ALLIES defines skilled immigrants as individuals who have immigrated to Canada with international post-secondary education, professional credentials and/or work experience. Specifically, ALLIES’ work focuses on those immigrants who do not have Canadian experience in their field.

Historically, immigrants have performed well in the labour market. Those arriving in the 1970s and 1980s caught up with their Canadian counterparts within ten years.

Immigrants arriving since the 1990s have not fared as well. Although they are the most highly educated cohort of immigrants to date – over 40% have a university education – after ten years immigrant men who arrived in 1990 were earning only 79.8% of the average for Canadian men, and immigrant women were earning 87.3% of the average for Canadian women. Research also shows that four out of ten new immigrants are forced to make a downwardly mobile shift in their career once they arrive in Canada. In addition, a 2007 study showed that only 24% of internationally-educated immigrants were working in the regulated profession for which they were trained. Further, of those who were not, 77% were overqualified for their job.

Skilled immigrants may face the following barriers when trying to enter the labour force:

  • Lack of recognition of international education, training, and experience;
  • Insufficient information about employment opportunities and requirements;
  • Lack of professional networks;
  • Lack of occupation-specific terminology in English or French;
  • Lack of targeted training programs to bridge gaps in qualifications; and
  • Difficulty obtaining Canadian work experience.

Many urban regions are growing. They need skilled immigrants to help fill vacant positions created as the economy expands and baby boomers retire. With an aging population and low fertility rates, even Canada’s strong training systems will not produce enough skilled workers to meet labour force demand. Many immigrants are highly skilled and therefore a valuable asset to Canadian employers.

By 2031, 80% of Canada’s net population growth will be derived entirely from immigration. In some urban centres, such as the City of Toronto, the labour force growth is already dependent on immigrants.

Research shows that immigration is also an essential component of a creative economy both in quantity and diversity. Immigration benefits all as it generates innovation through the international education and experience of skilled immigrants and brings in new global assets to a city. Immigrants expand trade with their country of origin, owing to superior knowledge of, or preferential access to market opportunities abroad.

Skilled immigrants face obstacles to finding employment that Canadian-trained persons do not. Prospective employers may not want to hire someone who has an unfamiliar degree from an international university, who lacks experience in Canadian workplaces, or whose technical language skills need upgrading. Giving employers reliable information about equivalent academic degrees and giving skilled immigrants a chance to obtain Canadian experience and upgrade their skills are ways to remove obstacles so our economy can benefit from the skills that immigrants bring.

Canada needs skilled immigrants to help fill vacant positions created as the economy expands and baby boomers retire.

According to the 2006 census, more than one in 10 Canadian-born citizens are in the pre-retirement age bracket – ages 55 to 64. By contrast, only 4.1% of newcomers are in this older working-age group. On the other hand, over half of the recent immigrants to Canada are in their prime working years – aged 25 to 54 – whereas only 42.3% of the Canadian-born population are in this age group.

With an aging population and low fertility rates, Canada cannot count on our training systems to produce the numbers of skilled workers needed for the labour force. Many immigrants are highly skilled and therefore a valuable asset to Canadian employers.

Skilled immigrants also bring abundant entrepreneurial talents and contribute to the competitive advantage offered by their diversity. With the important role of cities in the global economy, immigrants offer crucial insight into world markets.

Immigrants bring a wide range of skills, education and experience. In 2006, 56% of recent immigrants aged 15 and older had post-secondary education, including doctorates, master’s degrees, degrees in medicine and dentistry, bachelor’s degrees, college diplomas, and trade certificates. This figure includes immigrants arriving through economic, family reunification and refugee streams.

Immigrants come to Canada with skills and experience in both regulated and unregulated occupations. For example, the top occupations for immigrants arriving in key Canadian cities from 2004-2008 include: civil, mechanical and electrical engineers; financial auditors and accountants; sales, marketing and advertising managers; computer programmers and interactive media developers; as well as university professors, physicians, administrative officers, and managers in health care, manufacturing, construction, retail trade, and other professions.

Skilled immigrants to Canada have expertise in almost all professions that are currently experiencing labour shortages.

According to the 2006 census, immigrants speak nearly 150 languages as their mother tongue and come to Canada from 200 countries. Over half of these immigrants are in their prime working years – aged 25 to 54 – whereas only 42.3% of the Canadian-born population is in this age group.

By integrating skilled immigrants into the labour market, Canada can effectively maximize the talent of these newcomers, reduce labour shortages and continue to strengthen and grow the economy.

For starters, consider these four important reasons:

  1. The Canadian-born workforce is shrinking and the demand for labour is growing.
  2. Skilled immigrants can help Canadian companies do business with the world.
  3. Skilled immigrants bring international expertise.
  4. The local market is changing and becoming more diverse.

Employers may not effectively bring skilled immigrants onboard for the following reasons:

  • Lack of familiarity with international credentials and experience
  • Preference or requirement of Canadian work experience
  • Concerns about language proficiency and lack of awareness about
  • Canadian technical terminology and idioms
  • Concerns about lack of understanding of Canadian culture and business norms
  • Lack of access to skilled immigrant talent pools and local immigrant communities

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the Canadian economy. Collectively, they employ 64% of private sector workers in Canada, and account for 45% of Canada’s GDP.

However, small- and medium-sized companies may not be engaged in long-term human resource planning and may not be familiar with how hiring skilled immigrants can benefit their business. Even when SMEs are familiar with the business case for hiring skilled immigrants, many do not have HR departments or the capacity to participate in labour market integration programs.

To date, most successful initiatives that enable skilled immigrants to access suitable employment have been focused within large organizations with HR departments and policies.

Read about 10 common misconceptions and attitudes on Canadian immigration and how they are addressed with recent research.