Education and work experience are among the valuable assets new immigrants bring to Canada. Almost one in five newcomers are skilled-worker principal applicants selected for their labour market attributes. While the majority of immigrants are not directly selected through the points system, many also possess skills that are potentially valuable to Canadian society and its economy.
In 2008, close to 45% of newcomers held a university degree, more than double the proportion 14 years earlier.1 Among those who were admitted as principal applicants in the skilled workers category, 72% held a university degree, as did 41% of newcomers in the ‘spouse and dependents, skilled worker’ category, and 33% of family class immigrants. Fourteen years earlier, the corresponding figures were 39%, 21%, and 12% respectively (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2004 and 2009).
Yet newcomers face barriers that may impede the recognition of their credentials and work experience, with consequences for their labour market performance and broader integration within Canadian society. Potential factors include the content of foreign education being deemed less relevant to the needs of the Canadian labour market than the country where the education was completed, linguistic ability in English or French, and the entry procedures in some trades and professions. Unfamiliarity with foreign degrees among employers may also play a role. Others have suggested that the decentralized accreditation system seems to be a hurdle, with numerous trade and professional bodies being involved, and provinces having their own standards for evaluating degrees and setting certification norms for trades and professions
Newcomers experience a higher rate of unemployment than established immigrants and native Canadians. Their earnings lag behind those of other groups. Finding employment is frequently challenging. Education-to-job mismatch is particularly prevalent among recent immigrants with university education. In 2008, two-thirds of such newcomers were working in occupations that usually required at most a college education or apprenticeship, compared to 55% of established immigrants and 40% of native Canadians. Also, a recent analysis of 2006 Census data shows that just under one-quarter (24%) of employed foreign-educated, university-level immigrants were working in a regulated occupation that matched their field of study, compared to 62% of their Canadian-born counterparts. And among immigrants whose occupation did not match their field of study, 77% worked in jobs that do not usually require a degree, compared to 57% of ‘unmatched’ Canadian-born graduates.
Non-recognition of foreign credentials and work experience by employers and regulatory professional and trade bodies can lead to an underutilization of the ‘human capital’ of many immigrants who were selected for their skills, work experience and other socio demographic characteristics.
This study uses the 2000 to 2005 Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC) to shed light on the issue of foreign credentials and work experience recognition from the perspective of immigrants, as the survey data are based on immigrants’ responses to interview questions. The period covered by the survey precedes the labour market downturn that began in the fall of 2008. Although recent immigrants were disproportionately affected by the downturn, this study focuses on hypotheses relating to the recognition of credentials that should not be sensitive to the business cycle. This information may be of particular interest to those developing proposals for the federal, provincial and territorial Foreign Credentials Recognition investment program announced in November 2009.
The LSIC was unique in scope and depth. Following a cohort of new immigrants during their first four years of settlement in Canada, the survey captured both the pre-immigration and post-immigration trajectories of these immigrants by providing information on their occupation prior to landing, intended occupation, credentials received prior to landing and plans for credentials assessment, as well as their actual occupation in Canada, the education obtained or training taken after landing, and their labour-market outcomes such as earnings, participation, employment and unemployment.
The same cohort of newcomers (a total of 7,716) was interviewed three times over four years: six months after landing, then two years and four years thereafter. Each time, these newcomers were asked about various aspects of their settlement in the country, including their employment situation and whether their credentials and work experience were accepted in Canada.
This study looks at one specific aspect of newcomers’ settlement: recognition of their foreign credentials and work experience.
The assessment of credential recognition and work experience encompasses a number of questions. How does the recognition rate of foreign credentials compare with that of foreign work experience? Are female immigrants more likely than their male counterparts to encounter difficulties obtaining recognition for their degrees and work experience? Does the likelihood of foreign credential recognition vary depending on whether the immigrant is part of a visible minority? How do newcomers with pre-arranged employment or previous knowledge of Canadian society fare in getting their credentials and experience recognized? Does the likelihood of recognition differ depending on the location of study or work (the country where the degree was earned or work experience acquired)? Finally, how do immigrants selected specifically for their skills and education (skilled immigrants) fare compared to other immigrants?