When Immigration and Economy Collide

Multiculturalism has been one of the cornerstones of Canada’s national identity throughout its history. Indeed, the country is often spoken of a “Nation of Immigrants,” an epithet proudly infused into the national psyche. Unlike in many European nations, no major political party in Canada would dare run on an anti-immigration platform: to do so would be political suicide. Not only are new Canadians a strong and important voting bloc, but the vast majority of the population sees immigration favorably, as a defining characteristic of Canada.

It is curious, then, that one particular group of new Canadians is facing hurdles unlike nearly any other. In a flooded job market, with rampant high unemployment and sagging economic output, nobody is asking how young immigrants are faring. We know that young people are by far the most affected segment of the workforce when it comes to unemployment, and that many immigrants have trouble finding jobs. Combine those factors, and you create a dire situation for an increasingly large group. When it comes to employment, young immigrants may be the most challenged group in Canada.

It’s important to differentiate between two different kinds of “young immigrant.” First, there are those who were born elsewhere and recently came to Canada either on their own or with their families. These young people came with the hope of a good education and plentiful work. Secondly, there are people that were born here, but whose parents came from abroad within the last two or three decades. Those parents have often struggled through years of tough circumstances and low-paying jobs in the hopes their children would have better futures here than if they remained in their home countries. However, with the state of the job market today, both groups are now facing deep problems.

The Globe and Mail published an interesting infographic article recently. Entitled “Debt-ridden and Unemployed,” the piece highlights the plight of a young Iranian woman who, despite being multilingual and well-educated, is facing grim employment prospects. She, like many other young graduates, has opted to return to school in the hopes of a better set of job opportunities down the road. As a young immigrant, her precarious situation must be especially alarming: where is the land of jobs and opportunity she presumably came here expecting? Even if she does find a job, will it pay well enough to offset her massive student debt?

There is a particularly interesting situation arising among the large Indian and Chinese population groups that have recent arrived to Canada. Although they’ve come in large numbers over the past few decades, we are starting to see a reversal in their trajectory: many of the young, the brightest and most talented graduates, are leaving the economic limbo of North America behind and returning to booming industry sectors and high-paying jobs in their native lands. This is something we, and other Western economies, can’t afford.

Canada is being affected by a demographic phenomenon that is common among the majority of Western nations: a national “Greying.” Essentially, after experiencing massive population booms after WWII, Western nations are now seeing those so-called “Boomers” enter retirement and old age in a massive cohort. This population shift away from the workforce and into, essentially, dependency is already causing economic strain—and it’s only going to increase.

The perceived solution to this decline, perhaps more here in Canada than anywhere else in the world, has been immigration. Attracting large numbers of people from around the world (mostly Asia in recent years) has been seen as a way to offset the demographic shift in workforce power and to stabilize economies before they suffer. The problem is that the same economic problems we seek to avoid with native-born persons leaving the workforce are causing immigrants to either stop coming, or worse, leave after arriving. Once again, it is mostly young people that are leading this exodus back to growing, emerging economies like China and India.

So what can we do? Well, we must start by ensuring that skilled immigrants are targeted for immigration and have job security when they arrive. There has been a large push among all levels of government in this regard. Secondly, those who do arrive here must be able to work in their desired fields. Too many doctors and engineers from other countries are here cleaning hotels or driving taxis. There must be simple and easily accessible ways to have their skills verified or upgraded to meet Canadian standards.

Finally, a stronger drive to create new positions for young graduates is the key to solving this escalating problem. If young immigrants (and young Canadians in general) don’t start seeing more favorable prospects here, they will continue to leave in large numbers. In short, we need a plan and we need it now. We just can’t afford to sit on our hands any longer.

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