Wednesday, June 16, 2004


The Globe and Mail


The plight of Canadian immigrants who can't find suitable work with proper pay is becoming publicly acknowledged.

Their reality is stark.

Many immigrants arrive here to find themselves marginalized, unable to find the skilled positions they were invited to fill.

Solutions exist but they require rigorous involvement from all parties.

We all want to live in a prosperous country. That means every member of our society ought to be able to have the money (and time) for homes, cars, and leisure.

Reports of doctors or engineers who can't practice here or of former senior executives driving taxis after immigrating to Canada don't make me a proud Canadian.

Rather, such cases deprive our society of able talent and diminish opportunities for educated professionals to give their best.

Today's immigrants aren't the same as yesterday's, who arrived penniless, young and unskilled with dreams of a better life. They are educated, they've achieved success back home, and arrived under immigration criteria designed to address our emerging shortages of skilled workers.

They are not all refugees, supported by welfare and provincial medical insurance plans, fleeing dictatorships or war regimes. They are working professionals like ourselves.

Too often, when operating funds are given to social agencies that aid immigrants, the first employment they create is for the organizations, not necessarily for their clients.

Canadians, not immigrants, fill those first employment positions created by government solutions for fast-tracking professional credentials.

This won't alleviate the urgent realities of immigrants who are looking for jobs, renting apartments and risking eviction because their money has run out, or working for a $7 minimum wage in a janitorial job because that's all they could get.

There has been enough consciousness-raising about immigrant jobs. Now we need to act.

What companies, recruiters and human resources departments can do:

Hire immigrants as a priority and implement affirmative action policies for immigrants.

Remove hiring barriers that screen out immigrants needlessly or could be discriminatory, such as requiring Canadian experience and education for regular non-professionally accredited jobs.

Focus on needed skills and whether your candidate can do them. With today's turnover and loyalty, hiring immigrants makes sense.

Remove offensive notices about Canadian work papers. Say it without stigmatizing.

Manage the hiring process for fairness. Many people involved may not have strong human resources backgrounds or human rights knowledge.

Pay people adequately. Can your work force afford to live on what you give them? Recognize how a diverse work force, and one that includes immigrants, can improve productivity and innovation.

During job interviews try to accommodate different presentation styles. An applicant may not brag about accomplishments because that could be considered rude in some cultures.

Keep in mind that university education does not guarantee good job performance.

Employers allocate points to candidates who have one because it has become a norm. In truth, aside from professional designations and highly skilled scientific jobs, most jobs can be done well without it.

The biggest problem with employees today is that their bodies are "present" on the job but their minds are not. Jobs aren't engaging their highly trained minds or don't fulfill them. Successful job performance still depends mostly on attitude, the ability to learn, and good management.

Most immigrants have these along with wisdom and character developed through their experience.

What immigrants can do:

Avoid complaining and commiserating with other immigrants about all the discrimination you face. It's not productive for your success.

Know the other issues. Realize you've arrived after a tough job market in a soft economy and are competing with experienced skilled Canadians who've been down-sized, younger Canadians looking for their first job (with difficulty too) and others who are dissatisfied with their job.

Prevent discrimination through knowledge. To be boldly direct, attach this notice to your application:

"The Canadian Human Rights Code protects all people from discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin and place of origin. If the job you are recruiting for routinely asks immigrants whether they have Canadian experience when that particular kind of job is done fairly similarly in other areas of the world, this could be discriminatory. Similarly if you don't recognize academic credentials of a candidate because they obtained their education outside of Canada and this education is not a required, tested and validated professional credential or licence requirement, you may also be practising discrimination."

If you've suffered discrimination, file a complaint with the applicable human rights commission. Precedent-setting cases that test the Charter of Rights and Freedoms follow through to the Supreme Court level.

Professionally rewrite your résumé to suit the Canadian market in order to detail and sell your experience in a relevant context.

Customize your cover letter for the job you are applying for. Send it to the company directly rather than through a job board.

Though 20 per cent of applicants inflate their qualifications, be honest. Getting caught in a lie could ruin your career after you're hired. Get interview coaching so you are well prepared to handle Canadian style interviews with confidence.

Don't succumb to despair. Keep your hopes and dreams alive. Have a vision for the future you see yourself living. The work force is going to change a lot over the next six years.

Change your first name (if you are willing) to a one-syllable one that's easy to pronounce. This advice is from a now-successful immigrant.

Make Canadian friends outside your ethnic community. Most will care enough to help if they know you. Then, they can refer you to positions and network for you.

Don't work for an employer that doesn't comply with labour laws about wages, vacations, holidays, overtime pay or health and safety. These laws were made as a result of the brave people who fought for them in the labour movement. Learn about them.

Get help through a phone call or a complaint filed with your provincial ministry of labour. If government responds slowly, find an employment lawyer to file charges in court. Community legal clinics can provide resources.

Employers who don't pay immigrants properly could also be practising discrimination, for which there are legal remedies to settle complaints through provincial human rights commissions.

The worst offenders can often be members of your own ethnic community who see an advantage in preying on your circumstance. Stop this with open conversation and support from temples, mosques, churches and community and cultural organizations.

Don't do business with companies that do this to your neighbours, friends and relatives. You can organize peaceful demonstrations, with picketing, posters and information to protest as allowed by Canadian law.

Know the power of the Internet. Websites like and give workers powerful communication tools and organizing capabilities in an age of emerging corporate transparency.

What governments can do:

Create searchable Web lists of employers with unsettled pay claims and of legal and employment resources.

Contract young lawyers/interns to settle claims quickly.

Publish articles in ethnic/community newspapers advising on immigrant rights.

What lawyers and community legal clinics can do:

Provide services specifically targeted at immigrant employment issues.

Provide resources to effectively support discrimination claims including Charter tests, and filing employment claims in court.

Arupa L. Tesolin is founder of a Mississauga, Ont., learning company that offers corporate workshops and executive coaching in innovation and management skills.


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