India, China call expats back home

Canada at risk of losing skilled professionals to opportunities abroad

With one million immigrants from China and another 800,000 from India, Canada has increasingly relied upon this population to shore up its own lagging birth rate. And with the much talked about labour shortage on the horizon, skilled and educated immigrants will be even more important to Canada’s economy in the future.

However, India is facing its own skilled labour shortage and in December it launched Overseas Citizenship of India. The program provides anyone born in India, or whose parents or grandparents were born there, a multi-entry, multi-purpose, lifelong visa, making it even easier to live and work in India. So far, 500 Toronto-area residents have applied for the visa, with thousands more Canadians expected to do so in the coming months.

China’s economy is also booming, and for the past few years it has had a similar program in place, the effects of which are already being felt in the Chinese-Canadian community.

“Many professional Chinese Canadians have gone back to Hong Kong,” said Michelle Young, vice-president of the National Association of Asian American Professionals and a career coach in Vancouver. “This is largely because of the opportunities that are available in Asia.”

One of the main reasons for these opportunities is that job turnover is much higher in Hong Kong than it is in Canada so it takes less time to advance up the ranks, said Young. Only a small percentage of Young’s Canadian clients with university and post-graduate degrees will make it to a director or junior partner role by their early 30s, while most of those who move to Asia, the United Kingdom or the United States reach those goals faster, she said.

To keep these educated and talented individuals, Canadian businesses need to provide opportunities for growth that won’t take 20 years to realize, said Young. “They do not want to wait 20 or 30 years to reach the ranks of VP or partner,” she said. “People invest in hope. If they don’t see any hope here, they look elsewhere.”

Instead of grooming five per cent of the workforce for succession planning, who then take what they’ve learned and leave for greener pastures, Young suggested cultivating leadership in 20 per cent of the workforce in the 25-to-40 age range. This will demonstrate that executive positions are available and attainable.

However, not everyone is seduced by a fancy title and dollar signs, preferring instead a balanced lifestyle.

Young, herself a first generation Canadian of Chinese origin, contemplated moving to Hong Kong or London to take advantage of their booming economies. But the prospect of working 10-hour days and taking work home didn’t appeal to the Vancouver native. She appreciated the city’s active outdoor culture that includes skiing, snowboarding, hiking and scuba diving all within an hour’s drive.

“I definitely did give up the likelihood of a major six-figure salary in exchange for that lifestyle choice,” said Young. “But I feel like I bought about 10 or 12 years of my life in life quality.”

Canadian companies might not be able to compete on a dollar-to-dollar basis, but they can compete on the soft skills, such as the lifestyle and leadership development opportunities, she said.

While it’s important to retain skilled immigrants and their children, it’s equally, if not more important to the Canadian economy to encourage Canada’s own diaspora to return home, said Kenny Zhang, senior research analyst for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada in Vancouver, a research institute on Asia-Canada relations.

“We need to start to address this issue because of the significance of this phenomenon. If the estimate of Canadians living overseas is only in the thousands, then it doesn’t matter. However, if it’s in the millions, that would be significant,” said Zhang.

As part of next month’s national conference in Vancouver on immigration policy and research, Zhang will present a report detailing the number of Canadian diaspora and the implications for Canada. The conference is organized by the Metropolis Project, a research forum on immigration and cities.

The report is still being finalized, but Zhang said the number of Canadians living abroad is “quite considerable.” As such, this population represents a vast untapped resource for the Canadian economy.

“They have such extensive networks that ordinary Canadians don’t have. Those networks are crucial for the Canadian private sector to develop business in the new overseas market,” said Zhang. “Those people have the knowledge of the economy, of the culture and of the people in the country that they are working or living in.”

At the conference, Zhang will recommend policy initiatives to enhance and strengthen this population’s ties to Canada. They include improving overseas Canadians’ civil participation, such as voting in elections, and facilitating their movement across borders while maintaining national security.

Globalization has made it easier and more attractive for professionals to be more mobile and, as such, they are less likely to stay in one country permanently. “This is the nature of some people now,” said Zhang. “The next issue is how we can fully realize the potential benefits for Canadians.”

Immigrant success
Awards to recognize innovation and reward excellence in immigrant hiring, retention

Employers need to seriously consider candidates from every possible source, especially Canada’s immigrants. It is vital for them to match these educated and skilled individuals to jobs that take advantage of what immigrants have to offer.

To achieve this goal, employers need to be creative and leave traditional recruiting initiatives behind. Employers can learn by sharing which initiatives worked and which ones didn’t. To facilitate this learning process, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) is issuing an open invitation to employers to submit their case for being recognized as a “best employer” of immigrants. The Immigrant Success (IS) Awards will recognize proven achievement and innovation in hiring and integrating skilled immigrants into the workplace.

Exemplary employers will be profiled by the awards’ media partners, The Toronto Star and Canadian HR Reporter, and trees will be planted in the winners’ honour.

The awards are open to all companies in the Greater Toronto Area. Entries must be received no later than March 17. For more information, visit or call (416) 944-2627, ext. 239.

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