Toronto Star
Oct 07, 2008

Royson James

It’s not news that recent immigrants struggle to find their place in their adopted home. One would expect newcomers to be slow to acquire language, employment, cultural capital and social contacts that make one feel connected to a place.

But a new report, the annual checkup of Toronto’s social, economic and environmental health called Vital Signs, suggests that those who arrived here in the past decade face more intransigent barriers than ever before, just at the time when many other countries are clamouring for the dwindling workforce this group represents.

The combination of global demand and a less-than-hospitable local climate for newcomers is potentially crippling for the Toronto region. And the Vital Signs report should serve as an early warning.

Prepared annually by the Toronto Community Foundation, this year’s 10th edition says the unemployment rate for recent immigrants is nearly double that of native Canadians. Even long-time immigrants, here for up to 10 years, experience jobless rates 37 per cent higher than Canadian-born residents.

This may be causing a drag on the availability of immigrant workers for the Toronto region.

In 2001, Toronto was chosen by half the 250,638 immigrants to Canada. Our take has fallen steadily, to 36.8 per cent last year.

This does not appear to be a function of fewer immigrants coming to Canada, though the overall numbers dropped by 15,000 last year. Arrivals in 2001 were roughly the same as in 2006, for example: about 250,000. Yet, Toronto received only 99,293 two years ago, compared to 125,178 in 2001.

The people who measure how well we absorb newcomers into the mainstream, so that they feel welcome and connected, say the indicators are leaning toward the negative. And that might work against us in the future battle to land skilled newcomers also being wooed by other Western countries.

The tendency to dismiss the employment gap as part of the normal adjustment period for newcomers is not only wrong, but dangerous to the city’s future.

“In the 1980s it took immigrants eight years to achieve income parity,” says Rahul Bhardwaj, president and CEO of the foundation. “In the last decade, it took 12 years. (That’s) 50 per cent longer … Recent immigrants are hired half as often and get half the salary.”

Some projections predict that by 2011 all net growth to the labour force will consist of immigrants. Whereas Canada traditionally had an unlimited supply of skilled people emigrating here, all G7 countries now face declining birth rates and have a huge appetite for new workers. Global competition for the skilled is growing at precisely the time that Canada is scoring less strongly as a good place to settle.

“In Canada, if immigrants are critical to our economic and social health, we have to replenish our stock. But has the last 10 years in this city given any indication that it would be worth their while to come here?” says Bhardwaj.
The lesson is that if we don’t heed the warnings, we’ll wake up one day to find that immigrants in our midst, tired of the cool welcome, have taken their brains and brawn elsewhere.
Then, there is this: The ones who do not pack up and leave will morph into a disaffected generation, much like we’ve seen in some European cities. The social upheaval that flows from this is to be avoided at all costs.
Immigrants have been a blessing to Toronto. Keep this relationship blooming.

Royson James usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.


Reference: Toronto Star