Plus ça change…
The Minister of Immigration has let it be known that we can soon expect changes in the way economic immigrants are selected under the Federal Skilled Worker program. We don’t yet know the exact details but from the dropped hints, you can pretty well rest assured that applicants in the professions will be required to prove their credentials meet Canadian standards and that more weight will be given to language proficiency.
Why these changes in particular? Because that’s what Australia does and there is a perception among our policy-makers that the Australian selection system produces better results than the current Canadian model. By “better results” I mean there is less of an earnings gap between newcomers and native-born Australians, when compared to Canada. So the reasoning goes that if we move closer to the way our friends Down Under do things, immigrants in Canada will have an easier time catching-up to the earning power of native-born Canadians. This assertion feels right but a recent paper out of the University of Waterloo debunks the proposition.
It is true that some years back Australia tightened its immigration program with respect to English fluency and professional credential equivalency and since then, the overall labour market success of immigrants has improved. So far, so good. However, the Waterloo study shows that when you dig beneath the surface, a different story unfolds.
The researchers tested the theory that Australia’s tightened immigration policy contributed to the success of immigrants in the workforce by looking at the labour market performance of three distinct groups of immigrants: men of British, Chinese and Indian origin. What they found was very interesting. As you would expect, British immigrants had little trouble being absorbed into the local labour market and quickly reached the earnings level of native-born Australians. However, the Chinese and Indian groups did not fare as well. Even though they were pre-screened for credential equivalency and language fluency their earnings lagged significantly. In fact, pre-screened Chinese immigrants in Australia not only did poorly when compared to native-born Australians, they also lagged behind Chinese immigrants in Canada, who are not vetted as carefully before their arrival. As for the Indian group in Australia, they were worse off than their countrymen who were admitted to Australia before the stiffer immigration rules.
The study concludes that there is no evidence to suggest that Australia’s tightened immigration policy helped newcomers get ahead in the workforce. What the policy shift did accomplish, however, was to change the ethnic composition of new arrivals in Australia. The tighter rules saw a tapering-off of Asian immigration and an influx of Brits. Like the rising tide that lifts all boats, so too have the average earnings of all Australian immigrants improved as a direct result of the recent British invasion. Today, UK nationals account for 20% of immigrants in Australia but less than 5% of Canada’s immigrant population.
So as the Australian model shows, unless our policy makers can come up with a program that attracts applicants who look a lot like their eventual Canadian employers and filters out most everyone else, don’t expect to close that earnings gap in Canada any time soon.