Tuesday, June 14, 2005
The Big Picture
Immigrants in Canada: Have Ph.D, must sweep
Canada is doing an appalling job of integrating skilled immigrants into its society. This is unfortunate on so many levels. Canada is failing to build upon its only competitive advantage against other immigration destinations : a tolerant society. Canada needs to capitalize on the strongest of the three T's - Talent, Technology and Tolerance - that it has going for it. I have ranted extensively about this earlier. Richard Florida has picked up on this at the macro level.
I think there is a strong need for nations such as Canada that are on the losing side of macroecon to develop specific competitive strategies. All I've seen traditionally is the so-called "grand strategies" to advance national interest and maximize its economic-political power in the external arena. However, these strategies hardly ever evolve beyond the politico-bureaucratic-corporate elite protecting their own interests and deluding themselves into believing that to be equivalent to national interest. I have hardly ever seen an example of a national government consciously doing comparative advantage analysis and implementing specific competitive strategies to develop internal strengths and capabilities: Ireland is the only (refreshing) exception that I can think of. Canada is on the losing side due to its sheer insignificance in world markets beyond selling resources. However, it's making things much worse by blowing an opportunity to leverage its very strong brand equity in the migrant skills market.
Canada attracts enough talent that, given the right enablers to flourish, can transform it into a higly competitive economy with a potential to develop a number of world-class sectors from technology and international trade to finance. But this requires the government to take on entrenched lobbies of white-collar professionals within the country that are fiercely resisting competition from foreign labour. Hence the Kafka-esque situation: the left hand of the government does an excellent job of marketing Canada into the migrant skills market to attract them into the country, but the right hand of the government then does its very best to ensure that every possible obstacle is and/or remains, in place to frustrate the immigrants' integration into the economy to deprive the economy of their productive potential. The result? A dead-weight loss to the tune of as much as C$15 billion. However, as the market begins to wisen up, Canada will quickly lose its cachet, lose its critical mass of talent and relegate itself to the status of a forgotten tundra producing oil, lumber and water for the rest of the world. This would be a tragedy because it has the potential to emerge as a caring, diverse and inclusive society - indeed a model - for the world. But for now, my advice for potential immigrants to Canada is caveat emptor.
Both my parents are immigrants to Canada. However, my father actually found a job BEFORE he moved here.
I can understand the plight of these people but there are certain important factors that are not mentioned or are glossed over. First, Canadian citizens should have the right to a job for which they are qualified before a foreign immigrant. The standard of education for Canadians has gone up, and the market for high paying jobs is simply not as lucrative as it was for non-Canadians. As far as essential services are concerned, such as medical doctors, Canada isn't crying to anybody about our shortage. There is no mystery that to work as a Canadian physician you have to get Canadian certification. This is the same in most developed countries, and it's medicine, so it's not a simple process.
Also, I find it hard to justify the stats that immigrants make x percent less than Canadians doing the same job. I'm not saying this stat isn't true, I'm just saying the reason may not necessarily be discrimination. Racial barriers, communication barriers, and xenophobia is not only part of Canadian culture but it can be part of immigrants culture as well. You can't expect to move to Canada, not speak either official language well, nor understand Canadian customs and practices, and then excel in our work force. However, you see this in the large multicultural cities with entire suburbs populated by culturally, racially and linguistically segregated groups. This isn't the spirit of multiculturalism, and I beleive it is one of the key factors behind the disparity we see today. Finally, for what ever percentage of immigrants having horror stories about living and working in this country, I'm sure there is a similar percentage of Canadians with similar accounts.
All very valid points, dhd. I absolutely agree that the general job market in Canada is not that great and immigrants do bear the responsibility for pro-actively immersing themselves into Canadian work culture.
However, my point is that there are policy and systemic issues that Canada must address because the soical and economic costs of not doing that are just too high. The stats about immigrants earning less than similarly qualified Canadians is backed by solid research, see Reitz from U of T, for example: http://www.utoronto.ca/ethnicstudies/Reitz_Skill.pdf
The least that Canada can do is ensure that immigration policy is in synch with the reluctance to fix immigrant skill absorption issues. If Ontario does not want/need/care for foreign doctors, why give a foreign doctor applicant the highest points on the immigration qualifiying scale to attract them to Canada in the first place?
Even beyond the $15B or so of economic costs estimated by Reitz, this has created an underclass of foreign qualified professionals, which is not a good thing for what's otherwise an ideal society in many respects. While the immigrants themselves are partially responsible for this, I think Canadian policy-makers need to confront this very real and important issue.
BTW, I personally don't think the key issue is discrimination although it may be a part of the story. I think a lot more has to do with good-ol' fashioned protectionism from interest groups concerned about competition in what is already a tough job market.