To retain immigrants, policymakers must address systemic failures

It’s high time to recognize that it’s not so much Canada doing immigrants a favour, but rather immigrants who are crucial to Canada’s labor market, says settlement advocate speaking at 24th conference Metropolis Canada on March 24.

“Immigration is primarily driven by labor market needs, and that will be truer than ever. People come here because we need them,” said Neelam Sahota, CEO of the DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, during the opening plenary session of the conference on migration, integration and inclusion, which s is held in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“We need to move away from the dangerous rhetoric of the grateful immigrant,” she said, referring to the often one-sided notion that migrants have the privilege of being in Canada, which limits their access to the same rights and sense of dignity than others. people living in Canada.

Although immigrants represent 23.8% of the current Canadian workforce, they are disproportionately represented in occupations deemed “essential” for all Canadians and therefore at higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus: hospitals to the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, their presence has been, and continues to be, crucial in meeting labor market needs across the country.

“COVID-19 has clearly highlighted the importance of immigration to Canada,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Director General Corinne Prince told the session. “Newcomers have played a vital role on the front lines of the pandemic.”

In fact, while immigration “already accounts for almost 100% of labor force growth”, according to the government’s own calculations, “while 5 million Canadians are expected to retire by the end of this decade , the worker-to-retiree ratio will fall to just 3:1. This is a clear sign that we have a strong economic need to increase immigration.

However, as the pandemic highlighted the systemic issues that keep immigrants largely in precarious, low-paying jobs, panelists were wary of Canada’s ability to attract and retain foreign talent over the long term.

According to Anil Arora, Canada’s Chief Statistician, it cannot be assumed that Canada will be able to acquire the workers it needs from beyond its borders, despite unprecedented levels of new migrants entering the country over the past the last year.

“Part of the challenge here is that immigrants, especially immigrant women, are overrepresented in the industries hardest hit by the pandemic…like the accommodation, restaurant and healthcare sectors,” Arora said. , adding that women who are recent immigrants saw higher unemployment in mid-2020, peaking at nearly 22% in April 2020, compared to 12% of Canadian-born women.

Sahota remains more cautiously optimistic about Canada’s ability to realistically meet the needs of new Canadians and provide them with the support they need to feel at home – but not without a “social seismic improvement” of our current frameworks. .

One of the most pernicious systemic barriers that keep immigrants underemployed and overqualified has been the prohibitive difficulty of transferring credentials and employment credentials, making it difficult for newcomers to secure meaningful employment in their domain.

Before the pandemic, World Education Services reported that only 39% of immigrants worked in jobs with tasks similar in type and complexity to their pre-immigration occupations.

In Surrey, British Columbia, where DIVERSEcity is based, Sahota explained that the pandemic has also exacerbated pre-existing systemic issues for new Canadians, such as accessing mental health services and technological devices needed to work in a remote environment.

The growing prevalence of hate crimes during the pandemic is another major concern impacting the social cohesion of new immigrants. According to Statistics Canada, Canadian police reported 2,669 hate crimes in 2020, with hate crimes motivated by race or ethnicity nearly doubling from the previous year.

The high cost of living – and lack of decent wages – were also cited by young new Canadians. According to a recent survey released by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and Leger, 30 per cent of new Canadians aged 18 to 34 say they are likely to move to another country in the next two years, citing lack of leadership and the high cost of living as the two main reasons.

Panelists noted that much work remains for policy makers and settlement service agencies to ensure that newcomers are integrated into Canada in a way that honors their substantial contributions to this country.

Panelists agreed that recognizing the value of new Canadians will involve significant investment from all sectors in Canada and a holistic, dignity-based approach to how newcomers are welcomed into the workplace, schools and in the communities in which they settle.

“We need to redouble our efforts and we need to strategize for the future – our country depends on it,” Arora said in conclusion. “We need immigrants to succeed: this generation, the next generation, [and] the one after.”

Editor’s note: The journalist’s signature was missing from an earlier version of this article.

Alec Regino, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media

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