Wanted: Rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion in the job mar­ket

Montreal Gazette - - Identities - JAY BRYAN

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nearly in­vis­i­ble com­pared with the other as­pects of the de­bate over what we’ve come to call rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion, but it could well be more im­por­tant: how well does Que­bec ac­com­mo­date new ar­rivals into its job mar­ket?

The ques­tion arises be­cause a new study from Sta­tis­tics Canada shows that Que­bec has the worst im­mi­grant un­em­ploy­ment record in Canada. The most re­cent im­mi­grants – those here for five years or less – suf­fered a job­less rate of 17.8 per cent last year, or nearly three times the 6.3-per-cent rate of Cana­dian-born work­ers here.

By com­par­i­son, un­em­ploy­ment among re­cent im­mi­grants in On­tario is 11 per cent com­pared with 4.4 per cent among the na­tive-born. In Bri­tish Columbia, the fig­ures are 9.5 per cent and 3.7 per cent.

An ex­tra dash of irony comes from the find­ing that th­ese im­mi­grants are ac­tu­ally more likely to have a univer­sity de­gree than na­tive-born Cana­di­ans.

There’s no claim in this study that the em­ploy­ment prob­lems of im­mi­grants in Que­bec have their roots in the same cul­tural in­su­lar­ity that has helped in­flate the rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion is­sue from a topic of po­lite dis­cus­sion into front-page news and a favoured topic for talk-show shouters.

In­deed, the study’s au­thor, Danielle Zi­etsma, is very care­ful not to draw any such broad con­clu­sion, not­ing in an in­ter­view that it will be some time be­fore she and her col­leagues can do enough anal­y­sis to say much about the causes of this phe­nom­e­non.

Nev­er­the­less, it would be sur­pris­ing if there were no link at all. Que­bec is far from unique in set­ting spe­cial, very high em- ploy­ment hur­dles for out­siders, but it does seem to favour a more ex­treme ver­sion of this sport than other prov­inces.

This is not only an in­jus­tice but a self-in­flicted wound, since Que­bec’s low birthrate and huge debt are com­bin­ing to cre­ate a de­mo­graphic bomb that’s on track to de­stroy this prov­ince’s high stan­dard of liv­ing. One re­lief valve would be a big­ger in­flow of tal­ented im­mi­grants, but why should they come if it’s merely in or­der to be un­em­ployed?

In an ideal world, the cur­rent yelling about veils and cer­e­mo­nial daggers could use­fully be ex­panded into a more civ­i­lized dis­course fo­cus­ing on this is­sue.

We could talk about the de­val­u­a­tion of al­legedly in­ad­e­quate for­eign cre­den­tials, lan­guage tests that have lit­tle to do with pro­fes­sional per­for­mance and “Cana­dian ex­pe­ri­ence” re­quire­ments that serve as an all-pur­pose ex­cuse to lock out job ap­pli­cants who don’t al­ready have a job.

We might also talk about the in­vis­i­ble bar­ri­ers that seem to trip up so many im­mi­grant job seek­ers with­out even let­ting them know where they fell short.

To be fair, there’s plenty of such un­pleas­ant game-play­ing right across Canada. A sur­vey of re­cent im­mi­grants in 2003 found that ex­actly the same per­cent­age com­plained of cer­tain ob­sta­cles in Que­bec and across Canada.

In both cases, 26 per cent said their big­gest em­ploy­ment prob­lem was a de­mand for Cana­dian ex­pe­ri­ence and 21 per cent said it was would-be em­ploy­ers who wouldn’t rec­og­nize for­eign cre­den­tials or ex­pe­ri­ence.

Iron­i­cally, the per­cent­age who found lan­guage to be their worst prob­lem was a bit lower in Que­bec, at 13 per cent, than across Canada, where it was 15 per cent. One ex­pla­na­tion could be that Que­bec’s par­al­lel im­mi­gra­tion de­part­ment does a care­ful job of pre-screen­ing im­mi­grants for com­pe­tence in French.

But there’s an­other set of sta­tis­tics strongly sug­gest­ing that un­spo­ken bar­ri­ers in Que­bec are more im­per­me­able than in other parts of the coun­try.

Right across Canada, the im­mi­grant job ex­pe­ri­ence seems to get bet­ter as you look at those who’ve been here longer. This is log­i­cal, since they’ve had more years to learn about the job mar­ket and maybe get some lo­cal ex­pe­ri­ence or train­ing.

But this im­prove­ment is a lot smaller in Que­bec than it is in other prov­inces with big im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tions.

I drew this con­clu­sion af­ter com­par­ing the un­em­ploy­ment rates of two groups of im­mi­grants: those in Canada for up to five years and those who’ve been here be­tween five and 10 years.

The ear­lier im­mi­grants have an un­em­ploy­ment rate in Bri­tish Columbia that’s 46 per cent lower than that of re­cent im­mi­grants and quite close to that of the Cana­dian-born.

In On­tario, their job­less rate is 36 per cent lower than that of re­cent im­mi­grants, al­though it’s still 59 per cent higher than for Cana­dian-born On­tar­i­ans.

In Que­bec, un­em­ploy­ment for ear­lier im­mi­grants is just 25 per cent lower than for the most re­cent. And it re­mains 112 per cent higher than for Cana­dian-born Que­be­cers.

You could the­o­rize that Que­bec’s prob­lem is sim­ply that its un­em­ploy­ment rate is higher than those of On­tario or Bri­tish Columbia, mak­ing it harder for new­com­ers to break in.

This would be a rea­son­able guess, but it’s con­tra­dicted by the ex­pe­ri­ence of Nova Sco­tia, which has higher un­em­ploy­ment than Que­bec. Nev­er­the­less, its most re­cent im­mi­grants lagged be­hind na­tive-born job seek­ers less than in any other prov­ince.

Bet­ter still, those in Canada for at least five years are ac­tu­ally more likely to have a job than na­tive-born Nova Sco­tians.

How can this be? One pos­si­bil­ity, sug­gests Zi­etsma, could be that the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment ac­tively tries to pre­vent im­mi­grant un­em­ploy­ment with a pro­gram that helps would-be im­mi­grants find lo­cal jobs even be­fore they ap­ply for landed sta­tus.

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