Foreign Skilled Workers Struggle To Find Jobs In Their Professions
William Lin sits on a stool behind the counter reading about hope. It’s early Saturday evening in April 2011, and he has printed a copy of Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural address. The white papers with alternating paragraphs of English words and Chinese characters are splayed out in front of him between a container of 10 cent caramels and box of pepperoni sticks. Lin’s Toronto convenience store is quiet around dinnertime, save for the fridges in the back that buzz like an empty stomach. He reads under the fluorescent light through wire framed glasses atop his freckled nose:
In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.
Lin wasn’t able to watch the president’s speech at that historic January event because he was working, giving people their smokes to get through the night and eggs for the morning. At the time, the prospect of sweeping change to America greatly inspired him. Lin had always meant to study the president’s message, though now, two years later, he does so skeptically. Obama’s refrain of « hope and change » worked better as a rallying cry than a means of influencing policy.
When Lin moved to Canada in 1999 from Gutian county, in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian, he was full of hope. He had almost 10 years of experience as a mechanical engineer and a bachelor’s degree from one of the most prestigious schools in China. He had a master’s degree from a university in Japan and had worked in the country, a place more racist toward other Asians than he thought Canada could ever be. Lin estimated it would take him a few months to find professional work. Instead, after sending out 150 rsums over the course of six months, he didn’t receive one call.
A group of three young people interrupt the silence in his store, permeating it with the faint smell of liquor. One sits down on the stool in front of the bright blue lottery kiosk on the back wall that faces Lin’s counter. The man, wearing an army patterned hood over his head, slumps over a brown paper bag from the liquor store on his lap.
« Porno! » he says loudly, pointing to a small collection of titles such as « Underground Asian Girls » and « Plastic in his Ass » on a shelf beside Lin. The man laughs uncontrollably. His two friends, who walk through the fluorescent lit aisles filled with junk food, dusty canned goods, and random products such as Chinese insecticide, try to stifle their laughter, like kids in a classroom.
Lin shakes his head and says nothing.
« You have a lot of porno! » the guy says with wide eyes, looking past Lin at the DVDs. « You have no other movies! Just porno! » Lin shakes his head again and looks down, avoiding eye contact. Humiliated.
Once flush with hope, Lin is now filled mostly with regret. What career would he now have had he stayed in Asia? Why did he uproot his family for this life in Canada?
Lin is one of many skilled immigrants asking themselves the same questions.
In January, the government will overhaul Canada’s economic immigration system, making changes that will have a drastic effect on future skilled workers. On Dec. 12, the government announced a new stream for skilled immigrants who work in trades, and there will be significant changes to which criteria are most valued during the selection process under the Federal Skilled Workers program. While the new system will likely help curb the overeducated and under or unemployed phenomenon that currently plagues immigrants such as Lin, they also carry a serious consequence: Canada, a nation that prides itself on its multiculturalism, is turning its back on desperately needed diversity. Just as the economy is becoming more global, our government will make it harder for ethnically diverse immigrants to enter.
ADOPTION vs. INTEGRATION
Canada is known internationally as the poster country for multiculturalism. We have the highest level of immigration per capita of any country, about 250,000 immigrants a year. Almost 20 per cent of our residents are foreign born.
In about 20 years, Statistics Canada predicts that about a quarter of our population will be foreign born. While many Canadians enjoy being able to choose between samosas and spring rolls, they conveniently ignore a dark reality: Though this country excels at adopting immigrants, it too often fails at integrating them into the Canadian workforce.
Economic immigrants those who are supposed to strengthen our labour force account for about 60 per cent of all newcomers. The most significant stream is the Federal Skilled Workers (FSW) program, designed to attract professionals who, based on their human capital, will succeed in the Canadian workplace. A 2008 parliamentary report revealed that 60 per cent of skilled immigrants work at a lower occupational level than they did before moving to this country
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Although recent immigrants are more educated than their Canadian born counterparts three times as many have undergraduate degrees, according to Statistics Canada only 24 per cent work in their fields, less than half the rate for those native to Canada.
Immigrants also earn less. In 2007, the unemployment rate for newcomers with a university degree was four times that of their Canadian born counterparts. And the problem has only worsened with time.
Canada is sitting on an underused gold mine of diverse talent. As Western nations look to do business with prospering countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China, employees from these nations could be invaluable assets.
« My concern is that exactly at a time where we need more natural ambassadors to China and Brazil, we’ll get less immigrants from there, » said Ratna Omidvar, president of the Maytree Foundation, an organization that develops immigrant related policy ideas. « And I worry about the implications for multiculturalism. »
Our main sources of newcomers are China (14 per cent), India (12 per cent) and the Philippines (7 per cent). Employers who embrace hiring diverse candidates will have access to an additional 1.6 million Canadians, says a recent study from RBC. That’s good news for a country that is reportedly expected to see over one million jobs go unfilled in sectors such as mining, oil, and health care over the next few decades.
So why aren’t we using them?
« Employers have a built in bias and prejudice (against ethnic minorities), » said Montreal based immigration lawyer David Cohen. « We don’t recognize their language, and we don’t recognize their skill set or education. »
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Lin has seen better times.
Working in his native China on water turbines, he was a celebrated mechanical engineer, so much so that the government hand picked him to help develop a turbine for export to Thailand. He moved to Japan with his wife to earn a master’s in mechanical design, then worked at a company manufacturing optical glass for fax machines produced by big companies such as Canon and Xerox.
In the points system that Canada uses to determine eligible skilled immigrants, Lin scored above average, and Canada listed his profession as in demand. After finding out he was accepted, Lin went online and adidas obuv 2015 received his certification from the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) to ensure that his credentials transferred to a new market.
If he did everything right, what went wrong?
Rather than fix the fact that more than capable immigrants such as Lin often sink in the Canadian labour market, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney’s changes kowtow to employer stereotypes.