Newcomers: Immigrants of All Ages

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By Claudio Muñoz

On November 1st, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, went to the podium at the Top Employer Summit in Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel to talk about the value of immigrants. He started with familiar statements: that Canada needs immigrants; that newcomers will account for all growth in the workforce by 2015, and he announced that the government will maintain the current rate of immigration.

He acknowledged, though, that immigrants are not necessarily living the Canadian dream. “Data from roughly the late 1970’s until the beginning of this past decade indicated declining outcomes for newcomers – lower incomes, higher unemployment and some real challenges”, he said.

This is the argument that some advocacy groups use to request fundamental changes to Canada’s immigration policies. Their concerns are the rapid growth of already congested cities like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the strain that newcomers and their families put on the economy, and the argument that that current immigration rates might discourage Canadians from acquiring the skills necessary to fill shortages in the workforce.

But the government has no intention of reducing immigration levels; instead they are focusing on strengthening their current selection system and helping immigrants in their transition. On November 25th Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced the results of a recent evaluation of the skilled worker program, stating that skilled immigrants are in fact contributing to Canada’s economy already.

The evaluation measured whether the current federal skilled worker program is selecting immigrants who are more likely to succeed economically in Canada. “It showed that skilled immigrants are doing well in Canada and filling gaps in our work force,” said Minister Kenney about the study, and added “This puts some dents in the doctors-driving-taxis stereotype.”

There is plenty to do, though. Another report issued by The Conference Board of Canada in October revealed that the risk-taking attitude that leads to making the decision to start a new life in a foreign country is the kind of attitude that leads to innovation. The report “Immigrants as Innovators: Boosting Canada’s Global Competitiveness” found that even though immigrants are a source of diverse knowledge and experience that can increase innovation in Canadian businesses, they still face barriers such as inadequate recognition of international experience and qualifications, and lack of opportunities to put their skills to good use.

Precisely to address problems like these, a new selection system was put in place in 2002 with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) law, and according to CIC’s evaluation of its performance it has succeeded in improving skilled immigrants’ ability to contribute to the economy, by analysing the worker’s overall capacity to adapt to Canada’s labour market and awarding points for language ability, education, work experience, age and pre-arranged employment. The study revealed that skilled workers selected under the IRPA criteria have incomes as much as 65 percent higher than those of workers chosen under the pre-IRPA system, with average employment earnings for those with pre-arranged employment of $79,200 three years after landing.

They are also less likely to use employment insurance or social assistance. The results also show a strong and continuing need for skilled immigrants in Canada, because of skill shortages resulting from economic growth and increasing rates of retirement associated with the aging population.

The majority of federal skilled workers arrive between the ages of 30 and 39, and as heads of households meeting the selection criteria, they tend to come with their spouses and under-age children, and some of them, after settling in Canada, bring their parents or grandparents to join them through a family sponsoring process.

Each member of a family faces a different type of challenge and they also make a different kind of contributions. Children adapt easily to their new life. Nonetheless, they could have a hard time integrating in their new school, might face isolation, and even bullying. There are programs to help them get with this transition, like the settlement workers at school program or the Now week. In the long term, statistics show that immigrant children tend to achieve higher levels of education than children of Canadian-born parents and therefore are better prepared for being successful. Even so, there are studies that show that certain ethnic groups do better than others.

Skilled immigrants are the usual protagonists of stories of immigration. The common barriers are lack of Canadian experience, limited language skills or professional experience in careers that require accreditation. But, according to the government, they seem to be improving. Incorporating immigrants to the labour force can improve innovation, diversity, and thus flexibility, open international contacts and so on.

Elder immigrants, over 60 when they arrive and considered “immediate elders”, came here for very different reasons, usually as part of family reunification. Basically they are the responsibility of their sponsor for ten years. Isolation is one of the biggest problems they face in Canada.

Their contributions to Canada might be limited, nonetheless they help families thrive and succeed.

No matter at what age immigrants arrive, they all faced an adaptation process. There is some assistance that can help you ease this transition: school age children can get support and orientation at school, adult immigrants can find language, and employment services that could help them re-start their careers. Seniors can find programs to stay healthy, active and fight isolation. There is something for everyone.

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