(Canada) Canada's Asian migrants (Asian Century Institute, 9 febbraio 2013)

11.02.2013 12:50
My taxi driver is a civil engineer from Iran. His gas station attendant is an accountant from Pakistan. This is Canada, a country that wastes its human potential!

The OECD recently rejoiced that countries like the US, the UK, Canada and Australia are blessed with a wave of skilled migrants from Asia. But how much opportunity are these migrants given to exploit their skills productively?

Not enough, is the OECD's clear assessment. On average across OECD countries, 28.3% of highly educated immigrants are formally overqualified for the jobs that they hold, compared with 17.6% for the native born. Canada, the US and Australia are above the OECD in terms of their overqualification rates. And Canada also stands out for the high rate of overqualification of native-born offspring of immigrants compared with offspring of native-born parents.

What happens is that migrants accept jobs for which they are overqualified because of obstacles to the recognition of their qualifications or the "non-equivalence" of their education or the lack of assessed skills or far too often, because of discrimination.

We are fortunate that a team of Canadian researchers, under the leadership of York University's Philip Kelly, has explored these questions for Filipinos: why are so many Filipino immigrants in particular over-qualified for the jobs that they get in Toronto; and why immigrant Filipino professionals and skilled workers in Toronto generally end up in lower paying jobs than other migrants and natives.

This is critical not only for the individuals involved, but the whole country. When you don't use your skills, you lose them. You become "deprofessionalized" or "deskilled". No sensible country would let its human capital evaporate.

The case of Filipinos is important. They are the fastest growing ethnic group in Canada, and Tagalog is Canada's fastest growing language. At least one-quarter of Filipino Canadians are located in Toronto.

More than 60% of Filipinos arrived in the past two decades. This means that we are very much dealing with a problem of today, not an historical curiosity. Filipinos have a strong command of the English language and close to half are highly qualified.

When it comes to jobs, Filipino women are highly represented in the health care sector, and make up the majority of the Filipino community. Men are highly represented in manufacturing. However, Filipinos are under-represented in management occupations, as well as in education and government service sectors.

What is most striking is that Filipinos tend to hold lower-status jobs, and earn much less than other immigrants, despite their high levels of human capital. For example, there are many examples of Filipino's downward mobility, like the mechanical engineer who becomes a machine operator, the registered nurse working as a nursing assistant, the accountant who is a billing clerk, and the financial analyst who works as an administrative assistant. Overall, downward mobility was experienced by more than half of the survey respondents (and more men than women), while downward mobility occurred for about two-thirds of those who migrated through the caregiver program.

So why do highly qualified Filipinos end up in low-paying jobs in Toronto?

Filipinos generally arrive in Canada without significant financial assets, which means that they need a “survival job” and cannot afford educational upgrading, especially if they have to feed their families, and send remittances back home. And certain immigration programs like the live-in-caregiver program are traps. They restrict the immigrants from pursuing further education and training in their field, so that even after they “graduate” from the program, they end up being stuck in caregiving and other low-paying precarious jobs.

And then educational credentials and training are often assessed arbitrarily and unfairly by professional regulatory boards. Regulatory boards often seem incapable of providing a fair assessment due to their seeming lack of knowledge about the quality of colleges and universities in the Philippines.

Lastly, Filipinos are often stereotyped in Canadian workplaces. Their conscientiousness and deference to managerial hierarchies can be interpreted as "un-managerial". This amounts to racialization and discrimination of Filipinos in the workplace. Quite simply, Filipinos are often too kind and nice to make it in the "rough-and-tumble" of Canadian life.

In this context, the OECD reports that Canada's immigrants from Asia experience the highest incidence of perceived discrimination -- more than those from Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, highly educated immigrants in Canada tend to feel discrimination more often, where as in Europe it is the low-educated. And in Canada (as well as the US and Australia) there is much anecdotal evidence of rivalries and jealousies as Asian students outperform natives in higher education, especially in the natural sciences and information technology.

It's not surprising that a good number of Filipino Canadians would like to leave Toronto for another Canadian province, or the US, or even return home.

The Canadian study came up with a number of sensible policy recommendations like: reducing immigration fees; reducing wait times for family reunification; improving the status upon arrival for those coming under the Live-in Caregive Program, and allowing them to enroll in upgrading educational and training courses in their field; ensuring that professional regulatory bodies are aware of academic and professional standards in the Philippines when assessing credentials, and providing financial assistance for upgrading and bridging programs to educated professionals.

In the few years since the report was written there has been some movement, notably on the recognition of educational credentials and training. But it is a case of too little, too slow and too late.

One issue that was not addressed in the report is the potential role of microfinance. The Canadian International Development Agency has been a strong promoter of microfinance in the developing world. It may be time for Canada to consider giving a big push to its current fledgling microfinance sector at home. In light of its growing poverty, microfinance is now a growing sector in the US.

In conclusion, it is impossible to overstate the importance of enabling immigrants to maximize their contribution to the Canadian economy and society. As the OECD has also reminded us, Canada's multifactor productivity has been stagnant over the past few decades, and has even fallen since 2002. Immigrants who now make up about 20% of Canada's population could make a very important contribution to boosting the nation's productivity. And the key to keeping our societies peaceful, stable and secure, is ensuring that all citizens can participate and contribute fully. Maintaining an economic and social underclass may be an attractive proposition to some, but it does not represent a sound foundation for a prosperous and harmonious society.

If Canada wants to be part of the Asian Century, it must make the most of its Asian immigrants, by helping them make the most of their lives here.

O Canada, it is time to act, there is a lot at stake!