler Paperny Jan. 10, 2014, Immigrant Unemployment: The More Education, the Bigger the Gap, Global News

[2] Anna Mehler Paperny, July 30, 2014, Unemployment’s up for Canada’s Most Educated Immigrants, Global News

[3] Monica Boyd and Grant Schellenberg, April 2014, Re-accreditation and the Occupations of Immigrant Doctors and Engineers, Statistics Canada

[4] René Houle and Lahouaria Yssaad, Sept. 2010, Recognition of Newcomers’ Credentials and Work Experience, Statistics Canada

[5] Clément Gignac, Oct. 7, 2013, For Canada, Immigration is Key to Prosperity, The Globe and Mail