Underemployed immigrants a loss for Revenue Canada

Internationally trained professionals keep landing in survival and entry-level jobs, or in positions not related to their field of expertise. The consequences of this phenomenon go beyond the individual frustration. The economy as a whole is impacted.

Philip Mwimanzi is an internationally trained dentist struggling to go back to his field. Photo: Valentina Ruiz Leotaud

When you look like a foreigner--as I do--you get to listen to many stories from immigrants who feel cheated by “the land of opportunity” they thought Canada would be. For example:

A chef with eight years of experience in the Philippines and the Middle East who now has to juggle  five jobs as a line cook.

An award-winning architect from Mexico who now has to take stock every morning from 5:00 a.m. at a convenience store.

A psychologist from Serbia who had to clean floors for several years in Canada to earn money to reclaim her former career.

A dentist from Tanzania, with a PhD he earned in Japan, who settled for a post-doctoral fellowship position in order to support his family so that he could take the examinations that would allow him to get re-certified, and not get bankrupted in the process.

His case is less dramatic than the others because even though he’s not doing what he loves most, he’s working in a research related to his PhD in viral immunology.

Yet, he says: “It’s not fair. It’s not fair at all.”

Philip Mwimanzi was granted  permanent residency on the basis that he is a highly-qualified health provider. Nobody told him it would take so long and so much money to put his hands back into dentistry. Around $5,000 in courses and a loan to cover the $12,000 that the National Dental Examining Board of Canada’s tests cost are among the expenses he has had to deal with in order to reclaim his career.

Two years have passed by and the waiting continues. He's hoping to be able to work as a dentist again by March 2016. 

“I wish there was a place where you could go and find all the information,” he said.

The authorities’ reply

I met Mwimanzi at the organization where he got his loan. We were both there the day the Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney was going to announce extra funding for the program Mwimanzi is part of.

Having heard all these stories, I decided to ask Minister Kenney a question, during his press conference.

“Besides the individual results, what have been the consequences for Canada of having very skilled people ending up in survival jobs?”

First Kenney acknowledged that there’s an “unacceptable waste of human potential” among newcomers to Canada. Then, he dodged the ramifications of what he was saying. “Look, the good news is that the data tells us that over the course of time most of those foreign trained professionals get into good jobs,” he said.

That course of time is not short, though. A document endorsed by Kenney’s office recognizes that it takes a decade for newcomers to step out from the entry-level positions they are offered when they arrive.

Another document titled Immigrants' education and required job skills published on Statistics Canada’s website, gives specific numbers. “In 2006, 28 per cent of recent immigrant men and 40 per cent of women held this kind of employment [jobs with low educational requirements].”

In a country where four out of 10 working-aged foreign born individuals hold a university degree and where skilled workers from abroad are always arriving, the prior statement implies that there’s always a big amount of people working below their skill levels.

To drive the point home, a report titled Who Drives a Taxi in Canada? revealed that 10,600 immigrant taxi drivers countrywide had at least some post-secondary education and were considered overqualified for the job in 2012.

Minister Jason Kenney announcing extra funding for a Vancouver-based program that provides loans to internationally trained professionals. Photo: Valentina Ruiz Leotaud.

The big picture in numbers

Having a significant number of newcomers working in entry-level positions has consequences beyond personal frustration. It negatively impacts the Canadian economy as well.

"At the most basic level, if you're paying personal income tax as a taxi driver versus personal income tax as a middle or high-level manager in financial planning, that in itself has an effect in the economy,” said Nora Priestly, who manages the bridging program for internationally educated professionals at York University, in an interview with Saint John’s Telegraph Journal in March 2014.

In the transportation sector, which includes taxi drivers among other workers, a person’s annual salary can be about $49,158.5, according to Statistics Canada. If that person lives in British Columbia, the amount of taxes he or she pays is of $8,361 at a rate of 17.01 per cent. 

If that same person happens to be an engineer, he or she should actually be paying  $13,152 in taxes. This, of course, if given the opportunity of working in his/her field and earning $65,293 a year.

That is to say, with just one person, the government is losing $4,791 in taxes every year. Taking into account that 21.1 per cent of Canada’s labour force consists of immigrants (around 4,023,854 people) and, as the government itself has admitted, a big number of them are underemployed, the amount of dollars Canada is losing is considerable.

Regarding the document about taxi drivers, in Vancouver 80.7 per cent  were immigrants in 2012, a total of 2,848 individuals. Even though the document didn’t specify by city or province the amount of drivers with post-secondary education, if the average national distribution is fulfilled and 53 per cent of them are overqualified for the job, that gives a rough number of 1,509 professionals working as taxi drivers in the city.

If we paint a hypothetical scenario in which they all are engineers and calculate the amount of dollars each individual should be paying and is not, Revenue Services would be losing $7,229,619 per year in British Columbia alone.

When gauging the numbers, it appears that the results of having overqualified immigrants in survival jobs are equally negative both on the individual and societal level.

Despite the fact that Minister Kenney avoided my question, he did say something else regarding the situation. He said it is “a denial of what Canada is supposed to be.”


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