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Canadian job experience — an immigrant’s dilemma

Nov 01, 2013 |

Canadian job experience — an immigrant’s dilemma

 Guelph Mercury

For new immigrants, arrival in Canada is always accompanied with hopeful and noble aspirations, most of them for the well-being of their children.

Coming to Canada means new jobs, prosperity, access to education and ultimately security for their family’s future. Our country has been greatly enriched by the contributions of new immigrants. The reality is, however, that the promise of jobs is quickly met with the cold, hard fact that such expectations of job opportunities were overstated, a detail left out of the brochures and government ads circulated in other countries.

New Canadians and those recently landed face a multitude of challenges, even today, decades after the enormous influx of immigrants from non-European countries began. I am approached daily by incredibly qualified people, new Canadians who attend my office or at events in the community enthusiastic about the chance of finding a job commensurate with their skills and training, yet unable to even get an interview.

This is an incredible squandering of vital human energy, skill, desire and finally the opportunity to get someone to work who will immediately become a contributor to the fiscal well-being of our community.

Among the barriers faced by local immigrants are inaccessible transportation, the silent marginalization arising from discrimination and racism, language barriers resulting from inaccessibility to language training, the anguishing, costly and lengthy journey through credential recognition and the lack of “Canadian job experience.”

In fact, the lack of Canadian work experience is the most frequent barrier experienced by new immigrants in our area, as disclosed in a new survey undertaken by the Guelph/ Wellington Local Immigration Partnership, a coalition of more than 70 representatives representing groups in our community such as newcomers, ethno-cultural organizations, service providers, businesses and the public.

Caught in a catch-22 quandary, Canadian experience cannot be obtained without a job and vice versa. Clearly, proper credentials are needed to authenticate the abilities of the job applicant, as is the ability to effectively communicate. But from those many with whom I have met, neither of those were barriers — nor was experience. In most cases, these are people with years of work experience in the very field in the kind of job — and having the very skills — the Canadian position required. Their experience is robust, relevant and has a length of time rivalling any Canadian worker, and it comes from countries whose own economies and institutions are as enduring and developed as our own.

Whether in accounting, research, business or administrative skills, the sciences or even culinary skills, experience is experience, Canadian or not.

In those areas where temporary foreign workers are sought, no one asks for “Canadian experience” — experience yes, but not Canadian. Similarly, many of the jobs that Canadian companies outsource are often outsourced to the very countries from which these recent immigrants have emigrated. Yet those who come here seeking to plant very deep roots and raise their families are denied opportunities, with the lack of Canadian experience the reason for denial.

There is no doubt that credentials and experience and an ability to function in the social expectations of a job are important, but in our global community where innovation, technology, intellectual property and job skills are transferred from country to country how is it that suddenly “Canadian” experience has become so important? Do people add differently in China? Are the rigours of cancer research in Canada so much different in India, where their research has merited the same accolades as Canadian research?

Sometimes the distinct impression left is that many of those denied the opportunity to work are more the victim of unspoken discrimination from the prospective employer than any lack of Canadian experience.

Guelph is filled with generous and enabling employers, many themselves with an immigrant background in the last century who faced challenges, but my bet is that “lack of Canadian experience” was not among them.

If we are to engage new Canadians and new immigrants alike, if their experiences in our country are to similarly benefit them and their families and our community as a whole, if their lives and ours are to be simultaneously enriched, employers must move past their reservations and recognize experience for what it is, whether here or from the country of origin of their applicant.

Finally, with Canada’s skilled labour shortage, aging population and shrinking birth rate, our federal government must urgently address this critical issue.

The reality is, the current Conservative government has taken an anti-immigrant approach with its policies and cutbacks and favoured temporary foreign workers over Canadians and new immigrants.

The Conservatives must address the barrier of “arbitrary requirements” for Canadian experience. If this is not done now, Canada will no longer be a desirable place for the world’s most skilled immigrants — and they will go elsewhere.


Frank Valeriote is the Liberal MP for the riding of Guelph.

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