Immigration not a ‘permanent phenomenon’

40 per cent of professional and skilled immigrants leave Canada within 10 years

While Canada does a good job attracting skilled and educated immigrants from around the world, government and businesses need to do a better job of keeping them once they get here, says a professor of economics at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.

“We spend a fair amount of time and discussion on attracting immigrants, but we don’t spend that much time on talking about retaining them. It’s almost as if there’s the notion that if they can get here, it’s such a great place, they’ll stay,” said Chris Robinson.

Immigration isn’t a permanent phenomenon and Canada needs to approach it as a firm would approach retaining an employee, he said. “We don’t want to take it as a given that just because somebody’s come here that they’re going to stay.”

One-third of young male immigrants leave Canada within 20 years of arriving and more than 60 per cent of those who leave do so in the first year, according to Return and Onward Migration among Working Age Men, a recent Statistics Canada report co-authored by Robinson.

The report, a study of male immigrants aged 25 to 45 at the time they arrived in Canada, found that over the past two decades business professionals and skilled workers, the most desirable immigrants, are the most likely to leave, with 40 per cent of them leaving the country within 10 years of arrival.

Because there are no exit interviews when an immigrant leaves Canada, the study made inferences about why they left based on landing records, census data and income tax filings. Immigrants who arrived during poor economic climates (in 1980 and 1990) were more likely to leave than those who arrived during boom times (1986 and 1996). Therefore, it’s likely immigrants are leaving for better opportunities elsewhere, said Robinson.

The best way to keep these immigrants is to ensure they get jobs that match their skills and experiences, said the director of operations at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

“We know that good employment is the number one indicator of successful integration for immigrants,” said Elizabeth McIsaac. “A key element in all this is having employers involved in the development of programs that are intended to bring immigrants into the labour market.”

One such program is Toronto’s Career Bridge, a non-profit internship program that matches qualified immigrants with appropriate jobs. Since the program started three years ago, 270 immigrants have found full-time work in their fields, but there are still 1,500 skilled immigrants, more than half with university degrees, on the waiting list. So far only 115 of the city’s 2,760 businesses with more than 100 employees have signed up for the program.

HR professionals need to begin looking at international credentials and education as an asset, said McIsaac. There are tools available to help HR understand international credentials and agencies that can connect employers with immigrants, so employers have no excuse not to consider immigrants for job openings, she said.

“Once you begin to have more experience working with immigrant communities, it becomes a lot easier and you can do it a lot better,” she said.

If Canadian employers aren’t willing to take advantage of these immigrants, the Statistics Canada report proves they’ll go elsewhere to find jobs, said Robinson.

“If a better opportunity comes up somewhere else and it happens to come up across an international border, then they’re quite likely to move,” he said.

Over the next 10 years, immigration will represent all of the growth in Canada’s workforce because there simply won’t be enough young Canadians to replace retiring baby boomers. However, Canada isn’t the only country facing a looming labour shortage and other countries that haven’t typically gone after immigrants, such as Japan and India, are now doing so, said McIsaac.

“We are in a global economy and we are competing for a high level of talent in other countries,” she said. “We have to do a better job of receiving that talent.”

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