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July 2005, Volume 12, Number 3

Canada: Brain Waste

Brain Waste. Canada uses a point system to select immigrants likely to contribute economically to Canada, ensuring that most newcomers are young, speak English or French, and are well-educated- 45 percent of adults arriving in 2000 had university degrees. However a quarter of the recent immigrants with a university degree are working at jobs that require only a high school diploma or less, and only half are working in Canadian jobs that use their credentials three years after arrival.

The earnings of immigrants relative to comparable Canadian-born workers have been declining, in part because many immigrants with doctorates are now driving taxis. University-educated immigrant men 25 to 54 who arrived in Canada between 1990 and 1999 earned an average C$41,700 in 2000, while comparable Canadian-born men earned an average C$66,500. There are concentrations of Chinese immigrants in science and technology, and of Black West Indians in health care.

So-called "brain waste," when immigrants work in occupations below those for which they qualify, is estimated to cost the Canadian economy C$2 billion a year, in the sense that immigrant earnings would be C$2 billion higher if they worked in the occupations for which they are educated. The government made grants to professional organizations so that they can more quickly determine if foreign-trained doctors, nurses, engineers and other professionals can obtain licenses to work in Canada. Their children, educated in Canada, typically have no problems getting licenses.

There are 13 jurisdictions, 15 regulated professions and more than 400 regulatory bodies in Canada. Joe Volpe, minister of citizenship and immigration, said that Canada has "an arcane infrastructure of professional organizations that essentially mitigate against the immediate integration of these highly skilled immigrants." Several business leaders unveiled a web site,, to promote the hiring of qualified immigrants.

Several professions have launched programs to speed up recognition of immigrants' credentials with the help of government grants. For example, the International Pharmacy Graduate Program offers gap-filling courses to those trained outside North America so that they can more quickly get licenses to work in Canada. Ontario, which estimates it has a shortage of 2,000 doctors and 4,000 foreign medical graduates who do not have Canadian licenses, is taking steps to speed up the review of their credentials.

Many private firms, such as World Education Services offer to assess foreigners' credentials for a fee. However, many Canadian employers continue to insist that the workers they hire have Canadian work experience.

Average hourly earnings in Canada are C$19 an hour, or almost C$700 a week. Analysis of why the earnings of highly educated immigrants selected under the point system are declining focus on rising levels of education for Canadian-born workers and Canadian employers being reluctant to acknowledge and value credentials earned abroad.

Canadian graduates are much more likely to be working in the occupations for which they trained than recent immigrants. Analysts note that it has taken a great deal of time for Canadian employers to assess and recognize credentials earned in other provinces and in the US, so it is no wonder that they are slow to recognize credentials earned in Asia, the source of most Canadian immigrants nowadays. Another factor may be that Canada greatly expanded its universities in the early 1990s, which may have increased competition in the labor market.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of 2001 (Bill C-11) aimed to ease the integration of immigrants into the Canadian labor market by increasing the emphasis on language skills and education, and reducing the points for specific occupational skills. C-11 also provided an avenue for foreign workers and students in Canada to become immigrants if they had sponsoring Canadian employers.

Prime Minister Paul Martin, whose Liberal party has been mired in a corruption scandal, won a vote of confidence 153-152 in May 2005 and retained power. Even if there is a political change, there is not likely to be a significant change in immigration policy.

The chair of a House of Commons committee said there may be 400,000 workers in Canada's underground economy. The introduction of exit visas, which track the number of visitors who stay beyond their scheduled stay in Canada, has been proposed as a way to collect data on unauthorized foreigners.

Settlement. Ontario reached an agreement with the federal government to increase the settlement funds available to integrate new immigrants. Immigrants pay fees that cover the cost of language training and counseling services: C$500 for each adult plus a C$975 landing fee, and they are generally eligible for social welfare services upon arrival. Ontario, which receives 57 percent of Canada's immigrants, gets C$800 per immigrant in federal support, while Quebec gets C$3,800; the new agreement will narrow the gap.

Since 1970, the Quebec provincial government has had the right to select immigrants, with the number determined by the province's share of the Canadian population. Quebec favors French-speakers, but many of the immigrants selected by Quebec soon move on to other provinces, especially to Ontario and British Columbia.

Canada has officially been a multicultural society since 1971, when the policy was adopted to diffuse the French-English conflict by protecting the French language and supporting the cultures of the various groups in Canada. Multiculturalism was included in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the live-and-let-live attitude it embraces has become a national symbol of the Canadian mosaic, which is often contrasted with the US melting pot.

Asylum. Judy Sgro, the ex-immigration minister, was cleared in May 2005 by the federal Ethics Commissioner of conflict-of-interest allegations in the granting of a temporary-resident permit to an exotic dancer; her successor, Joe Volpe, canceled the exotic dancer program. She was forced to resign in January 2005 when a failed asylum seeker claimed she promised him asylum in exchange for free pizza and help on her campaign; he was deported after 17 years in Canada.

The man, Harjit Singh, who said he feared persecution in India, was reportedly building his second home in Jalandhar, a city of two million in the Punjab, in May 2005. His case prompted Canadian government officials to acknowledge that they needed to speed up final decisions in asylum cases. The Canadian Border Services Agency has 350 inland removal officers who remove about 10,000 foreigners a year, including 1,500 criminals.

In April 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees everyone on Canadian soil, including asylum seekers, the right to fundamental justice, including an oral hearing. The Immigration and Refugee Board was created in 1989, and had to deal with a backlog of 115,000 cases that had accumulated. The IRB was staffed with political appointees rather than migration experts, and several were accused of incompetence and corruption.

By 2005, most of the IRB judges were professionals, and the backlog was reduced to 26,000. There were 25,000 asylum applications in 2004, when IRB judges granted asylum to 40 percent of the applicants.

Failed asylum applicants can try to stay in Canada by asking for a review based on unusual hardship if removed, ask a Federal Court to review mistakes in law made by an IRB judge, or request a pre-removal risk assessment that may find that the foreigner would face torture or danger at home. About 60 percent of the hardship appeals result in the foreigner being allowed to stay in Canada, and investigations take an average 30 months, reportedly giving incentives to parents to have "anchor babies" that improve their chances of staying in Canada. A majority of Canadians in opinion polls say they want to end automatic birthright citizenship. The IRB's annual budget is about C$100 million.

Secure Borders. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks snarled the movement of people and goods over the 4,000 mile Canada-US border, sometimes described as the longest "unguarded" border in the world. In order to keep the flow of people and goods flowing freely, Canada and the US in December 2001 signed a Smart Border plan that, inter alia, created a NEXUS program to allow pre-approved, low-risk travelers to cross the border in an expedited fashion by air, land and water. A similar FAST program facilitates low-risk shipments of goods across the border.

In December 2004, Canada and the US allow foreigners to seek asylum in only one of the two countries. In 2004, some 6,000 foreigners entered Canada from the US and applied for asylum. As of December 2004, Canada and the United States had common visa policies for 175 countries and different policies for 18 countries. Both Canada and the US station migration officers at overseas airports to intercept high-risk travelers.

Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal from Vancouver, who immigrated from Liberia in 1991 as a business investor, was accused in June 2005 of violating the rules governing investment and job creation. Grewal made news by demanding that Canadians seeking visas for their relatives to visit post bonds to ensure that their relatives leave Canada, and then said that the Liberals discussed giving him a cabinet post in May 2005 in exchange for voting with them to support the government. Grewal's wife is Conservative MP Nina Grewal.

In June 2005, Canada's Supreme Court struck down a Quebec law banning private medical insurance. The decision threatens the current system of publicly financed national health care. Canada is the only industrialized county that outlaws privately financed purchases of core medical services. The Court ruled that long waiting lists violated patients' "life and personal security, inviolability and freedom."

Grant Robertson, "Canada has no handle on illegal immigrant workers: Federal policy needed to legitimize up to 400,000 underground workers, Liberal MP says," CanWest News Service, May 30, 2005. Jonathan Woodward, "A bumper crop of migrant labourers," Globe and Mail, May 25, 2005. Shaun Waterman, "Canada fears new generation of terrorists," UPI, May 12, 2005. Reitz, Jeffrey. 2005. Tapping Immigrants' Skills: New Directions for Canadian Immigration Policy in the Knowledge Economy. Choices. Vol 11. No 1, February.