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Immigrant project highlights unfairness in Canadian hiring practices, newcomers say

March 21, 2022

By CBC News |

Cindy Chan, who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, is part of an advocacy project that explores systemic discrimination in Canada’s job market, where many employers reject newcomer job seekers for lacking Canadian work experience. (Elizabeth Chan/Vancouver Community College)
Newcomer Cindy Chan graduated from Dalhousie University in the early ’90s and directed learning programs for three Hong Kong universities for 25 years before immigrating to Vancouver in January 2021.

But despite her Canadian degree and wealth of overseas work experience, she says she had a tough time finding a job in her field.

Chan says she believes all newcomer women deserve a job that reflects their overseas work experience. So in October, she started participating in a storytelling project with the non-profit Pacific Immigrant Resources Society (PIRS).

“Redefining Canadian Experience” publishes stories about immigrant women and their employment experiences in Canada. It received $2,100 in funding from the Vancouver Foundation and aims to highlight systemic discrimination in the job market, where many employers reject immigrant candidates for lacking Canadian work experience.

Chan, who landed a contract position as a program co-ordinator at Vancouver Community College last summer, says she has met many newcomers who have faced many employment challenges despite speaking fluent English.

“One was an English teacher back [in Romania],” she said. “But her first job here was with Tim Hortons, and then she stuck there for a while, and then she moved to a casino and worked as a cashier … she had always wanted to be back to her own field of profession.”

Chan says she knows another woman who, despite her MBA and many years of marketing experience in India, was told by a hiring manager for a junior administration role that other candidates had more local experience than her.

A review report of the project will be submitted to the foundation after it concludes this month.

‘It borders on being ridiculous’

According to Statistics Canada, newcomers, especially visible minority women, are still more likely to become unemployed compared to non-immigrants. The 2016 census data shows a 14.2 per cent unemployment rate among women of colour who immigrated to Canada within the past five years, compared to 6.6 per cent among non-immigrant women of colour.

PIRS program co-ordinator Sanzida Habib says it often takes five years or more for highly-skilled immigrant and refugee women to resume the profession they had before coming to Canada.

Besides struggling to find affordable child care and letting their partner complete additional Canadian education or certification, she says these women feel compelled to do many hours of volunteering to gain Canadian experience they hope can boost their employability.

“That’s not fair,” she said. “You have to volunteer when you need money to settle down in a new place that you have just come to and you don’t have anyone to support you.”

In an interview for the project, Michael Yue, interim director of Vancouver Community College’s partnership development office, says he persuaded recruitment committee members to hire Chan because he viewed her international experience as an asset.

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