National Post
May 1, 2008

Meagan Fitzpatrick
Canwest News Service

OTTAWA — Recent immigrants are losing the battle to close the earnings gap with Canadian-born workers, and women in particular are falling behind, according to the latest release of 2006 census data from Statistics Canada.

In its report of results from the census, released Thursday and focusing on income and earnings, Statistics Canada says the gap continues to widen even though the education levels of recent immigrants in the workforce rose much faster than among their Canadian-born counterparts.

Recent immigrants were counted as those who arrived between 2000 and 2004.

The analysis compared the median earnings — the point at which half a population falls above and half below – of recent immigrant earners in the core working-age population (ages 25 to 54) whether they were employed full-time all year or not to the median earnings of their Canadian-born counterparts. Self-employed workers were not included.

In 2005, recent immigrant men earned 63 cents for every dollar earned by Canadian-born male workers.

The report points out that between 2000 and 2005 there was a drop in employment in the information and communication technologies sector and that had a large impact on earnings for recent male immigrants, who were heavily trained in computer sciences and engineering.

The earnings gap was even wider for immigrant, the census results showed. They pulled in only 56 cents for every dollar earned by their Canadian-born counterparts. It was a quick slide down the scale from where they were in 2000, when recent immigrant women were earning 65 cents for every dollar earned by Canadian-born women.

In 1980, recent immigrant men and women earned 85 cents for every dollar earned by their Canadian-born counterparts.

An earlier census report on education indicated that more than 51% of recent immigrants who arrived between 2001 and 2006 had a university degree. But according to this latest report, having a degree didn’t make a difference in closing the earnings gap. In fact, the disparity between recent immigrants and Canadian-born workers was larger among those people with a degree than among their less-educated counterparts.

University-educated males from other countries earned just 48 cents for each dollar earned by Canadian-born male graduates. In contrast, recent immigrant men with no degree earned 61 cents for every dollar received by their Canadian-born counterparts. A similar pattern was seen among women.

“The larger earnings disparities among university graduates were observed as many recent immigrants with a university degree were employed in low-skilled occupations,” Statistics Canada said.

In 2005, almost 30% of recent immigrant male university graduates were working in jobs that require no more than high school education.

In terms of median earnings, recent immigrant men with university degrees were making less — close to 25% less — than Canadian-born men who never attended university.

Getting foreign credentials recognized and language barriers are among the challenges newcomers face when trying to integrate into the workforce, says Mario Calla, executive director of COSTI Immigrant Services, a Toronto-based organization that provides employment and other services.

It’s true that many of Canada’s newer immigrants are more highly educated, but so is the Canadian population in general, said Mr. Calla, which adds to the challenges.

“There’s also a more competitive market that they’re coming into,” he said in an interview leading up to the census report.

He said it’s key to get immigrants into jobs in their field as soon as possible after they arrive in Canada.

“If they don’t get a job in their field in the first few years, it’s unlikely they ever will,” he said.

Mr. Calla says initiatives such as enhanced language training programs are important to help immigrants get the appropriate jobs and fulfill their earning potential. A newcomer educated in accounting, engineering, or some other profession might have English skills but not the specific language skills necessary for their field.

“If we can make an investment to leverage that education to get immigrants into an occupation here that is commensurate with their skills, it’s a small investment to make,” said Mr. Calla.

He said the federal government, in addition to supporting language training programs, has made efforts to educate prospective immigrants before they arrive about what skills and qualifications they should have in order to find work and how to have their credentials recognized. In China and India for example, the government has helped co-ordinate orientation sessions to increase awareness about the application process.

The government has taken other steps it says will get immigrants to work faster, but they’ve caused quite a controversy. Proposed changes to the immigration system would give Immigration Minister Diane Finley authority to instruct her staff to fast-track the applications of certain categories of immigrants and put a cap on the number of applications. The changes are meant to help clear the backlog of applications and meet labour shortages in certain sectors. But critics are worried the changes would give too much power to the minister and they say it’s unfair that some candidates could get pushed back in line.

The controversial bill will be put to a vote in the House of Commons and if it does not get enough support from the opposition parties, its defeat could trigger an election.

Reference: National Post