The Canadian Dream: Never Fulfilled – By S. Shah
Global demographics show that it is the era of the foreigner from Asia. But, as the digital divide keeps people away from information, the immigrant divide keeps foreign qualified professionals from their profession of choice.
Global demographics show that it is the era of the foreigner from Asia. The indisputable fact is that the most motivated and mobile people on this planet are from India, China, Pakistan
and Middle East et al. But, as the digital divide keeps people away from information, the immigrant divide keeps foreign qualified professionals from their profession of choice.
The Issue Is Immigrant Failure
For the last few decades, the Canadian dream has beckoned highly trained professionals from around the world. Canada presents a charming and inclusive picture on the global screen. The vast tracts of untouched nature, the smiling Canadians, the dual language (even 3-5 in services) present a dream that attracts families with children to raise. Canadian immigration is a relatively easy process and gives high value to degree and educational qualifications making it a far less stressful migration–in effect much of the government’s political stance empowers immigrants.
Enter the dream and the reality of the workplace catches up. The Canadian workplace has walls as high as the great wall of China, its regulations and licensing requirements a nightmare, its preferences for local people legendary and its adherence to human rights protection only as far the US lets it get away with it (see Mehar Arar). It is a shocking statistic that almost 60% of new immigrants to Canada leave and do not settle permanently in Canada.
The reasons for the failure of most immigrants are hazarded guesses. It seems to the ants on the ground that there aren’t enough jobs to go around. But here is a contradiction–because of the boom in the Western provinces, a campaign to hire workers from abroad is underway. (yet, for every open position, about 200-300 resumes are received).
Canada’s public spaces from malls to buses have the most educated workforce in the world:
1. An Iranian computer engineer is a make-up artist at The Bay.
2. A Japanese Phd and teacher is a Chef
3. An Indian computer engineer is an Office Assistant at a University
4. A Bangladeshi (trained computer engineer from a local university) is a Clerk
5. An Economist from Iran is getting by on small research projects
6. Architects from all over the world cannot practice in Canada
7. Examples are too numerous to list
For the longest time the failure of foreign qualifed immigrants in the Canadian workplace has been dealt with in the following way:
1. Get them to learn basic English. The government spends huge amount of funds on ESL programs. This does not recognize that many don’t have language issues and this program only provides very basic skills.
2. Get them to network. HRDC spends a lot of money getting local HR consultants to provide resume writing and networking skills
These programs stress placement in any job vs. placement in their field. Gently and firmly, the people running these shops convince immigrants that there is no way that they can get a job in their field because:
1. No jobs are available
2. They don’t have Canadian experience
3. They lack something or the other. This is done using an incredibly condescending attitude that the powerful have perfected
While immigrants for the last 15-20 years are being convinced they are of less value in such a highly developed nation, businesses are quietly outsourcing services from Asian countries. Of-course, the multi-national gets rich, but people in neither the developed or less developed get justice.
While the US and Canada rely on outsourcing for operational and more recently R&D from India and China, immigrant workers from these countries and other Asian countries face barriers to skilled jobs in Canada. Since Canada’s immigration policy places a higher importance to English/French ability and University education, immigrants are mostly white-collar professionals in their home countries. But these immigrants are under-employed in Canada. The impact of underemployment on the Canadian economy is potentially huge—however, it isn’t a simple statistic to calculate. Using a fairly crude measure of salaries, if most immigrants found comparable work, the value to the economy would be several million dollars.
The impact of immigrant under-employment are negative at the macro-economic level. First, many immigrants are de-motivated from establishing a permanent home in Canada. Many obtain Citizenship and move back to their country of origin. This isn’t betrayal of trust—as many opinion writers like to see it, but if Economic impact is our lens of analysis, then quite obviously labour will go to where it makes Economic sense. If the difference were just about 10-30%, many people would not make the reverse journey, however, the difference is in quality of lifestyle and job status as well—which can be just as important to highly trained professionals. Many immigrants feel a deep sense of frustration. Skilled immigrants in the 1990s came to Canada to grow professionally, rather than get by in below average cadres. The sense of frustration can be high and often immigrants live a tough inner life—some constantly re-evaluating a move back home or to another country.
Quite obviously Canada should invite immigrants with a practical plan on how to integrate them and utilize their potential, rather than leaving them to sink or swim.
The barriers to professionals jobs often surface in the form of ‘what is missing in you?. It is often called lack of some essential ingredient i.e., skills, knowledge, language, cultural fit and experience, however, a glance across the borders proves that this speculation just isn’t true. People with very diverse cultural practices are able to find jobs in their profession in USA, yet suffer in non-management cadres in Canada. And as time passes, these excuses look even worse since businesses have outsourced services and goods from the same countries whose citizens face barriers here. Businesses can go to those countries and get work down at a fraction of the cost, yet people trained in those countries are not taken seriously.
The Shape of The Wall
The divide that immigrants face is both concrete and real. It is in the form of overly regulated professions, physical isolation and lack of awareness. The root cause of the divide is often not a factual lack of skills, since foreign trained professionals are often over qualified for many jobs. Meaningful discussion of this divide has been attempted in various ways. Quite often groups and policy makers rely on statistics to make their point. This approach has not been too helpful in addressing the causes of the divide. Often this pseudo objectivity is anything but convincing. It amazes at times, yet it isn’t useful in galvanizing action. An easy parallel is with the way the global warming debate has played out over the last few decades. Scientists and environmentalists keep writing reports, yet it makes no difference to the proliferation of practices that are environmentally dangerous. Quite obviously, the fulcrum of the issue lies elsewhere.
‘We just don’t like to hire you for this job’ is said in many different ways. A spectrum of Canadian opinions refers to the gap in productivity (wages/salary) between immigrants and locals as an enigmatic mystery. Some opinion writers would like to do away with multi-culturalism as a policy (this policy means that immigrants are free to practice their culture from their home country) because they feel suspicious about the ‘values’ that immigrants bring.
Immigrant issues in Canada have usually been discussed from the perspective of what immigrants need to do, and in some forums what the Government should do. Some not so successful programs to bridge the perceived ‘gaps’ have also been implemented yet nothing seems to work.
The average person’s perception is that immigrants have equal opportunity at the workplace, yet somehow they don’t meet the needs of Canadian businesses or there aren’t enough jobs to go around. Considering that very often, Canadian businesses borrow ideas from across the border, and very often are sold to foreign investors, it seems almost crazy that the people who are completely employable in the States are unemployable here.
Since the 1990s hundreds and thousands of highly skilled immigrants from foreign countries have arrived here. Yet, most immigrants from the ‘white’ countries face far less discrimination than the immigrants from the ‘brown’ countries (Capacity BC Position Paper). In the meanwhile, more of the economy walks off overseas. ‘This is change’ the Corporations tell professionals here, ‘embrace it.’
Yet, hardly anyone asks this question:
‘If the ‘brown’ immigrants know less than the ‘white’ ones, how come the jobs are going to the ‘brown’ countries?’
Here is the reality that a highly qualified skilled immigrant from the Indian subcontinent face:
1. Cultural Attitudes Toward Excellence: Our High School Graduate is the boss of a foreign qualified University graduate and that’s ok because the new person is foreign trained.
2. Culture of Entitlement: Even though you know Math and English, you can’t take away the good jobs because we have a right to them, so you get the jobs we don’t want to do, because the job must be done the way it has always been done.
3. Attitudes of Condescension: USA gives you job but takes away your identity, we let you be the way you are, so be grateful.
4. Stonewalling: We won’t answer your job applications. Luckily we use keyword searching software.
5. The Matching Obsession 1: Your experience doesn’t match the job description point by point.
6. The Matching Obsession 2: Your degree is in Computer Science and we need a less qualified person who has done exactly this for x years. And this way. We can’t take any chances that you will tell us something different.
7. The Government’s Problem: It is the Canadian Government’s job to help you integrate, not ours.
On the other hand, discrimination is discussed in apologetic understatements:
1. Canadians lack awareness of foreign qualifications or foreign qualifications are dubious. A crew of agencies match foreign qualifications to Canadian, but in actual fact these are money making ventures that are barely useful.
2. It is hard to change biased regulations for every lucrative profession. It will take years and that is ok. (This is loss of precious time).
3. Drop the accented English and thou shalt succeed.
We have often talked about racism being about skin colour, gender, country or religion, but in a globalized world, modern racism is cultural. It is about clothes, colour of hair (most professional Asians color their hair), use of language, accent, body language and humor.
The Holes In the Wall
So far immigrants have taken the brunt of this without any real protest or action. Many under-employed immigrants hope that their children will achieve what they could not in Canada. Instead their actions speak loudly, many spend more time outside Canada than inside. In actual fact, the loss is Canada’s because highly trained people remain at the bottom third of the rung, whose bosses are often less qualified, but locally trained people. To break into the market, many of my University colleagues have accepted the argument that the problem is the lack of an alphabet acronym. Indian, Chinese and Pakistani professionals keep striving for an alphabet soup of accreditations, CMA, CGA, MBA-MIS, PIM and take exam after exam to improve their chances in the job hunt. Whereas all they really needed in the first place is a chance in their profession.
Another aspect of the Immigrant divide is that in BC, despite producing so many IT graduates, businesses are actively hiring contract workers from abroad, while foreign qualified immigrants and local graduates from the two large Universities are under employed and working in lower paid jobs (see the federal government’s announcement of November 15th on CIC). It is interesting that the workers from abroad do not have to meet the language skills and other barriers to employment that are often the lot of the immigrant channel.
Here is my assertion: There is no skill shortage (and whatever the liberal government in BC is saying is a factual fabrication). In fact BC has a huge pool of over qualified people who aren’t hired because large consulting companies want to make money by providing professional services to companies (privitization from the back door), and they plan to hire resources on a temporary basis from all over the world at a lower cost and/or outsource to other countries. (I digress, but the reason for outsourcing is greater profit margins, it has virtually nothing to do with any other ‘efficiency.’ Efficiency is just another word for exploitation in globalization today).
It is tragic that the government spends so money on supporting job clubs that encourage networking and face to face introductions to find work, yet the work immigrants find is the work nobody else wants to do—which they should find anyway!. Door to door sales or call center sales jobs are the lot of new immigrants to Canada. Despite international experience in IT, and Engineering in USA, Middle-east, Indiaand elsewhere many struggle in sales type jobs here. This is totally unlike any other international city in the world.
Breaking the Wall
The odds against finding a job in BC are absolutely astounding compared to any international city. A couple of relatively successful immigrants say that it took 4 months with 200 informational interviews to get a job, that too in a skill shortaged profession. The Provincial govt. churns out reports about human resources skill shortage in BC and how we must get the right people from abroad (the US) and/or privatize. It sounds surreal to people who are still struggling in barely mid-tier jobs. There are a bunch of brilliant people floating around in BC, but Corporations don’t want to hire them, regardless of the fact that job positions remain unfulfilled for months, because they can’t find a 100% match or the entire work has been given to a consulting company. 100% matches aren’t found anywhere in the world, instead the best practices are to evaluate on the basis of potential and transferable skills. Perhaps Canadian businesses need to reckon that there is no such thing as a free lunch and they may have to train a person for a short while. On the other hand, many outsource to professional services companies to avoid unionization and equal rights legislation. In the end, ordinary people are the ones who take the brunt of ‘globalization’ and ‘capitalism’, while the big fish continue to make money.
To make any progress on the immigration issue, policy makers must decide why they wanted immigrants in the first place. Is the purpose of the immigrant policy so that immigrants can do the jobs that locals don’t want? Or does Canada want to lead the world in innovation and entrepreneurship? If it is the first than they must do away with the college graduate criteria. The world’s semi-skilled would be the right fit for Canada.
If it is the second then serious steps need to be taken on these fronts:
1. Communicating the reality of the job market to immigrants, so that people don’t arrive here and then find out they have sacrificed 10-15 years of their professional career for a dubious dream
2. Providing a bridge to new immigrants to the profession of their choice. Trainee programs or/even subsidized programs.
3. Affirmative Action. It can take the shape of ‘No, immigrant Engineers won’t sell TVs in your store. It isn’t right.’ Or, a quota for hiring foreign qualified professionals.
4. Complete withdrawal of licencing requirements and regulations for the following professions: 1. School teachers 2. Medical Assistants 3. Architects 4. Accountants 5. Nursing 6. ESL teachers 7. Banks
5. Probationary hiring for item 4. above.