How Canada can improve immigrant outcomes and fill labour gaps in essential services: study

posted on November 24, 2021

By CIC News | November 16, 2021

A recent Conference Board of Canada study offers suggestions to improve the nature of essential work in Canada.

Canada’s immigration system is designed to fill labour shortages, and yet the current system is not keeping up with the demand for essential workers.

One of the reasons is that Canada has a number of immigration pathways for workers in “skilled occupations,” which do not always include jobs that are in-demand. Also, the process for regulated industries, such as nursing, result in fewer qualified workers being able to work in the field that they trained for.

The Conference Board of Canada recently released a study offering recommendations on how policy can improve the situation for the Canadian labour market, and for immigrants who find themselves underemployed. The study is called Valued Workers, Valuable Work: The Current and Future Role of (Im)migrant Talent, and it is written by Dr. Yilmaz Dinc.

Immigrants make up nearly a quarter of Canada’s workforce, with high percentages working in food manufacturing, truck transportation, nursing and residential care facilities.

Canadian-born workers generally avoid essential occupations, as these jobs are often undervalued, offer low compensation, and lack career mobility. As a result, newcomers tend to take on these jobs, even though they may be overqualified. For example, about 40 per cent of newcomers working as childcare providers and support workers are overqualified, meaning they have university degrees, yet these occupations do not require advanced education.

Overqualification is a problem for both immigrants working in essential jobs, and employers. If immigrants are underemployed they are not making the best use of their education and skills, which limits their earnings, career prospects, and economic contributions. It is a problem for employers because overqualification is associated with lower job satisfaction, which makes it difficult to retain employees.

What follows is a summary of the study’s recommendations on how to fix the gaps in essential sectors, and improve outcomes for immigrants.

Offer permanent residency pathways for essential workers

To mitigate overqualification in essential occupations, the study suggests that there should be more pathways to permanent residence for essential workers. Currently, federal immigration programs cater more to immigrants with degrees. Therefore, employers have to fill job vacancies with overqualified immigrants or temporary residents.

The report offers two solutions to address challenges with overqualification. One, Canada should give out more points in the Express Entry system for essential work. Express Entry is an online application management system for some of the largest immigration programs such as the Federal Skilled Worker Program and the Canadian Experience Class. The Federal Skilled Trades Program is also managed by Express Entry, but it is less popular.

With more points in the Express Entry system, comes a higher chance that candidates will be invited to apply for Canadian immigration. The study is basically saying that if essential work was valued on the Express Entry points system, it would give essential workers a better shot at permanent residency.

The second recommendation is to learn from policy initiatives like the one-time Temporary Residence to Permanent Residence (TR to PR) pathway. In the middle of the pandemic, Canada launched this program in an effort to admit 90,000 temporary workers in essential occupations and recent graduates. Candidates needed to have a job offer, and meet basic language requirements, and apply before November 5, or until the intake caps were reached. For the international graduate’s stream, the cap was reached within 25 hours. The non-healthcare essential workers stream filled up in roughly two months, whereas only 7,155 out of a possible 20,000 healthcare workers applied before the deadline.

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