New immigrants struggle to find work: StatsCan

Some point finger for problem at employers’ fear of the unknown

Good things may come to those who wait, but it would seem new immigrants have to wait a whole lot longer than the Canadian-born population when it comes to finding a job.

The national unemployment rate for immigrants who have been in Canada less than five years from 2001 to 2006 (11.5 per cent) is more than double the Canadian-born rate (4.9 per cent), according to Statistics Canada. And while the survey shows the situation improves for immigrants who have been in the country between five and 10 years, their unemployment rate (7.3 per cent) in 2006 was still higher than Canadian-born workers.

Danielle Zietsma, an economist for Statistics Canada in Ottawa, said the findings suggest immigrants need a “period of adjustment” to find residence, adapt to the local culture and overcome barriers such as language differences.

Elizabeth McIsaac, executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), said the biggest hiring obstacle new skilled workers face falls squarely on employers’ laps: Fear of the unknown.

“The number one reason immigrants can’t find work here is lack of ‘Canadian work experience.’ But that is often a gloss for something else. The employer is looking at someone and they don’t understand their experience and, because it is unfamiliar, they perceive it as a risk,” said McIsaac.

Differences in regional labour market strength explain the more promising new immigrant unemployment rate in Alberta (5.8 per cent in 2006, less than half the national average for this group although still more than double the 2.6 per cent unemployment rate for Canadian-born Albertans). It also accounts for the worst rate in Montreal (18.1 per cent in 2006 versus 5.9 per cent for Canadian-born Montrealers), said Zietsma.

The report also showed labour market outcomes were better for immigrant men than their female counterparts. The unemployment rate for women who had been in the country five years or less was 13 per cent in 2006, somewhat higher than the 10.3 per cent for men in the same group. McIsaac said this might be explained by the fact that, when a new immigrant family arrives, a decision is made as to who will seek work first and it is often the man.

“The longer you are out of the workforce, the longer it takes you to get in,” she said.

Understanding how the labour market leverages skills brought by immigrants is increasingly important given their role in the country’s future economic well-being, said Zietsma. Statistics Canada began collecting information as it relates to working age immigrants in its Labour Force Survey in January 2006 to paint a clearer picture of the immigrant labour market.

Roughly two-thirds of Canadian population growth comes from net international migration. By 2030, it may be the only source of population growth.

“By 2011, immigrants will make up virtually all the net labour force growth,” said Zietsma.

The survey showed the longer immigrants remained in Canada, the better they fared. Established immigrants, those who have been in Canada 10 years or more, closely matched Canadian-born workers in terms of labour market outcomes. But the poor unemployment rate in the first 10 years of arrival prevailed despite the fact immigrants were more likely (36 per cent) to have a university education than native Canadians (22 per cent) in 2006.

Lesley Young is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

Unemployment rates
Canadian-born workers more likely to be employed

Even though immigrants arriving between 2001 and 2006 were more likely to have a university education than the Canadian-born population (36 per cent versus 22 per cent for those age 25 to 54), their unemployment rate was more than twice as high.

2006 unemployment rate %
Immigrants (arriving between 2001 and 2006)11.5
Immigrants (arriving between 1996 and 2001)7.3
Canadian-born population4.9

Source: Statistics Canada

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