A Statistics Canada study shows that since 1994, the highest percentage of immigrants fall under the “economic class,” with a projected 60 per cent for 2020. Immigrants, who account for one-fifth of the Canadian population, help offset challenges from an aging population and declining birth rate. “Growing immigration levels, particularly in the economic class, will help us sustain our labour force, support economic growth and spur innovation.” says the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship as quoted in the 2018 annual report to the parliament.
Amidst this boost in economic immigration, a 2017 report by Munk School of Global Affairs, UofT, says: “First, skilled immigrants often do not succeed in getting those professional and other highly skilled jobs for which they are presumed to be qualified. As a result, pervasive underutilization of the skills of highly educated immigrants—‘brain waste’—is a serious issue in Canadian immigration.”
Senior finance executive finds healing in art
Dhanya Mohan’s 14 years of international experience in corporate finance in India and Bahrain wasn’t enough to land a Canadian job as CPA is a requirement cited by many employers. “There’s a lack of synergy between policy makers and the corporate world. Why did I get through express entry? Because they think my skills will be of use here. But I didn’t come here to work in Tim Hortons.” Mohan added that she doesn’t disrespect survival jobs, but said high-skills are not required for such jobs.
Economic immigrants like Mohan are accepted based on their potential to contribute to the Canadian labor market through a points system based on language proficiency, professional qualifications and work experience. Though a majority of Candian immigrants are carefully selected on a merit based point system, many are unable to find work commensurate with their education and training.
“With a small child, it was not possible for me to take up CPA. Also, child-care costs are prohibitive.” Citing lack of support system for immigrants, Mohan said she may be able to join CPA next year once her child is settled in school. “But then, I will be hitting 45. By the time I finish CPA, I would be 48. Who would recruit me, with no Canadian experience?”
“It’s Macrame art that saved me,” said Mohan about the hobby she started in 2019. “Ever since, the threads have healed me, it’s so meditative.” According to Mohan, immigrants overcome many challenges and have international exposure which many native-born professionals cannot claim. “How can someone negate all that and push you to a corner?” She asks.
Mohan said she worries for the unexploited, high-skilled immigrant talent pool. “Does anyone know what happens to them? Has any study been done on their mental health?” A 2012 study on immigrant mental health mentions that there is limited Canadian research on the mental health of recent immigrants. As per the study, 29 per cent of immigrants reported having emotional problems and 16 per cent reported high levels of stress.
Experienced gynecologist and internal medicine professor make big sacrifices
When Egyptian gynecologist and obstetrician, Dr. Tamer Hosny, moved to Canada in 2011, his dream was to provide a safe haven for his children. “I wanted a good future for my children,” he said. But after landing in Canada, Hosny said life has not been easy. “I worked day shifts and night shifts, cleaned washrooms, worked at Tim Hortons and in manufacturing. It was really hard.”
Hosny had 15 years of experience in Egypt when he made the move. After clearing two medical council qualifying tests, while waiting to take the third, he got into real estate. “The qualifying tests are not difficult. Once you clear the three tests, you would be called for an interview. If you clear that, then you do residency for 5 years. But the conversion rate is only 2 per cent in Ontario.” Hosny said he had to take care of his family, so he took up odd jobs. “It was very hard. I didn’t have the luxury to choose.”
Hosny’s wife, who holds a Phd in Internal Medicine, was an Assistant Professor in the University of Cairo. She is now a student counselor in a community college. Although the initial years were the toughest, Hosny said he wouldn’t be able to provide the safety and security back home in Egypt. “The safety and security here is priceless. My children are happy here.”
Did Canada fulfil the dreams Hosny had when he moved? “I don’t have any dreams now. My dreams are now for my children.” Although he hasn’t been able to use his hard-earned skills, he said he is still waiting. “I request the Canadian government and policy makers to give us a chance to prove ourselves, to use our experience.”
Hosny is not alone. In Ontario, there are 13,000 foreign-educated doctors and 6,000 foreign-educated nurses who aren’t working in their fields. A 2016 report indicated that nearly 850,000 Canadians are unemployed or underemployed, more than 60 per cent of whom are immigrants, because their credentials are not being fully recognized. Not recognizing immigrants’ skills and credentials — as well as those with out-of-province credentials is costing the economy up to $17 billion a year.
Canada fails ex-UN consultant with work experience in four countries
Nanyi Albeuro, who arrived in Canada in 1991, has never been offered a permanent position. “I was in tears when I left my job in UNEP, Nairobi, as Editor. I had applied for PR and moved, as my sister was here.”
The first non-British editor of The Peninsula magazine in Hong Kong, she has also been a copywriter in Singapore. After being in many short-term, contractual positions in Canada, she enrolled in the year-long Media for Global Professionals program at Sheridan College in 2010. “I graduated with honours, had great references and applied left, right and centre, but nothing happened.” In 2013, she joined Humber College to learn Social Media for PR. Things haven’t changed in spite of her constantly upskilling herself.
“People here are very insular. I was warned against the insularity,” said Albeuro, quoting a communications director who interviewed her for a contractual position. “After my interview, she said, ‘Ms. Albeuro, you’ve lived all over the world, you must be very lonely.’” Albeuro didn’t get the job.
Albeuro said the concept of “survival jobs” was new to her until she arrived in Canada. Currently, she is a part-time English conversation instructor at a senior adult services facility. “Don’t sideline us, we are not asking for handouts. We are offering you an international mindset.” She said as a message to the employers.
“I am a consummate networker, I met fellow media professionals, attended seminars and events, but it didn’t lead to anything.“ Though the popular networking advice hasn’t worked in Albeuro’s case, she has a message for skilled immigrants, coming to Canada. ”Don’t sit in a corner and disappear. If you hide, you are marginalized even further. Network, don’t be in your ghetto.”
A September 2020 Deloitte Canada study says boosting the number of hours worked in the economy would reverse Canada’s economic slowdown and lift the pace of yearly economic growth by 50 per cent, adding $4,900 to Canadians’ average annual income by 2030 without raising tax rates. Deloitte says Canada needs to be more inclusive of groups that are underemployed in the economy such as women, immigrants, people with disabilities and Indigenous Canadians.
Do the policy makers and employers care?
Photos provided by the interviewed.
Minu Mathew is a writer and communication consultant who has worked closely with brands like Philips, 3M and Microsoft. She has a book of poems titled ‘In the Garden of Rain’ published on Amazon. Minu has lived in India, Sweden, US and UK. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two children.