To retain immigrants, decision-makers must address systemic failures

March 30, 2022

By Vancouver is Awesome

It’s high-time to recognize that it’s not so much Canada doing a favour for immigrants, but rather immigrants who are crucial to Canada’s labour market, according to a settlement advocate speaking at the 24th Metropolis Canada Conference on March 24.

“Immigration is predominantly driven by labour market needs, and this will be true more so than ever. People are coming here because we need them,” Neelam Sahota, CEO of the DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, said during the opening plenary session of the conference on migration, integration, and inclusion, which took place in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“We need to move away from the dangerous rhetoric of the grateful immigrant,” she said, referring to the often one-sided notion that migrants are privileged to be in Canada, which limits their access to the same rights and sense of dignity as other individuals living in Canada.

Although immigrants account for 23.8 per cent of the current Canadian workforce, they are disproportionately represented in occupations deemed “essential” to all Canadians and thus more at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus: from hospitals to the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, their presence has been, and continues to be, crucial to addressing labour market needs across the country.

“COVID-19 has clearly highlighted the importance of immigration into Canada,” Director General of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Corinne Prince said at the session. “Newcomers have played an essential role on the frontlines of the pandemic.”

In fact, while immigration “already accounts for almost 100 per cent of labour force growth,” according to the government’s own calculations, “with 5 million Canadians set to retire by the end of this decade, the worker to retiree ratio will drop down to only 3:1. This is a clear sign that we have a strong economic need for increased immigration.”

‘Seismic upgrading’ required
However, as the pandemic has highlighted the systemic issues keeping immigrants largely in precarious, low-wage jobs, panelists were wary about Canada’s ability to draw and retain foreign talent in the long term.

According to Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada, it can’t be assumed that Canada will be able to acquire the workers that it needs from beyond its borders, despite unprecedented levels of new migrants entering the country in the past year.

“Part of the challenge here is that immigrants, especially immigrant women, are overrepresented in the industries hardest hit by the pandemic…like accommodation, food services and healthcare sectors,” Arora said, adding that women who are recent immigrants saw greater unemployment in mid-2020, reaching a peak of nearly 22 per cent in April 2020, compared to 12 per cent of Canadian-born women.

Sahota remains more cautiously optimistic about Canada’s ability to realistically meet the needs of new Canadians and provide the support they need to feel like they belong here – but not without “social seismic upgrading” of our current frameworks.

“As we all continue to witness the tragic unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, we’re witnessing that government can indeed welcome immigrants and refugees with less barriers to entry,” Sahota said.

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