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Wasting Immigrant Potential

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“Despite a gleaming picture, immigrants find themselves mostly in a quagmire, which makes it hard for them to shine. Immigrants are too-often told to take up jobs that do not align with their academic qualifications and knowledge or experience.”

Immigrants come into a new country thinking of better chances, a better life, and a better future. A country opens its doors to new immigrants for largely economic gains; make up for lack of skilled talent and to create a diverse community that is representative of many cultures and societies.

Our immigrant stories are about that shot at a better life. Each one of us, new immigrants, have our aspirations and the zeal to make it in a world that is alien to us.

Canada has an exemplary record in attracting new immigrants and helping them thrive. It is a success story many other nations would like to emulate. A research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2019 found that Canada admits the largest number of skilled labour migrants. Additionally, Canada also has the most carefully designed and longest-standing skilled migration system in the OECD. “It is widely perceived as a benchmark for other countries, and its success is evidenced by good integration outcomes,” it said.

Canada also boasts the largest share of highly educated immigrants in the OECD as well as high levels of public acceptance of migration. In addition, it is seen as an appealing country of destination for potential migrants. Most of us, immigrants understand the power of education and come armed with it. Yet, despite this gleaming picture, immigrants find themselves mostly in a quagmire, which makes it hard for them to shine. Immigrants are too-often told to take up jobs that do not align with their academic qualifications and knowledge or experience. If an immigrant does not want to take a menial job to make ends meet they are considered not flexible enough. This puts them in a hard spot.

The OECD called Canadian labour migration system comprehensive and responsive – a global model for immigration management. That reputation hasn’t only reached other governments. In a recent Gallup poll, 6% of potential immigrants named Canada as their top desired destination, more than Germany, France, and Australia, and second only to the U.S. Pretty good for a country of 37 million with a long winter.

Whether a new immigrant should think that his/her experience and qualifications should be honoured should not be debated. Canada is drawing in some of the best and brightest, especially due to an increased focus on highly skilled, educated immigrants, success in integrating those newcomers into the labour force falls short, at least on one key measure: earnings, according to OECD report. “Immigrants earn around 10% less on average than Canadian-born peers. The immigrant wage gap is broad-based.”

The fact that it is persistent and that it has widened over three decades should say a lot about how lopsided the system, employers and the industry is about integrating immigrants; using their potential and giving them their due recognition. “Even as the balance of immigrants has shifted towards those with more skills and education, immigrants aren’t being fully rewarded by the labour market for the attributes that got them accepted in the first place,” the report said. Meeting trained physicians as Uber or Lyft drivers or academics as retail store clerks are regular stories that immigrants hear and are asked to assimilate without questioning. Just “that’s how it is.”

Or should it be? That’s a red flag for a country that already has the highest proportion of immigrants to total population among the G7 nations. Immigrants make up over 22% of Canada’s population, a number that’s expected to rise to 28% by 2036. The immigrant wage gap is costly. The research suggests bringing immigrants up to the wage levels and employment of those born in Canada would produce substantial economic benefits–maybe as much as 2.5% in annual GDP, about $50 billion.

“How new immigrants are utilized in ways that are mutually beneficial to them and to Canada in the coming days will impact and decide the fate of a new Canada.“

A recent Nanos poll showed only lukewarm support for the federal government’s recent commitment to raising immigration targets in the coming three years to help support the economic recovery post-COVID. That tepid support points to a lack of appreciation for the ways in which immigration drives economic innovation and job creation.
Many immigrants feel that the employers often take the easy route out of hiring a new talent with lame excuses such as lack of Canadian experience.

A country’s success in integrating immigrants’ children is a key benchmark of the efficacy of social policy in general and education policy in particular. The variance in performance gaps between immigrant and non-immigrant students across countries, even after adjusting for socio-economic background, suggests that policy has an important role to play in eliminating such gaps. Yet education policy alone is unlikely to fully address these challenges.

The fact that the Canadian government is making efforts to bring in more immigrants to the country through programs such as Express Entry is a testament to the fact that immigrants are essential and desired. OECD recommends that Canada should address some inconsistencies. For instance, entry criteria to the pool are not well aligned with final selection criteria and language requirements for several groups of onshore candidates are lower than for those coming from abroad. In addition, a specific programme designed to attract tradespeople allows migration for only a few occupations and not necessarily where there are shortages, which contrasts with its original objectives. Providing for a single entry grid based on the core criteria for ultimate selection would simplify the system and ensure common standards.

How new immigrants are utilized in ways that are mutually beneficial to them and to Canada in the coming days will impact and decide the fate of a new Canada.

What do you think?

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