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A Country of Immigrants Should Know How to Integrate Them

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Canada should have gotten it right by now. A 146-year-old country of immigrants should know how to integrate them. The recent census data however suggests that not to be the case.

While Canadians celebrated the 146th birthday of their country, many recent immigrants, however, had little to celebrate in their adopted homeland where their unemployment rate was 75 per cent higher than that of the native-born Canadians.

Last week Statistics Canada released further details from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS). The data focusing on labour outcomes paints a dismal picture for many immigrant groups, especially those who are considered a visible minority, a term referring to the people who visibly do not belong to the majority race. For the would-be immigrants, the grass appears greener in Canada.

The labour force statistics from the NHS reveal the uneven geography of labour force outcomes for various ethnic groups. More than one in four working-age Arab, who migrated to Canada between 2006 and 2011, was unemployed. During the same time-period, one in seven South Asian emigrants was also unemployed.

The recent immigrants are most likely to experience adverse labour force outcomes, such as un- or under-employment. This is primarily a result of moving to a new place where one does not have networks, one is unfamiliar with the system, and one's credentials are either not recognized at all or are not recognized fast enough for one to have a career in one's chosen field. The result of these limitations is that recent immigrants end up working odd jobs, trying to make ends meet. Eventually they should be able to address these limitations and improve their employment prospects. For South Asian emigrants this happens to be the case in Canada.

The unemployment rate of recent immigrants from South Asia, i.e., those who arrived between 2006 and 2011, was 14.9 per cent in 2011. At 10.9 per cent, it was slightly lower for those who arrived between 2001 and 2005. Similarly for South Asians who landed in the '90s, the unemployment rate was even lower at 9.2 per cent.

The above figures offer proof for the assimilation affect in labour market for immigrants. The longer the immigrants stay in the adopted homeland, the more knowledgeable they become of the rules and customs, and more likely they are to succeed in the labour markets.

Despite the assimilation effect, immigrants classified as visible minorities continue to have larger unemployment rates than non-visible minority migrants. Consider that while 5.9 per cent of those South Asians emigrants who arrived in Canada before 1981 were unemployed, only 5.1 per cent of the non-visible minority immigrants were unemployed for the same time period. The difference in unemployment rates between visible and non-visible minorities has widened over the years in Canada.

According to the NHS, the unemployment rates of immigrants did vary significantly across Canada in 2011. The worst employment markets for immigrants were in Quebec. Consider Montreal, Quebec's largest city, where the unemployment rate for South Asian emigrants was recorded at 14.6 per cent. On the other hand, the most favourable employment markets for South Asians were in the oil rich Alberta province. In Edmonton, Alberta's second most populous city, the unemployment rate for South Asian emigrants was much lower at 5.9 per cent in 2011. And while the unemployment rate for Arab emigrants was over 16 per cent in Quebec, it was around 9.5 per cent in Alberta.

Education does play a role in securing better employment prospects for immigrants in Canada. Immigrants with an earned doctorate or Masters degree, for instance, had an unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent and 7.2 per cent respectively. However, the unemployment rate for similarly educated non-immigrants in Canada was significantly lower. The non-migrants with an earned doctorate degree in Canada had an unemployment rate of 2.9 per cent, suggesting that highly educated immigrants, such as PhDs, had a 79 per cent higher unemployment rate than non-migrants with similar credentials. Even worse, one in 10 recent immigrants with a PhD who arrived in Canada between 2006 and 2011 was unemployed.

The Canadian data suggests that while the immigrants are able to improve their prospects over time in their adopted homelands, the initial years of struggle are always painful. Furthermore, immigrants are seldom able to plug the wage gap with the native-born, irrespective of their education and skills.

Migration is never an easy decision. However, as professionals chart out plans to migrate to foreign lands, they should know that the grass is always greener on the other side of the border.

This article first appeared in Dawn.com.

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Highlights: 2011 National Household Survey
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