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Bias Against Immigrants

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A new immigrant from southern part of India Paul Govind Ramanathan was surprised when he received job offers quicker than he had prepared to wait for. His academic qualifications and experiences were exceptional but he knew something was working in his favour and could not fathom what.

After working different high-paying IT jobs for two years he slowly began to understand what was it that worked for him but not for other immigrants like him – they were all qualified, they all looked alike (Brown) and their English was heavily accented. The difference was this – Paul has a western name and to make himself more accepted he used GR for his last name.

As disconcerting as it may sound, when it comes to their integration in the society and workplace, immigrants face varying types and degrees of biases. Biases that are obvious and open which can be questioned or discussed and there are biases that are subtle. Such implicit biases are hard to pinpoint, discuss, question and thus, change.

A research study by Philip Oreopoulos “Why Do Skilled Immigrants Struggle in the Labor Market? A Field Experiment with Thirteen Thousand Resumes.” in Canada found that skilled immigrants struggle in the labour market, facing substantially higher levels of unemployment and lower wages than non-immigrants. This random research manipulated thousands of resumes to measure the effects that foreign experience and having a name of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, or Greek origin (all large immigrant groups in Canada) have on call back rates from employers. This research outcomes align with what Paul observed.

Resumes with English-sounding names received more call backs than those with Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, or Greek names. “Canadian experience” increased the chances of call back for interviews but having a western sounding name in the resume increased your chances significantly.

Canadian immigration policy favours immigrants with high levels of education and experience in high-demand industries to try to attract high-skilled workers to boost economic growth. Most immigrants who come to Canada under the point system are highly educated in spite of which they face challenges getting into the right jobs. “Immigrants earn 48 percent lower wages than similarly-aged non-immigrants with equivalent degrees,” the research found out.

This is an example of disparity that is widespread and accepted.
Another stark example that stands out on the way treatment of white versus non-white, both by the system and by the media, the intruder incident of July last year. On July 2, 2020, Corey Hurren rammed through a gate at Rideau Hall and headed toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s residence heavily armed. The fact that this incident occured near the Prime Minister’s residence without any violence or injury was contributed by what many say, one factor: Corey Hurren was white.

As depicted in the accompanying graphic, the treatment of immigrants and people of colour by the authorities and the media remain considerably lopsided. This sentiment was rightly conveyed by the National Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh: “If the Rideau Hall intruder had been a person of colour, the outcome of last week’s events in Ottawa would have been very different.”

Singh, speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, said that incident, contrasted with others in which police in Canada killed Indigenous people and people of colour during visits to check on their welfare, “reminds us all of how systemic racism is real.”

Police spoke to Hurren, who was still carrying at least one gun, for an hour and 42 minutes before he was arrested without anyone getting hurt, an unlikely scenario if the intruder was racially different. In early February 2021, Hurren pleaded guilty to eight charges in court.
In our observation and study each one of us, immigrants, encounter countless incidents where we get the feeling of being treated differently. The number of people attempting to educate themselves on the differences and recognizing that we have more in common than what divides us is rising and is appreciable. Yet these implicit biases are all too common and an issue immigrants continue to face.

So what can be done? To an issue as complex as immigration and integration the solutions will be as complicated and multidimensional. Any intervention to address such biases have to be done at different levels – individual, institutional, government.

There is a need for us to look within ourselves about our implicit biases. Question your actions when you do something without thinking? Is it coming from a point of prejudice? If you answer that question you can reform it there and then. Making amends in our individual behaviour will lead to reforms in the community and society and have larger repercussions.
Institutional – what do workplaces look like? Are they accommodating to immigrants? Do they look beyond the biases as discussed above? Institutions can make concerted efforts to be the change makers when it comes to making immigrants feel included.

Institutions such as media can be the flagbearer of viewing immigrants through a different neutral lens. Canada was the first country in the world to adopt a multiculturalism policy fifty years ago. Most Canadians think of multiculturalism as a demographic reality that acknowledges the diverse ethnic makeup of the Canadian population. However, there is ongoing debate over the message that multicultural policy conveys to Canadians, particularly to immigrants. The government of Canada continues to make efforts to promote and embrace a policy of multiculturalism and make diversity part of the national identity. Legislative reforms and policies that encourage inclusion of immigrants at the provincial and local level will also reverberate in the social structures, thus, effecting favourable changes to make Canada a strong multicultural nation.

For us at Immigrant Life, while we stand against all shades and forms of bias against immigrants, we call for equity in all situations.

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