Immigrants faring worse

Income, unemployment gaps widen

Canadians, for the most part, earned more money in 2005 than they did in 2000, but immigrants are earning less, according to an annual report card on the quality of life in Canada.

Canada’s Vital Signs 2008 , from Community Foundations of Canada, found median family income grew 3.7 per cent from 2000 to 2005. But while median income for non-immigrant families grew 5.3 per cent, it fell one per cent for immigrant families and three per cent for recent immigrants (who have been in Canada less than five years).

“We know that immigrants are not achieving the right employment outcomes according to their level of education and work experience. Many employers are not able or willing to recognize the education and the experiences that an immigrant brings with them,” said Elizabeth McIsaac, executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC). “We’re recruiting the most highly skilled and educated group ever and yet they’re not finding jobs that are commensurate with their skills.”

This is also reflected in the increasing income gap between immigrants and non-immigrants. In 2000, immigrants earned 97.5 cents for every dollar a non-immigrant earned. That dropped to 91.7 cents in 2005. Recent immigrants went from earning 70.4 cents to 64.7 cents for every dollar a non-immigrant earned.

Immigrants are also more likely to be unemployed, despite a national job growth rate of nine per cent from 2001 to 2006. While the unemployment rate for non-immigrants was 6.4 per cent in 2006, it was 6.9 per cent for immigrants and 12.3 per cent for recent immigrants.

These numbers are a concern for Monica Patten, president and chief executive officer of Community Foundations Canada.

“Employment is not as easily available or accessible to families who are marginalized, including immigrant families,” she said.

Toronto Community Foundation was the first to publish a local Vital Signs report in 2001. Now 15 communities across Canada release a local report card that looks at how the community is doing on numerous fronts affecting quality of life, including income, employment, education, safety, housing and arts and culture.

The income gap between recent immigrants and non-immigrants is widest in Ottawa (45.7 cents to the dollar), Toronto (50 cents) and Montreal (51.1 cents). The gap is smallest in Red Deer, Alta., (97.2 cents), Guelph, Ont., (71.4 cents) and Victoria (65.8 cents).

(Saint John, N.B., Fredericton, Sudbury, Ont., Oakville, Ont., and Medicine Hat, Alta., didn’t have data on recent immigrant income.)

About three-quarters of all immigrants choose to settle in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver and about 94 per cent choose a census metropolitan area, said McIsaac. The sheer number of immigrants in these larger cities partly explains why the income gap is so distinct, she said. Conversely, the smaller income gap in smaller communities is partly because immigrants who go there often have a job in hand, said McIsaac.

The Medicine Hat experience

Recent immigrants in Medicine Hat have an unemployment rate that is nearly one-half that of non-immigrants (2.1 percent compared to 4.1 per cent). Immigrants as a whole have an unemployment rate of 2.9 per cent and in 2005 they earned 88.4 cents for every dollar non-immigrants earned in Medicine Hat.

The area’s labour shortage accounts for the low unemployment and small income gap between immigrants and non-immigrants, said Mike Christie, executive director of Medicine Hat Community Foundation.

“We’re short of workers like the whole of Alberta is,” said Christie. “There are people here who can’t run their businesses the way they want to because they just can’t find reliable, skilled workers.”

Saamis Immigration Services, a community organization, helps immigrants settle into their new community and find jobs, said Christie. However, there is still the problem of immigrants finding jobs commensurate with their skills and experience, he said.

Immigrant income on par in Fredericton

In Fredericton, immigrants have a higher unemployment rate than non-immigrants (7.2 per cent compared to 6.6 per cent) but their income is nearly on par with that of non-immigrants (96.7 cents to the dollar).

“Most immigrants who choose to settle in Fredericton are professionals and they found a job in their educated career,” said Cindy Sheppard, executive director of Fredericton Community Foundation. “And as such, their median income is going to be higher.”

While there aren’t strong cultural communities in Fredericton, the city has a strong economy and many white-collar jobs, which attract people from outside the province, said Sheppard. And the Multicultural Association of Fredericton and the Multicultural Association of New Brunswick help immigrants acclimate to the city and province, she said.

Employers view immigrants as a risk

Another reason for the gap between immigrants and non-immigrants is employers still view immigrants as a risk, said McIsaac.

“They need to look at immigrants as a potential asset and opportunity for their company,” she said.

There are resources available to help them do just that. Credential assessment services can determine what a degree from a foreign country means by Canadian standards and community associations, such as TRIEC and the Waterloo Region Immigrant Employment Network (WRIEN), can help employers find the right immigrants for their needs.

Most importantly, employers need to give immigrant candidates a fair job offer, said McIsaac. Too often, employers think they can get a good deal and offer immigrants less pay because they need the job, but this will only hurt the employer in the long run.

“If you bring someone on at a fair wage, you’re more likely to retain them,” she said.

The national and local reports are a way to raise awareness among the general public about some very important issues, said Patten.

“Canadians need to be made aware of some of these numbers. It’s not new data. It’s been out there. We believe that Canadians don’t fully appreciate it and fully understand it because sometimes it’s not presented in this clear a way,” she said.

And once they’re more aware of the state of the country and their communities, she hopes they’ll be willing to get involved.

“It really is a call to action, we’re really trying to set an agenda in local communities,” she said.

Employment outlook

Job growth and unemployment rates in 2006

Job growth 2001-2006 Total unemployment 2006 Non-immigrant unemployment Immigrant unemployment 2006 Recent immigrant unemployment 2006
Canada 9.0% 6.6% 6.4% 6.9% 12.3%
Saint John, N.B. 5.7% 8.0% 8.0% 7.2% 14.6%
Fredericton 7.6% 6.7% 6.6% 7.2% 9.1%
Montreal 9.4% 6.9% 5.7% 11.1% 19.8%
Ottawa 5.6% 5.8% 5.4% 7.2% 13.5%
Sudbury, Ont. 6.6% 7.9% 7.9% 7.1% 30.1%
Toronto 8.9% 6.7% 6.2% 6.6% 11.8%
Kitchener, Ont. 10.6% 5.1% 5.0% 5.7% 7.3%
Guelph, Ont. 9.6% 5.6% 5.4% 6.0% 10.7%
London, Ont. 9.1% 6.1% 6.0% 6.0% 12.4%
Oakville, Ont. 13.4%
Calgary 17.0% 4.0% 3.9% 4.2% 7.0%
Medicine Hat, Alta. 19.6% 4.0% 4.1% 2.9% 2.1%
Red Deer, Alta. 28.9% 4.4% 4.5% 3.0% 3.1%
Vancouver 11.0% 5.6% 4.9% 6.3% 10.9%
Victoria 12.4% 4.3% 4.4% 3.7% 7.5%

Source: Statistics Canada

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