Globe and Mail
December 23, 2008


Could a recession prevent university-educated immigrants from finding a career in Canada?

A new report from Statistics Canada reveals that the proportion of degree-holding immigrants who ended up working as store clerks and taxi drivers even after living in Canada for more than a decade rose significantly after the last recession in the early 1990s.

The change indicates that the troubles new immigrants often face may not be temporary, and may be exacerbated by rocky economic conditions, according to Diane Galarneau, an analyst with the Perspectives on Labour and Income magazine at Statistics Canada, who conducted the study.

The report, released yesterday, found that it was much harder for “established” immigrants – those who had lived in Canada for 11 to 15 years – to find jobs that matched their education level in 2006 than in 1991.

In 1991, only 12 per cent of established male immigrants with a university degree were in jobs that required little education, such as taxi or truck driving. In 2006, that number had risen to 21 per cent.

The trend among established degree-holding female immigrants was similar, though slightly less pronounced: Their rates in low-education jobs rose from 24 per cent in 1991 to 29 per cent in 2006.

The findings reflect serious problems that have plagued Canada’s immigration system in recent years, according to Izumi Sakamoto, a professor in the faculty of social work at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies.

Ms. Sakamoto highlighted the fact that federal policy often gives preference to immigrants of a certain profession, such as engineers, over others. Although such policies help attract highly skilled workers, in the past they often didn’t match the needs of Canada’s work force, leading to a surplus of professionals who had trouble finding work.

While those discrepancies have been addressed in recent years, the problem hasn’t been entirely corrected. It also doesn’t help that thousands of highly skilled immigrants who have lived in Canada for years continue to work in jobs they are overqualified for, a problem Ms. Sakamoto blames squarely on inadequate government action.

“Fundamentally it’s a failure of the state if immigrants don’t get the job right away,” Ms. Sakamoto said.

Another problem is that immigrants often only qualify for federal immigration programs designed to ease the transition to Canada a few years after they arrive.

Canadian governments must do more to assist university-educated established immigrants find jobs they are qualified for, Ms. Sakamoto said.

Ms. Galarneau cautioned that Statistics Canada did not study the link between recession and the ability of educated immigrants to find jobs that match their skills. But the numbers seem to indicate there is an association, which could spell trouble for new immigrants coming to Canada during the current economic downturn.

Unlike degree-holding individuals born in Canada, who may lose their jobs during a recession but can probably find work quickly or at least once the economy recovers, immigrants face a different set of challenges.

If university-educated immigrants can’t find a job that matches their skills within a few years of arriving in Canada, it becomes even more difficult to do so as time goes on, Ms. Galarneau said.

“If they don’t practise right after they’re arriving [in Canada] it’s hard because their skills are deteriorating over time,” she said. “It’s hard to get into the occupation maybe seven years after their arrival. If they start in the taxi job, it may be hard to get out of the taxi job.”

Shifting immigration patterns also accounted for some of the changes, according to Ms. Galarneau. More immigrants are coming from Asian countries now compared to 1991, and fewer speak French or English, which could be a major obstacle in finding jobs that match their skills.

“These factors were a big explanation for the deterioration,” Ms. Galarneau said.

Reference: Globe and Mail