Canadians need a code of conduct for themselves

Immigrants face tough times despite their high qualifications

Hérouxville - l'étincelle

When it comes to immigrants, Herouxville has it backward. A number of the 1,338 residents of Quebec's now most famous small town worry that immigrants could inflict harm on the Canadian social fabric if they are allowed to import terrible practices such as stoning people to death.
But the truth of the matter seems quite different: Canada is hurting immigrants, not the other way around. It's not deliberate, of course. Canadians generally operate with the best of intentions.
However, the facts are that, despite requiring that immigrants since 1993 come equipped with university degrees or sophisticated skills, we have failed to make use of either. Many of these highly educated newcomers eke out livings at a much lower professional and income level than they might legitimately have expected by moving to one of the most developed countries in the world.
According to a new study from Statistics Canada, immigrants during their first year in Canada were 31/2 times more likely than Canadian-born people to be low income. In 2002, among immigrants who experienced chronic poverty - defined as for at least four of their first five years in Canada - 41 per cent had university degrees.
Fifteen years ago, Canada decided it wanted immigrants able to succeed in the knowledge economy. By 2004, the percentage of immigrants with a university degree had jumped to 45 per cent - an all-time high. This was more than double the number in 1992, the year before immigration criteria were changed.
Among skilled immigrants, the percentage of those with a background in information technology or engineering rose to 45 per cent in 2004 from six per cent in 1993.
Even taking into account the difficulties posed by the high-tech sector downturn in 2000, these highly skilled immigrants had a real struggle to establish themselves in Canada.
"It's worse now than it used to be," one of the study's co-authors told the Toronto Star. The co-author, Garnett Picot, said "It's always been true that immigrants entering Canada did not do as well as their Canadian counterparts during the first few years after they entered, but they caught up after a number of years." But this is no longer the case, Picot said. The problem, he said, is that the gap between Canadians and immigrants when they enter the economy has grown over the past 20 years. Immigrants are not catching up anymore.
In another recent study, Racial Inequality, Social Cohesion and Policy Issues in Canada, authors Jeffrey Reitz and Rupa Banerjee identify what they consider the most important reasons immigrants experience employment difficulties:
Most immigrants settle in urban areas where there are a lot of jobs, but also stiff competition for them from young, native-born, highly skilled entrants into the labour market.
The skills and education immigrants bring with them are discounted in Canada. Reitz and Banerjee say the lack of recognition of foreign credentials or experience results in lost earnings of about $2 billion a year.
Within this already difficult context, visible minorities experience greater discrimination in the job market. Much hope has been expressed that the next generation, the second generation, will fare better. They are certainly well educated, according to a study cited by Reitz and Banerjee. Both immigrant and native-born visible minorities have "significantly higher" rates of high school graduation than the majority population.
But even among the second generation of immigrants, black males - who are generally no less educated than members of other second-generation immigrant groups - earn less.
Money is not the single most important factor at play, however. Improved earnings will not automatically lead to better social integration, Reitz and Banerjee found. What slows down the social integration of minorities into the larger Canadian society is the experience of discrimination and feelings of vulnerability.
One in three recent visible minority immigrants reported experiences of discrimination, compared with one in five recent immigrants of European origin.
Among the second generation, the situation had worsened: 42 per cent of them reported experiences of discrimination.
It seems it is native Canadians who are in need of a code of conduct. Herouxville residents might turn their minds to drafting something that reminds everyone not to discriminate against people on the basis of skin colour.

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