Every year, Canada welcomes thousands of refugees who are fleeing life-threatening situations. However, when they get here, their lives remain difficult because of the barriers they encounter in participating in the labour market and being fully integrated into Canadian society. Having been a refugee myself, I have a lived-experience of how difficult it is to find employment.
Employment discrimination based on immigration status and ethnic background is very real in Canada. Andray Domise highlights that there has been a steadily rising wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the country because some Canadians see newcomers as a threat to their jobs and way of life. Studies have found that some Canadian employers are “unwilling to employ immigrants with foreign accents and non-European ethnic names.” Newcomers are aware of such discrimination in the labour market and do whatever it takes to find employment. Some Muslim women are forced to not wear their hijabs, whereas others try to change their identities by “anglicizing” their names during job applications and interviews to avoid racial discrimination.
Canadians tend to compare ourselves with the United States when it comes to how well we have addressed discrimination against immigrants and refugees. Yet studies have shown that visible minorities in Canada are more likely to be discriminated against during hiring processes than in the United States. The problem with our immigration policy is that it assumes that all Canadians have the same kind of opportunities, and it does not account for immigration status and ethnic backgrounds as factors that determine the economic integration of immigrants. Many immigrants come here to work only to discover that their credentials are not recognized or valued. They end up with menial jobs to pay the bills.
I recently published “Barriers to Integration,” a CPJ research study of social exclusion among refugees in Canada. The preliminary results of that survey show that refugees feel a sense of exclusion from the Canadian society and do not have the same access to opportunities as other Canadians. Meanwhile, a lack of foreign credential recognition and Canadian work experience was expressed as one of the top employment barriers that refugees face. I have met several individuals who were either health care professionals or managers in their home countries but are now Uber and Taxi drivers.
It is time that the Canadian government and society at large consider the plight of immigrants and the difficulties they face in the labour market. After all, Canada needs immigrants to fill its labor shortage. Canada should follow the process that Germany followed which focused on integration and labor outcomes of refugees in terms of their human capital. Germany resettled more than one million refugees since 2015 and are now reaping the economic benefits of these integration policies. Germany has well-developed integration policies including favourable labour market conditions, language programs, and job placement initiatives that help refugees find jobs.
Our population is aging, and birth rates are decreasing. As a Statistics Canada report points out, immigration is one of the key drivers of Canada’s population growth. Many baby boomers (people born between 1946-64), who make up large number of our seniors today, will soon retire. This will not only affect the labour market but also our tax-funded pensions.
Canada accepted over 300,000 immigrants in 2019. That number is projected to increase to 350,000 by 2021. While these number are considered high compared to previous immigration numbers, economists agree they are at par with Canada’s labor market demand. So, if Canada does not improve its current labor market integration policies which presents immigrants with undesirable outcomes, it could lose many highly-skilled economic immigrants to other countries that have better labor outcomes for those immigrants.
We can avoid this by extending a full welcome to people who come here to look for safer lives. To make this happen, the Canadian government should:
- tackle systemic discrimination and unconscious bias in the labor market hiring practices by improving the anti-racism legislation.
- simplify and standardize the assessment of foreign credentials and experience; and
- ensure that labour market outcomes of newcomers are monitored to generate adequate data that can be used to plan for better integration.
In this way, Canada can maintain its reputation as a welcoming multicultural country.