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Immigrants missing out on $17B due to lack of credit recognition

Andrew Seale
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Newcomers to Canada are making $17 billion less than they could be, according to a report by the Conference Board of Canada.

The Brain Gain 2015: The State of Canada’s Learning Recognition System study found that around 844,000 Canadians are unemployed or underemployed as a result of their credentials from their home country not being recognized. According to the authors, an overhaul of Canada’s recognition system for credentials could boost the annual incomes of those affected an average of $15,000 to $20,000.

“Canada depends on a mobile labour force whose learning credentials are often issued in a different place from where they work,” says Michael Bloom, vice president of industry and strategy for the board, in a press release supporting the data. “When people’s learning and skills are not formally recognized, they are more likely to be unemployed, work part time, or work in jobs beneath their skills set.”

While immigrants make up the largest group of those earning less than they could be because their skills aren’t recognized, nearly 200,000 people are also missing out with out-of-province credentials and a further 120,000 are losing potential revenue with their hands-on, experiential learning not being recognized.

“The findings indicate that despite substantial improvements in recognition and portability of credentials across provincial and territorial borders, the learning recognition gap has grown substantially since 2001,” says Bloom. “Given Canada’s high degree of labour mobility, it needs a more flexible and responsive learning recognition system that allows people to use their skills to the fullest.”

The Conference Board of Canada suggest a few key changes could bolster the country’s recognition system, including adjusting immigration selection and settlement to include learning recognition during the process, drawing stronger parallels between immigration and workforce and development policies, devoting more effort to exporting Canadian post-secondary education curriculum and programs into other countries, committing resources to help employers see the business case for learning recognition, setting up national standards for more occupations and fine-tuning the openness and transparency of existing recognition systems for newcomers.

‎Margaret Eaton, executive director at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) echoes the board’s suggestions, pointing out that Canadian employers seem to have a bit of a hiring bias.

“People say ‘I know U of T or I know Western or I went to Queen's’ and so people give more credence to people that are more like themselves – it’s very tough to overcome those kinds of unconscious biases,” Eaton told Yahoo Canada Finance. “Foreign education gets vastly discounted here, because there isn’t really that understanding and appreciation.”

According to StatsCan figures from 2014, 11.9 per cent of university-educated new Canadians who have been in Canada five years or less were unemployed versus 7.1 per cent unemployment amongst high school grads.

“There’s a very weird bias in our country around Canadianess that you don’t experience in other counties,” says Eaton. “The United States is much more keen on talent and they’re much more willing to take a risk that way.”

Stateside, a foreign education, and perhaps more importantly, foreign experience is an asset.

“We need a culture change amongst employers to stop thinking about immigrants as a risk and start recognizing that the fact that they’re from away is a gift,” says Eaton. “They bring a different perspective, they bring different connections from an international context in business and they’re uniqueness actually adds a different flavour to your team.”