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Ontario is proposing legislation that would help internationally-trained immigrants get work in their field of expertise.

October 29, 2021

By Peterborough Examiner |

The pandemic has shed light on how immigrants and foreign workers are the backbone of the essential workforce that keeps the flow of goods and services uninterrupted during the crisis.

Now, for the first time, a new study has looked at the data to back it up.

Based on custom government data, the Conference Board of Canada examined the representation of immigrants and temporary foreign workers in sectors and occupations identified by Ottawa as “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although immigrants only account for 23.8 per cent of the Canadian workforce, they are “overrepresented” in major essential jobs: transit and passenger transportation (39.7 per cent); food manufacturing (34.85 per cent); administrative and support services (29.84 per cent); truck transportation (29.71 per cent); nursing and residential care facilities (29.21 per cent); personal and laundry services (28.1 per cent); and food services and restaurants (27.43 per cent).

Temporary foreign workers are also an increasing source of labour in the farm and food manufacturing subsectors.

Work permit holders — who make up around 1.4 per cent of the overall labour force — are overrepresented in food services (3.4 per cent); accommodation services (2.7 per cent); professional and technical services and food manufacturing, both at 2 per cent.
“Immigrants and temporary residents are critical in the essential sectors and occupations. That’s very clear,” said study author Yilmaz Dinc, senior research associate at the Conference Board specializing in immigration.

“As the pandemic has shown, we don’t only need people with bachelor’s, master’s and doctor’s degrees. We also need people with manual skills. We need truck drivers, nurse aides and workers in food manufacturing. It’s important to create an immigration pathway for people with those skills to arrive in Canada as permanent residents.”

The data also revealed a chronic problem within the country’s immigration system that rewards high education achievements and professional work experiences but fails to utilize those talent and match them with jobs that are commensurate with those qualifications.

The report found that overqualification is particularly common among newcomers working as nurse aides, orderlies, and patient service associates (45 per cent); transport truck drivers (28 per cent); and process control and machine operators in food and beverage processing (34 per cent). Similar trends are observed for temporary residents in these occupations.

Among truck drivers, for instance, more than 25 per cent of the immigrants and 16.8 per cent of foreign workers in the occupation have a bachelor’s degree even though their role doesn’t require one — an indication the study says that these workers’ skills and knowledge have been underutilized.

The study said immigrants who came under the economic class such as the federal skilled workers program — which often requires post-secondary education — constitute a significant proportion of the immigrant workforce in essential subsectors.

In 2015, 45.7 per cent of the 91,500 permanent residents working in food manufacturing and 52.6 per cent of the 89,000 permanent residents employed in nursing and residential care facilities came here as economic immigrants based on their skills and qualifications.

It’s not like migrants are drawn to essential jobs with low pay and little job mobility, said Dinc, but they have few options.

“These are hard jobs. Many of these sectors, again and again, face difficulties in attracting domestic labour. What happens is these sectors turn to newcomers and temporary residents to fill those vacancies,” he said.

“They are more readily available than some of the better-paying, better-quality jobs. And that’s how the overrepresentation of immigrants and foreign workers becomes stronger and stronger.”

To build a stable essential workforce resilient to disruptions such as a global pandemic, Dinc said policy-makers can’t just rely on the import of temporary foreign workers and on overqualified permanent residents, who would seek other opportunities that arise.

Over the longer term, governments and employers must address the precarious conditions faced by essential workers by improving the benefits and wages to recognize their contributions to the economy not just during pandemic times.

“You have to create pathways to permanent residency for these essential workers to fill essential job vacancies. On the other hand, there needs to be a fresh approach to compensation, career advancement and job mobility to make those jobs attractive not just to immigrants but also Canadians,” said Dinc.

Earlier this year, Ottawa rolled out a one-time special immigration program to grant permanent residence to 90,000 recent international graduates as well as temporary foreign workers with work experience in essential occupations.

Dinc said immigration officials must tweak their existing selection criteria to ensure regular permanent residence pathways are available for migrants to fill essential jobs.

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