University-educated immigrants less likely to find good jobs

Posted by admin on Dec 22nd, 2008

By Chad Skelton. December 22, 2008. Vancouver Sun

More than a quarter of university-educated immigrants in Vancouver are still working in low-skilled jobs a decade after arriving in Canada, a higher proportion than in any other major city in the country, according to a new study by Statistics Canada. The study, released Monday, looked at how Vancouver immigrants who arrived from 1990 to 1994 with university degrees were faring. It found that 24 per cent of the men and 33 per cent of the women were still working in low-skilled jobs — such as clerks, cashiers or taxi drivers.

That’s higher than the national average of 21 per cent for men and 29 per cent for women, and also slightly higher than the country’s other major immigrant-receiving cities such as Toronto and Montreal.

Don DeVoretz, an economics professor at Simon Fraser University who studies immigration, said Vancouver’s rates may be higher because the city lacks the kind of research-heavy industries that hire lots of engineers and mathematicians.

Overall, the study found that well-established immigrants — those who have been in Canada between 10 and 15 years — are faring much worse now than they were in the early 1990s

Since 1991, the proportion of such immigrants in low-skilled jobs jumped from 12 to 21 per cent for men and from 24 to 29 per cent for women.

During that same time, the rate stayed more or less the same for Canadian-born men and women, at about 10 per cent.

Researchers have long known that recent immigrants to Canada often struggle to find work that matches their skills.

What makes this recent study worrying, said study author Diane Galarneau, is that it suggests those barriers don’t erode over time.

“We used to see this for recent immigrants and now we’re starting to see it for established immigrants,” she said. “This is a form of underemployment and it reduces their contribution to Canada.”

However, some local immigration experts said the study’s findings should be treated with caution.

Dan Hiebert is a geography professor at the University of B.C. and co-director of Metropolis B.C., which studies immigration issues.

Hiebert said research clearly shows that people who start their working lives during an economic downturn have less success over their careers than those who start working during a boom.

As a result, he said, the poor performance of established immigrants in 2006 may simply be due to the fact they arrived in this country during a recession in the early 1990s, when jobs were more scarce than they were in the 1970s or 1980s.

DeVoretz said the figures may also reflect the fact that a number of the most skilled immigrants to Canada in the 1990s — in particular those from Hong Kong — have either gone back to their home country or moved to the U.S.

“Over time, the people who are left are less talented,” he said.

Despite their reservations about the study, both DeVoretz and Hiebert said immigrants face genuine difficulty in finding work to match their training.

DeVoretz said the best solution may be to stop admitting immigrants based on their level of education — which may or may not be recognized in Canada — and instead develop an employment-based immigration system that admits those who already have a firm job offer here.

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