Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why do immigrants struggle finding work?

The significance of racial discrimination in the labour market has grown with the increase in the visible minority population, a trend that seems only likely to escalate. This was the finding of the Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement – Toronto (CERIS) in a study conducted in 2005 which also concluded that racial discrimination is evident in the experience of visible minorities in the Canadian labour market.

An individual’s personal account of racial diversity in his or her workplace, therefore, may not necessarily suggest that Canada has in fact begun to open up because recent studies indicate the contrary. While some firms have been more colour blind than others, by and large, the Canadian labour market is still a long way from demolishing barriers to integration and employment of visible minorities. One person’s success in his career mobility and integration in the Canadian labour market does not speak for everyone’s experience, majority of whom continue to struggle in finding a satisfactory fit between their education and skills with jobs available in the market.

Comments like Canadian employers would rather prefer hiring one of their own, being pure laine (although this term really refers to French Canadians), are still valid today. It takes more than being comfortable with the new work environment or having a profusion of confidence. Thus, immigrants who earned their MBAs or post-graduate degrees in Canada have better odds in the labour market than those only with foreign credentials (who said an MBA is not a guarantee in life?).

According to another study made by the Metropolis British Columbia (MBC) – Center of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Diversity, while Canada has the largest per-capita immigration rate in the world, there is a lack of immigrant assimilation because recent immigrants are struggling in the labour market and most often are not integrating into the high-skilled labour market. This is happening despite efforts by the Canadian government to attract immigrants who will.

Why do skilled immigrants struggle in the labour market?

The MBC study deployed thousands of résumés in response to online job postings across a wide set of occupations and industries around the Greater Toronto Area to investigate why Canadian immigrants who were allowed to enter Canada based on their skills struggle in the labour market. Résumés were designed to represent recent immigrants under the point system and as well as non-immigrants with and without ethnic-sounding names. In addition, the applicants were selected in random based on where they received their undergraduate degree, and gained their work experience, whether in Toronto or another foreign city, and whether they listed being fluent in multiple languages (including French).

Four main findings were produced by the MBC study.

First, those applicants with English names, Canadian education and job experience received interview requests more than three times higher compared to résumés from recent immigrants with ethnic-sounding names, foreign education and work experience.

Second, employers valued experience acquired in Canada much more than if acquired in a foreign country. When the foreign résumés were changed to include only experience from Canada, the call-back rates went up significantly.

Third, résumés listing four to six years of Canadian experience, whether an applicant’s degree was obtained in Canada or abroad, or if the applicant obtained additional Canadian education, did not have any impact on the chances for an interview request.

And fourth, Canadian applicants that differed only by name had substantially different call-back rates. Those with English-sounding names received inter¬view requests 40 per cent more often than applicants with ethnic-sounding names.

Overall, the study shows that there is considerable employer discrimination against applicants with ethnic names or with experience from foreign firms. This would squarely match with the anecdotal experiences of majority of visible minority immigrants. They’re not getting hired because they lack Canadian work experience, and most employers have gatekeepers that block off applicants with strange ethnic-sounding names. Studies like this more than validate the belief of some individuals that lacking Canadian experience is simply a code for being different, in speech or appearance; that in fact it is one way to discriminate based on racial background.

It is also apparent from the study that Canadian employers do not value foreign education as much as they value Canadian education, contrary to Canada Immigration’s point system which in essence must treat any degree from any institution the same. It could be that foreign experience is treated as inferior to Canadian experience because less is known about the employer and tasks involved. Thus, the need for accreditation or recognition of foreign diplomas and work experience becomes even more important if immigration has to play a vital role in providing Canada with a source of highly-skilled and educated workforce. It will also validate the utility of using the point-system approach in evaluating the desirable characteristics of potential immigrants. Without the implicit and effective recognition of foreign education and training, Canada’s point system does not appear to be having its desired effect.

Oftentimes, non-recognition of foreign credentials results in immigrants abandoning their careers and starting over with whatever jobs they get first just to survive. The long waiting time and cost of applying, including going back to school, also have discouraged many immigrants to submit to accreditation and assessment of their credentials.

But not everything is lost because Filipinos with the right credentials, meaning a high mix of education and skills, can continue to lobby, pressure or petition the Canadian government and provincial professional regulatory bodies to adopt policies that would recognize their credentials and speed up the process of accreditation and recognition. That is, if they can form a strong and united front. If alumni from different Philippine universities and colleges can be so enthusiastic in holding sports competitions among themselves every summer that they show up in the hundreds, they can use the same umbrella organization to petition the government to adopt sensible and effective standards of equivalencies in education and work experience. The same group could be the backbone of a dynamic Filipino movement for accreditation of their foreign credentials.

While the rules for accreditation in the regulated professions like doctors, dentists or lawyers are already available, still the waiting time and cost of applying may be reduced. It is more precarious in the non-regulated occupations, for which more than the majority of the immigrant population would fall, because it is up to employers to determine whether an applicant’s foreign education and work experience match with Canadian credentials.

While majority of Canadians disapprove of racism and racial discrimination, discriminatory practices in employment are likely to be concealed to avoid criticism. In fact, racial discrimination is likely to be hidden where it exists, although there are many who believe that it simply doesn’t exist insisting that the greatest of all Canada’s strengths is tolerance. However, research and studies conducted about discrimination in employment suggest reasons to be sceptical about such overly optimistic view.

It becomes a more precarious situation when discrimination in employment is systemic, i.e., built into organizational structures and processes, and often involving informal activities which by nature are elusive and difficult to identify. One study identified that systemic discrimination may include informal practices such as informal selection based on unnecessary qualifications (the requirement for Canadian experience, for example), and informal recruitment systems (through word of mouth or networking where networks do not extend into minority groups). Many of these practices, at first blush, are not discriminatory when implemented, but become so with the changing racial composition of the labour force.

An informal network of members, for instance, which envisions re-branding themselves as a community of global professionals and would limit job postings that target only the very high-skilled and educated professionals may have the best of intentions but actually may become a willing instrument for systemic discrimination in employment. In being very selective only of job postings for high-end professionals, this group excludes many recent immigrants whose credentials may be evaluated lower than Canadian qualifications for no fault of their own, but due mainly to systemic discrimination in the labour market.

Systemic discrimination devalues the human capital of thousands of highly qualified newcomers, many of them qualified professionals and trades people. They have been enticed from their home countries by an aggressive immigration policy that promises the potential to improve their lives and to succeed as contributors to a modern economy. Yet, many of them have been consigned to precarious employment in low wage sectors because barriers in the Canadian economy deny them the opportunity to use their skills and be compensated commensurate with their training and experience.

Left unchecked, racial discrimination will continue to impair Canada’s ability to avail the best of its human resources. Action is needed and the time is now for all levels of government, employers and those who regulate professions and trades to address the challenge posed by employment discrimination, and eliminate the barriers to equal access to employment and professions and trades.

1 comment:

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