In the wake of a recent Statistics Canada report which concluded that the biggest difficulty faced by immigrants is finding adequate jobs, the NDP has renewed calls on the federal government to review the current immigration system.
Statscan found that even after four years in Canada, immigrants are unable to find work in their specific field of expertise. Even so, the survey found that a full 85 per cent were happy with their decision to emigrate.
The two main difficulties faced by new immigrants were finding suitable work and learning a new language. An ongoing problem for immigrants in Canada has been the lack of recognition of foreign qualifications.
"Canada has to address this issue and get those people to work in their field," says NDP MP Bill Siksay. "We ethically can't afford to waste those peoples' education and work experience. Countries where they are coming from also need those experiences."
Siksay says that although over the years Canada has had great pilot projects to help immigrants find work, they haven't led to permanent programs. As well as making changes to the points system to recognize blue collar workers, Siksay says there needs to be "strong language programs" in place to help new immigrants get ahead.
Language barriers and a lack of contacts in the job market are additional obstacles for new immigrants, according to the report. But as newcomers lived in Canada longer and improved their language skills, their prospects for finding a suitable job also increased. Over 45 per cent of new immigrants said that they had taken language classes to improve their skills in English or French.
"For the mainstream Canadian population, when they finish school their major problem also is finding a job," says Jeffrey Reitz, Professor of Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies at the University of Toronto. "But we do know that immigrants have more difficulty in the labour market and the kinds of jobs they are getting are not really what you would expect from their qualifications, and that is a serious problem,"
Top Three Barriers to Employment
50% Lack of Canadian Experience
37% Lack of contacts in the job market
37% Lack of recognition of foreign qualifications
Greatest Difficulty Encountered by New Immigrants
45% Finding a suitable job
26% Learning English or French language
What Immigrants Like Most about Canada
32% Social Environment
22% Safety and Security
Source: Statistics Canada
Reitz says the fact that immigrants have more difficulty in the labour market than their Canadian-born counterparts can have a negative impact on the economy.
"I did an estimate one time that the economic impact on Canada was more than $2 billion per year, based on censes data taken over 10 years ago; now it is much higher"
Reitz believes there may be a political impact if immigrants begin falling into poverty, resulting in a cut in immigration. "The main indicator of the positive economic impact of immigration has been the success of immigrants in the labour market."
But Reitz points out that the children of immigrants are doing well in school, despite their parents' poverty. In fact, he says many immigrants come to Canada particularly to provide a good education for their children.
Siksay says that because Canada has a shortage of doctors and nurses, it would make perfect sense for people in the medical profession who have trained in other countries to work in their communities here.
"There are lots of doctors and nurses who can work in their immigrant community," says Siksay. "They have the medical training and appropriate language skills, and we have to get those doctors and nurses back to work as doctors and nurses in Canada."
Statscan found that the main reason most people moved to Canada was to improve their quality of life. Some came to join their family and friends while others hoped to build a family here. Some new immigrants cited the peaceful nature of the country as the main reason they wanted to emigrate.
Immigrants entering Canada fall under three categories: refugees, family reunification and skilled workers. The report said most refugees came from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and in the family class most came from India, China and US. The most skilled workers came from China, India, Pakistan.
Noelle Wang, who emigrated from China in 1998, says that although she spoke very little English when she arrived, she learned fast and soon adapted to her new country. She is now a citizen and employed.
"As time went by I just got used to the new environment, became adapted to Canadian culture, it was a matter of time. I am definitely happy to be in Canada and with my decision to come to Canada."