PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. (CUP) – Despite the fact that most immigrants to rural regions are more educated than their native-born counterparts, they have difficulty finding employment. According to local scholar, Marius Curteanu, until Canada recognizes foreign credentials, the Canadian economy will suffer.
Curteanu immigrated to Canada from Romania 20 years ago, so he knows first-hand the challenges that immigrants face. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) where he researches issues affecting immigrants who move to Canada’s rural areas.
Canada has the most immigrants per capita in the world. According to Statistics Canada, rural regions attract about 12,000 immigrants a year. Of those, approximately 3,000 move to rural B.C.
But immigrants are struggling to find work under Canada’s current policies that do not recognize many foreign qualifications, Curteanu explained. This underutilization of the skilled-labour work-force amounts to a loss of $2 billion annually.
“Employment barriers have grown rather than evaporated,” said Curteanu.
“Recent immigrants are having an increasingly difficult time in the labour market…experiencing higher unemployment and lack of recognition of foreign credentials.”
Statistics Canada found that in Canada’s rural regions, immigrants are more educated than the Canadian-born. In rural northern regions over 20 per cent of native residents have not received a high school diploma, compared to less than 15 per cent of immigrants. In the same areas, 23 per cent of immigrants are university graduates compared to 17 per cent of Canadian-born citizens.
Immigrants to rural northern B.C. are also disadvantaged by the lack of immigration resources. The Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society (IMSS) located in Prince George offer settlement services to integrate immigrants into the community and employment services to help them find work. This is the only service of its kind in the region.
“Prince George is lucky,” said Sue Rudland, employment counsellor at IMSS. “There are major differences between rural facilities and those available in cities. Prince George is the only community in northern B.C. that has employment services specifically for immigrants.”
Rudland agrees with Curteanu that unrecognized credentials are preventing many new residents from finding work.
“Most [immigrants] come well trained and have lots of work experience, but their credentials aren’t accepted in Canada,” she said.
Rudland said it’s “difficult, but not impossible” for immigrants to gain the credentials needed to work in their field.
Some go back to school to gain the required qualifications; others either take a job with few required credentials or pursue other training.
“We invite people to come to Canada, then we should facilitate credential recognition,” she said. She urges the Canadian government to “invest in the educated immigrant.”
Baljit Sethi has been the executive director of IMSS since the organization was founded 30 years ago. Over the past three decades Sethi has seen many skilled immigrants struggling to find employment.
She shared the story of a man who emigrated from Iran to Canada with his family four years ago. Although he had a master’s degree in psychology from an Iranian institution, he was employed as a taxi driver. He didn’t have the time or money to return to school – he had to support his family.
Sethi said this man’s circumstances aren’t unique. These situations will continue to occur until the government beings to recognize foreign credentials, she added.