International and Canadian work experience should count equally

By Mariana Carrera
AIMS on Campus Fellow

It is well known that Atlantic Canada has a human resource deficit. The population is aging, provincial outmigration continues, and low birth rates are a clear indication that the provinces must look elsewhere to populate the region. The problem has certainly caught federal attention: the upcoming Atlantic Canada Immigration Pilot is but one demonstration of the efforts being made in response.

This is the solution Canada has long relied on: grow the economy by inviting immigrants to contribute and increase the tax base. There are many factors, however, which cripple the immigration strategy.

Immigrants disproportionately face barriers which impede their ability to participate in the economy. This is evident in unemployment statistics which indicate that recent immigrants face unemployment rates more than double the rates of Canadian-born persons.

What are these barriers? They are many, but discrimination is a central factor, including stereotyping, insensitivity, and mistreatment related to cultural differences, appearances, accents, foreign names, and religious backgrounds.

Thankfully, there is human rights legislation which reflects a public position and the possibility to act against such discrimination. In Atlantic Canada, however, the legislation has left a serious problem unaddressed: employers tend to hesitate in hiring recent immigrants because they are (unfairly) perceived as riskier and more demanding of investment.

There is generally nothing inherently better about Canadian work experience over international experience, nor is it alone a good indicator of actual experience and ability. Even so, employers have resorted to using both explicit and implicit requirements of Canadian work experience to filter out ‘risky immigrants.’

It is a dilemma many newcomers to Canada know well: you need Canadian work experience to get a job in Canada, but cannot show Canadian work experience without a job in Canada. What is one to do?

Unfortunately, for many immigrants this results in unemployment, underemployment, or migration elsewhere. This is particularly problematic for Atlantic Canada, which struggles to retain the immigrants it so desperately needs. In 2013, of those that had arrived the previous year, 79% remained in Nova Scotia, 70% in New Brunswick, 68% in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 43% in Prince Edward Island.

In 2013, the Ontario Human Rights Commission recognized the Canadian work experience requirement as discrimination. If Atlantic Canada is serious about recruiting and keeping immigrants, it is time that the governments consider following that lead and take action against the barriers impeding their efforts.

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