Every year our Canadian government aims to attract a high number of immigrants to help grow Canada’s economy. For 2015, according to CIC News, the target was set somewhere between 260,000 to 285,000 new residents. Among these, more than 65% of the total number are expected to be economic immigrants, looking for better working and living conditions. Canada has a very specific way of deciding who will be accepted based mainly on 3 factors: language proficiency, education and work experience. There is no surprise then, that over 69% of the new residents hold a post secondary credential: Bachelor Degrees , post secondary certificates and even Masters or PhD’s and between five to ten+ years of work experience. British Columbia is the province with the highest percentage of Bachelor Degrees among new residents. Among those an overwhelming 31% are underemployed, as per Stats Canada, as the immigrants with Bachelor Degrees are the segment of population that struggle the most either with unemployment or in under qualified jobs.
Before January 2015, the applications were processed on a first come, first served base while now, courtesy of the newly launched Express Entry system, the approval process will be faster for those with good and very good language skills, higher education and of course some work experience. It is good to see that the government recognizes that Canada needs good immigration policies to maintain and grow its economy. It is refreshing to see that more than ever the government is trying to find and recruit talented and very talented professionals in a timelier fashion. What I don’t see is any money or effort put in helping them get established and employed in jobs for which they are qualified and certified. Little has changed in the last 15 years since I experienced all these fun times, heartbreaks and joys of establishing myself in a new country. The way I see it, all the money and effort the government is putting in creating all these sustainable immigration policies will be only as effective in accessing the maximum out of the new incoming talent as the immigrant settlement policies in place at the time. In other words, unless the government starts looking seriously into ways of removing some of the barriers, especially the credentials barrier, all the tax payers money and effort put into recruiting talent will have only a minimum return, if ever.
Canada already has a pool of intelligent and highly trained professionals that are wasting their knowledge and experience in jobs that do nothing to use their skills and talent. The old joke that the best place to have a heart attack is in a cab as most of the cab drivers are doctors is still a reality. While attending an information session at SFU, I happened to start a conversation with a very nice lady. It turned out she had two master degrees from a university in Delhi, had been in Canada for 7 years and was still working in a restaurant. The mighty Internet is also full of such stories; we all know at least a person who has lived through or is experiencing the transition or have friends that threaten to leave this country and go back to their native land every time you ask an innocent “How are you?” It is one of those realities that have become so common and it’s been around for so long that the only reaction you ever have is a quick rolling of the eyes and a swift change of subject! We have become immune to it and to the heartache it usually brings.
My story is just another immigrant story. I came to Canada in 1999 and followed blindly the unwritten script of the well-educated immigrant who after struggling to understand why his/her education is not recognized, sadly realized that without re-qualifying would have no access to her profession. A few blows to a small budget and a family that came apart moved the timeline for going back to school further and further away and made my frustrations with jobs that under-utilized my skills grow exponentially. In the meantime, the adorable five year old that got off the plane at YVR in that cold June of 1999 had grown into this smart handsome young man that was ready for University. It was his time to shine and I happily experienced the Canadian student life through him. For me, it’s been 15 years of dreaming that I will be teaching again one day. I am still in love with the profession I once practiced successfully but I have to resentfully let it go and move on. Why? Well, it’s complicated but let me try explaining.
- Money. After adding all the costs associated with a full 12-month program and several other mandatory courses required by SFU and the Ministry of Education, the total bill comes close to $30,000. If I were an optimistic I would definitely say not a big deal! Heck, if I were my husband, would definitely say: honey, we can handle. Unfortunately, I am me and any price higher than $10,000 gives me vertigo and nausea.
- Prospects for future. I could invest the $30,000 into my future thinking I will recover the costs within a couple of years of full time employment. The reality is different. According to an article published in Oct 2014 in The Tyee, “there are roughly 3,300 certified teachers for 900 teaching jobs in the province every year. That’s about three teachers for every job” with the biggest oversupply in teachers specialized in arts, humanities, and English.
- Time. I am not in my twenties anymore. I feel that time is running faster than I can grasp it and I have to take that into consideration. I need 3 years to complete all the courses I am asked to in order to be admitted into SFU, meet the BC Teacher Regulation Board and then complete the full 12 month long PD Program. Next, the first step in getting a full time job as a teacher is to apply for a TOC position (teacher on call) with the district. There are no guarantees that you will be accepted as a TOC and there are no guarantees that you will be on that list for a year or two only. I don’t have time to play around anymore and I have a family and responsibilities here. At the end of the program, if I am not hired in a district of my choice, I cannot pack up my family and relocate in a smaller remote community just to follow my dream.
Resentfully I will let go of my dream and continue on a different path. I feel discriminated against though. Had my degree been recognized faster, easier and less expensive, I would have taken all these chances to be licensed as a teacher here. I wonder whether in a multicultural country such as Canada, these barriers are kept and reinforced as a way of imposing a hierarchy of power as oppose to a hierarchy of competency. There is nothing more degrading for an immigrant that has worked hard for their degrees to be told that here their credentials mean nothing without their skills and knowledge being tested. Different cultures perceive education in different ways but what I have noticed to be the same is the higher social and economic status that comes with a well-earned degree in most of the non-Western countries. Once you trivialize and take away that status, it damages not only the ego but it immediately places the immigrant into a different social class. The real issue from the immigrant’s point of view is that he/she is devalued based on their background, based on a document and the native country issuing that document, not based on their real skills, knowledge and education.
A Statistics Canada (2004) census study provides a conspectus of the characteristics and experiences of recent immigrants residing in Canada’s metropolitan areas in terms of the settlement patterns and the labour market experiences and earnings. The research shows that virtually all immigrants coming to Canada in the 1990s — about 1.8 million — have settled in one of Canada’s 27 census metropolitan areas. These immigrants also have higher levels of educational attainment than people born in Canada. Yet, in virtually every urban region, a far higher proportion of recent immigrants were employed in jobs with lower skill requirements than the Canadian-born. In addition, recent immigrants were less likely to be employed in occupations typically requiring a university degree. In fact, recent immigrants with a university degree were much more likely than their Canadian-born counterparts to be working in occupations that typically require no formal education. Finally, in most urban centres, recent immigrants were at least twice as likely as Canadian-born workers to earn less than $20,000 a year. They were also much less likely to have high earnings, that is, more than $100,000 a year. This reinforces the findings of previous labour force studies showing that recent immigrants were much more likely to work for low wages, were less likely to be high-wage earners and had higher unemployment rates. The result is a drain on social programs and public transportation in the country’s largest cities (Statistics Canada, August 2004). (Foster, Lorne. 2006. “Foreign Credentials in Canada’s Multicultural Society.” In Merle Jacobs and Stephen E. Bosanac (Eds.). The Professionalization of Work. Toronto: de Sitter Publications. Chapter 10. P287)
In a way, I feel that the same wasteful tendencies of the modern society are in full display when looking at the talent existent in Canada. There is a large pool of untapped talent that lays dormant because of the credentials barrier while Canada continues to recruit young, educated individuals whose skills are mostly going to be discarded in the same old pool just because they were born and educated in the wrong part of the world. Maybe it is time to start thinking about a government run body that will facilitate this transition and will look into removing the credentials barrier by working as a bridge between the new immigrant and the employer and remind all professional associations their mandate should be that of “facilitator” not “barrier” and their attitude should change from “tolerance” to “acceptance”.
Picture courtesy of johannes.jannson/norden.org