The BBC once told the story of Wang Lai Ming, who decided to change his name to Terence King when he emigrated to New Zealand so it would be easier for him to find a job. It was a sad reminder that, in many countries, immigrants have trouble entering the job market because they face discrimination. And as we demonstrated in a study, Quebec is no different: inequalities persist between those who were born in Canada and those born elsewhere.
People born outside of Canada have a lower employment rate than those who were born in the country (72% vs 83%), their unemployment rate is roughly twice as high, and 43% work in a job for which they are overqualified (compared to only 29% in the total population). As a result, their median disposable income represents only 83% of that of those Canadian-born, and more of them work in low-paying jobs.
The numbers for immigrant women are even more appalling: 46% are overqualified for their work, and their median disposable income ($20,410 in 2013) is 89% of that of non-immigrant women, and only 60% of that of non-immigrant men.
Yet two thirds of people who emigrate to Quebec enter based on their qualifications and skills. They therefore have, for the most part, higher levels of education than the Canadian-born, and the majority are proficient in French.
The province’s Liberal government has always portrayed itself as a champion of diversity and inclusion. However, in practice, immigrant outcomes have not improved in the last decade. Worse, recent cuts and austerity measures will surely further jeopardize their integration.
Decreasing newcomer opportunities for settlement and reception sessions by 25% and closing regional offices of the Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion ― to save a mere $4.6 million ― can only hinder the society’s capacity to properly receive immigrants. And let’s not forget the cuts to community organizations that support immigrants.
To overcome the roadblocks newcomers confront in the course of their journey, and to end the systemic discrimination they face, efforts must be made to recognize academic qualifications and experience obtained abroad. Work placement and on-the-job training opportunities could also be expanded in private businesses.
The new Policy on immigration, participation, and inclusion promises it will align immigration with the needs of businesses, but there is no guarantee that this new approach will reduce inequality between immigrants and the Canadian-born.
Furthermore, both opposition party leaders, Jean-François Lisée at the Parti québécois and François Legault at the Coalition avenir Québec, have in the last few months implied that Quebec would receive fewer immigrants if their parties were in power, claiming newcomers do not contribute to the provincial economy and have a hard time integrating into the job market.
However, it seems desirable to not just maintain but increase current immigration numbers, even if only to help meet our future labour force requirements. Indeed, the Institut de la statistique du Québec projects that the demographic decline could be avoided and the aging of our population curbed if Quebec received 54,000 immigrants per year (the current target is 50,000).
Beyond these economic considerations, it’s worth remembering that, behind immigration statistics and data, there are actual human beings seeking a better life and new opportunities. They can enrich their host society with their own special experiences so long as they are not treated like second-class citizens.
This is why the most important fight we must wage is the one against discrimination, which feeds into prejudice and racism. Establishing a Commission on Systemic Racism would certainly be a step in the right direction. The rejection which immigrants experience undeniably affects their economic integration adversely, but it especially slows down their integration into the social and political life of Quebec, undermining social cohesiveness.
Julia Posca is a researcher with IRIS, a Montreal-based progressive think tank.