Highlights

30 january 2013

Immigrants over-qualified, underpaid

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(Concordia University)
Prof. Mesbah Sharaf says immigrants' job-education mismatch is costly for Canada.

Two-thirds of new immigrants to Canada have more education than their jobs require, according to a new study. Things get better the longer they stay. But the study’s author says Canada should invest in solving the problem which costs the economy an estimated $5 billion dollars a year. Immigrants need to invest too and to be patient, according to Mesbah Sharaf, an assistant professor at Concordia University’s Department of economics in Montreal.

Using data from the government’s Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada Prof. Sharaf found that six months after arriving in Canada, 76.3 per cent of men and 71.8 per cent of women had more education than their jobs required. Four years after arrival the figures improved slightly. 70.4 per cent of men and 64.6 percent of women were over-educated for their jobs. That compared with Canadian-born workers who are 44 per cent qualified.

RCI’s Lynn Desjardins spoke with Prof. Sharaf about his study.
Barriers to recent immigrants include a lack of work experience in Canada, lack of language skills and not having contacts or a social network that often help a person to find a job that matches their education. There may be difficulties in having foreign credentials or schooling recognized and it may be costly and difficult to gain access to professional associations.

Faced with these obstacles many new immigrants feel obliged to take jobs below their skill levels. Prof. Sharaf says this deprives the workplace of valuable expertise. “Immigrants are very important to a country like Canada. They represent more than 20% of the population. They are the main source of labour force growth.”

Taking jobs below their skill level is also bad for the immigrants, says Prof. Sharaf. “Studies have shown that they suffer from poor health, job dissatisfaction, high rates of absenteeism, low productivity and the most important is that their wages are very low. This imposes a burden on government which may have to provide financial assistance.”

But things do improve. “The more you stay in the host country ,” says Prof. Sharaf “the higher the probability your situation will improve. But during this period you have to invest.” Prof. Sharaf found that immigrants who got language training or who furthered their education or training were more able to find jobs that matched their qualifications and their earnings improved.

The situation could be improved by both the government and the immigrants in Prof. Sharaf’s view. He suggests the government should offer more language training for immigrants and that immigrants should seek to have their credentials recognized before they come to Canada. Those are just a few ideas and he thinks more  solutions must be explored to mitigate the difficulties immigrants face in finding jobs to match their skills.

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