What’s Wrong with This Picture?

March 8th, 2007

Consider these facts:

– For the fourth consecutive year, the Canadian economy is strong and vibrant.

– In many regions of Canada there are more jobs that pay well than there are people to work at them.

They say that “a rising tide carries all the ships” but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The reality is that Canada has well-paying jobs that go begging and eager economic immigrants, whose skills are being underutilized. Statistics show that it’s taking longer for new economic immigrants to share in Canada’s prosperity than it did for economic immigrants, who came to Canada 30 or 40 years ago.

Why should that be?

Conventional Canadian wisdom has it that the problem lies in a flawed immigration policy, which is a polite way of saying that the people to whom we have recently issued visas just aren’t up to snuff. Talk about blaming the victim. The truth is that recent Canadian economic immigrants have the same or better qualifications than their earlier counterparts – so there’s nothing inherently wrong with the immigration selection system.

Thirty years ago, economic immigrants were able to match the salaries of Canadian born workers faster than recent economic immigrants have been able to. What’s changed?

In my opinion, what’s changed is that recent economic immigrants are coming from different parts of the world than they did 30 years ago – areas where the population is not as fair-skinned. Immigrants who arrived here 40 years ago had a stronger resemblance to the people who did the hiring and consequently, had less trouble landing rewarding jobs. The issue here is a disconnect between the predominantly white Canadian employers and the non-white job-seekers.

Comparing the economic performance of immigrants to the performance of the Canadian population as a whole doesn’t tell the full story. Thirty years ago, statisticians were comparing predominantly white immigrants to mostly white Canadian-borns. More recently, they are comparing predominantly non-white immigrants to mostly white Canadian-borns.

In order to properly assess the economic success of new Canadian immigrants, we should measure the economic performance of recent immigrants to that of non-white Canadian-borns. One such study, done a few years ago (Canadian Council on Social Development – Urban Poverty in Canada: A Statistical Profile, April 2000), demonstrated that the economic performance of all non-whites (whether born in Canada or abroad) are similar, and lower than the economic performance of white Canadian-borns.

So, for what its worth, I’m of the view that it’s not Canada’s immigration policy that requires an overhaul so much as the attitudes of white Canadians towards non-whites.

I do not mean this as a diatribe against the majority of Canadians. Discrimination is a relative concept and no place on earth is completely free of prejudice. Compared to most people, I really do believe that Canadians are open and accommodating. The reality is that most immigrants are successful in Canada – it just takes longer than it ought to. Canadians can do better.

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