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In Canada, immigrants must matter just as immigration matters.

By Olufemi Ajiboye

Although Canada’s immigration system is a model for others to follow, proactive measures are needed to guide them to the resources and training to better prepare for the Canadian workplace.

Canada has set an ambitious plan to welcome over 1.2 million new permanent residents by 2023. This recent plan announced by the Honourable Minister of Immigration, Marco Mendicino, is an extension of the multi-year immigration levels plan that was first announced in 2017.

However, additional measures by the government would help more immigrants to overcome the challenges they face as newcomers and provide them the opportunities to contribute favourably to the country’s economic growth.

Despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada plans to welcome 401,000 new immigrants in 2021, 411,000 new immigrants in 2022, and 421,000 new immigrants in 2023. In addition to this, up to 60% of these new immigrants are expected through the economic immigration class system.

Over the years, Canada has prioritized economic class immigration and is using this to solve both its population and economic growth concerns. The multi-year immigration levels plan is, therefore, an affirmation of the important contributions of immigrants to Canada, and the role that immigrants will play in building the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Economic immigrants arrive in Canada with their professional skills, educational qualifications, and years of work experience. They also anticipate the opportunities to put their skills into use and fill the skills shortage in the critical workforce.

Historically, immigrants have supported economic growth in Canada as both employees and employers of labour. They have replaced the retiring baby boomer workforce in many sectors, driven innovation, boosted bilateral trade between Canada and their countries of birth, strengthened Canada’s multiculturalism, and are responsible for 75% of Canada’s population growth. These and many other reasons are why immigration matters in Canada.

However, numerous challenges have prevented many immigrants from integrating into the workforce and contributing to the country’s economic growth.

These challenges have brought forward discussions on the disparity between the immigration recruitment criteria for economic immigrants, and the employment recruitment criteria they face upon arrival in Canada. Before being granted permanent residency in Canada, the Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada would conduct an evaluation of the applicants’ credentials, verify the skills and experience they claim to have, and put their applications through a rigorous review process to ensure they are a good fit for both the Canadian society and workforce. All these would, however, amount to little when seeking employment in Canada.

New immigrants often arrive in Canada to find themselves subjected to the realities of not having sufficient Canadian experience to secure employment, or their credentials not recognized as equivalent to a Canadian education. Additionally, for those in regulated professions, there is a rigorous process of securing the licenses required to practice in their profession.

According to the World Education Services, top among the challenges that constitute barriers to employment for new immigrants are lack of professional connections; employers not recognizing their qualifications and experience; lack of recognition for their international education, the rigorous licensing process for regulated professions; the resume, CV, or cover letter writing skills of new immigrants; and the low demand for certain degree majors or skills.

These challenges have prevented many newcomers from integrating into the workforce and contributing their quota to the country’s economic growth.

The challenges present opportunities for Canada to implement certain proactive measures such as

  1. offering qualifications and experience recognition support for new immigrants and employers;
  2. mandatory skills upscaling and rescaling programs that would help newcomers to assess their skills and develop requisite workplace skills;
  3. employment integration programs that would create a platform to connect underutilized talents to local employers; and
  4. a restructuring of the licensing procedures to make room for faster integration in certain regulated professions.

The Canadian Government should work with relevant stakeholders to put adequate measures in place to ensure that these recommendations are effectively implemented. Existing resources should also be targeted towards programs that would better prepare new immigrants for the expectations of the workplace, and guide them to access the resources and training they need. 

Taking action on these recommendations would help to boost Canada’s global profile as a welcoming destination for immigrants, and further reiterate that immigrants matter to Canada, just as immigration matters.