The underutilization of immigrants’ skills
Bishwambhar Ghimire
Thursday, Jul 12, 2018
1130

Today, skilled immigrants from various developing countries go to developed nations like Canada, Australia, UK and the US with a hope for a better life and brighter future for their children, but this has become a nightmare for too many. Despite the fact that these countries have adopted policies to welcome human capital in specific occupations, highly skilled immigrants are still finding it hard to get employment in their specialized occupations, and are repeatedly taking up low skilled jobs. Immigrants are forced to take up any job for survival rather than utilizing their knowledge, experience and skills in the occupation of their choice. Literatures reveal that the world immigration policies are aimed at gaining best brains to boost economies have become controversial.
The economic benefit of skilled immigrants is an important issue for host countries. Though a significant impact on their economy is always expected, concerns of many immigrant families remain largely ignored and many of them experience difficulties that even lead some of them into adverse health conditions. For an example, growing literature on the health status of Canada’s foreign-born population indicates that many of them had a better health condition on arrival in comparison to Canadian-born population; but within a few years, the immigrants’ health conditions became worse due to job dissatisfaction, including minimum wage issues and job insecurity, that is constantly associated with underemployment.
As Man G. argued in an article in 2004 that skilled immigrants remain either unemployed or pressured into non-skilled jobs, which demand “the use of their hands rather than their minds” and that they are underemployed and earn less than their potential, and taking longer to find careers that match their education and skill levels, which has negative economic consequences to the host countries. He has also pointed out that while host countries expected a boost to their economic growth and tax revenues from this kind of immigration policy, the indications are actually resulting in negative consequences for both immigrants and the receiving countries.
Canada is known as a country of immigrants with the largest per-capita immigration rate in the world. Statistics Canada shows that the country holds a 20.6 percent foreign-born population and in 2011 received immigrants from nearly 200 countries. According to the data, approximately 250,000 immigrants landed in Canada every year since 1991 and have contributed to a 5.9% population growth rate annually, which is the highest growth in G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). It is also assumed that the Canadian population growth will be about the same by the year 2030, and immigrants will account for 50% of the population growth and 70% labor force growth in Canada. Asian countries were the main source of immigration that accounted for 56.9% between 2006 and 2011.
Canadian Immigration policy was underdeveloped during the 1800s and a new legislation was passed in the early 1900s that prevented non-Europeans who were characterized as poor, mentally incompetent and a greatly differing culture. Such policy hindered the flow of immigration, as it was only favorable to Europeans until the second half of the 20th century. Then new immigration policies were implemented in the 1960s through the implementation of the Immigration Act of 1952 by introducing the point system in 1967, which removed national origin as a criterion of admission. This opened the door for prospective immigrants from all over the world. The new policy is aimed at helping the country move forward to a knowledge-based economy that produces more by knowledge-related employment in contrast to physical work and selects skilled immigrants based on their education, language ability, age, working experience and employment agreement in order to increase the number of young, healthy and economically active population.
According to Templeton L. 2011 Canadian immigration system seems very selective in accepting new immigrants by carefully formulating the policies to bringing in “world’s intellectual elites to Canada”. These immigrants are potentially the most beneficial in contributing to the economy for the rest of their lives. As stated by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada in 2007, skilled immigrants who have enormous potential for filling labor shortages, strengthening the national economy and contributing to the demographic stability as they have better skills as well as health conditions on arrival in comparison to the Canadian-born population.
There is a great expectation within the Canada’s federal government for skilled immigrants to contribute significantly to the economy, just as their Canadian counterparts, based on their foreign-acquired knowledge and experience, which was considered in their application process in the point system. However, there is a substantial gap in earnings between Canadian-born and immigrant workers.
Although the immigration system of Canada focuses on the educated and skilled people who generally have higher levels of education than the Canadian-born population, more literature shows that an increasing number of immigrants who enter Canada face significant and unnecessary obstacles. The immigrants are facing problems in obtaining jobs in their own fields of knowledge and training. Dean & Wilson 2009 indicate that immigrants are more likely to be unemployed even years after they arrive in Canada. Consequently, many immigrants settle for an alternate employment unrelated to their field of education and training.
Number of studies show that a significant number of skilled immigrants have been working in low-paying jobs in most Canadian cities. Most of them are employed as taxi-drivers, convenience store workers, gas station attendants and security guards as these occupations do not have regular fixed hours and it’s easy to hire and fire such workers. Employees are often compelled to work for minimum wages and for long hours in order to make ends meet for their families. Newcomers, including doctors, engineers, lawyers, managers, and teachers, are being unemployed or underemployed in menial jobs such as driving taxis or delivering pizzas that help little to maintain their living standards.
A federal immigration survey in 2012 by Citizenship and Immigration Canada echoes that skilled immigrants are employed as taxi drivers in Canada. A majority of them are doctors or had PhDs in their homelands before arriving in Canada for ostensibly a better life. In addition, 5.4 percent immigrant drivers had Master's degrees and 14 percent hold Bachelor’s Degrees, while in contrast, 1 percent  and 4 percent of Canadian-born drivers held these same documents respectively. The study shows that two out of four taxi drivers are immigrants and a majority of them are South Asians.
As shown by various surveys and interviews, there are a number of barriers and challenges that skilled immigrants confront in acquiring jobs based on their skills and knowledge. Some of them can include immigrants themselves, employers, problems in recognition of foreign credentials and experience, lack of Canadian experience, insufficient official language ability, lack of social networks, lack of information regarding jobs, current hiring practices, employer attitudes and discrimination, job stream and jurisdiction.
Canadian Human Rights Act, Multiculturalism Act 1988 and different social policies restrict any kind of discrimination against newcomers. However, a growing amount of literature supports that there is a discrepancy between Canadian citizens and skilled immigrants. Templeton, L. 2011 argues that better jobs are difficult to acquire for non-white immigrants: Chinese, South Asian, Filipino and others often report of slight discrimination in the Canadian labour market. They are struggling and getting lower wages compared to the Eastern Europeans. Over the past one decade, some studies have emerged that attempts to articulate the link between skilled immigrants and underemployment in Canada. Instead of immigrants’ valuable education and skills being utilized in the knowledge economy, first generation immigrants are basically unemployed and/or underemployed. Those generations faced obstacles during their job search due to language fluency, cultural barriers, lack of social support, and discrimination. As a result, some researchers have observed a greater psychological stress within the low-income and immigrant communities in Canada. The higher rates of unemployment and underemployment of these immigrants represents a loss to all Canadians and the economy as a whole.
Laws and policies are major guidelines of a government that help to regulate their action. In the case of Canada’s underemployment and unemployment problem, the laws themselves do not fall short, but the implementation of them is the major concern. However, in some cases there are some legal and policy barriers that all levels of governments only address in the first stage of settlement rather than in the second stage of settlement regarding access to the labour market.
(The author is pursuing MA Public Policy and Administrationat the Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.)