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Study: Canadian immigrant labour market: Analysis by region of highest postsecondary education

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The Daily

Friday, July 18, 2008

As immigrants integrate into the Canadian labour market, many initially face difficulties finding employment. A new study reveals that even university-educated immigrants aged 25 to 54 who arrived in Canada within the previous five years were less likely to be employed in 2007 than their Canadian born counterparts. This was true regardless of the country in which they obtained their degree.

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Employment rates for these immigrants varied according to where they received their university degree, with those educated in Western countries generally having higher rates than those educated elsewhere.

The gap in employment rates between degree-holding immigrants and the Canadian born, however, narrowed the longer an immigrant had been in Canada. For university-educated immigrants who had landed in Canada more than 10 years earlier, their employment rate in 2007 was comparable to that of the Canadian born.

Over one-third of immigrants have a university degree

In 2007, 37% or 1.2 million immigrants of core working age, those aged 25 to 54, had a university degree, compared with only 22% of the core working-age Canadian born. The difference was even more pronounced among those who immigrated between 2002 and 2007, with more than half of these immigrants, or 320,000, having a university degree.

Note to readers

Studies have shown that newcomers to Canada experience challenges entering the labour market. For example, difficulties with recognition of foreign credentials, as well as insufficient knowledge of official languages, contribute to earnings and employment rate gaps between immigrants and the Canadian born. Studies have also indicated, however, that these gaps are narrower for immigrants who have been in Canada for longer periods of time.

This study, the fourth in a series of analytical articles based on data on immigrants from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), examines the relationship between the countries where immigrants received their highest level of postsecondary education and their labour market outcomes in 2007.

To better understand the labour market experiences of immigrants, the LFS began collecting information in January 2006 that specifically identified working-age immigrants (those aged 15 and over).

Five questions were added to the survey to identify immigrants and to determine when they had landed in Canada, in which country they were born and where they had received their highest level of education. These questions, added as a result of a partnership with Human Resources and Social Development Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, now allow the LFS to provide regular information on the immigrant labour market.

The first report of the series, released in The Daily on September 10, 2007, provided an overview of immigrants in the labour force in 2006. The second addressed how well immigrants from specific countries of birth fared in the Canadian labour market in 2006. The third provided an update on the labour market outcomes of immigrants based on 2007 data.

A final report, scheduled for the fall of 2008, will examine the characteristics of immigrant employment in Canada, such as industry and occupation of employment, wages, average hours worked, union status, full-time/part-time status and unpaid overtime hours.

Within that group of recent newcomers, over half had received their highest degree in Asia, followed distantly by Europe, Canada, Africa, Latin America and the United States.

Recent newcomers with Canadian degrees have lower employment rates

In 2007, out of all core working-age immigrants with a degree, one in three, or more than 420,000, had obtained their highest degree in Canada. Most of these Canadian-educated immigrants had arrived in Canada before 1997.

About 28,000 core working-age immigrants who landed between 2002 and 2007 received their highest degree in Canada. Despite their Canadian education, the employment rate in 2007 for these newcomers was 75.3%, much lower than the average of 90.7% for their Canadian born, university-educated counterparts.

Age and school attendance influence immigrant employment rates

There are a number of reasons why immigrants, particularly those who had landed more recently, may have had difficulty finding employment. Past studies have pointed to difficulties such as foreign credential recognition, language barriers, comparability of educational attainment, lack of Canadian work experience and knowledge of the Canadian labour market.

The study shows that age and school attendance also affect the degree to which highly-educated immigrants are active in the economy.

In 2007, newcomers who landed between 2002 and 2007 and who had a Canadian university degree were, on average, five years younger than Canadian born with degrees. Given their age and relatively short time span since landing, these immigrants were less likely to have significant Canadian work experience, or overall work experience, than their Canadian born peers.

In 2007, university-educated Canadian born, and immigrants who landed in the previous five years, differed in their school attendance. Almost 1 in 5 immigrant university graduates were attending school in Canada in 2007, even though they already had a university degree, compared with 1 in 15 of their Canadian born counterparts.

For those immigrants with a Canadian degree, school attendance was even higher, with 1 in 3 back in school.

The majority of all university-educated immigrants attending school who arrived between 2002 and 2007 were not working or looking for work, while most degree-holding Canadian born students were either working or looking for work.

Gender was also an important factor. Immigrant women represented nearly half of university-educated immigrants who arrived between 2002 and 2007. However, their participation in the labour force was significantly lower, particularly for those born or educated in Asia.

Employment gap between foreign-educated immigrants and Canadian born smaller for immigrants who had been in Canada longer

The gap in employment rates between degree-holding immigrants and the Canadian born narrowed the longer an immigrant had been in Canada. Among university-educated immigrants who had landed in Canada more than 10 years earlier, about 60% had a Canadian university degree. These immigrants had an employment rate in 2007 comparable to that of the Canadian born.

On average, these immigrants were much closer in age to their Canadian born peers. This, combined with their time in Canada, likely provided them with the tools and work experience to improve their chances of getting employment.

There were still some significant gaps in employment rates, however, for those with degrees from foreign institutions compared with the Canadian born. In 2007, for example, there were 108,000 immigrants who received a degree in Asia and had landed in Canada before 1997; their employment rate was 7.1 percentage points lower than their Canadian born counterparts.

High employment rates for Ontario and British Columbia immigrants with a Canadian degree, but low in Quebec

This study also explores the employment rates of immigrants aged 25 to 54 within the three provinces where the vast majority of immigrants choose to settle: Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

Quebec had the highest proportion of immigrants who had a Canadian university degree, regardless of period of landing. British Columbia, which has a high proportion of Asian immigrants, had the highest share of immigrants with a degree from Asia. In Ontario, immigrants with Asian or Canadian degrees were most common.

In Ontario and British Columbia, immigrants with Canadian degrees had employment rates similar to those of Canadian born graduates regardless of their landing period. In Quebec, however, immigrants with Canadian degrees who had arrived since 1997 had an employment rate well below that of their Canadian born counterparts.

In the three provinces, the employment rate among university-educated immigrants who arrived prior to 1997 was close to that of their Canadian born counterparts, with one notable exception: for the 61,000 Asian-educated immigrants in Ontario who arrived prior to 1997, their employment rate was below that of their Canadian born counterparts.

Low employment rates for immigrants with postsecondary diplomas from most regions and periods of landing

In 2007, 29% or about 900,000 immigrants aged 25 to 54 had a postsecondary certificate or diploma (excluding a university degree). With few exceptions, immigrants with this level of education, regardless of when they landed or where they received their diploma, had employment rates well below that of similarly-educated Canadian born.

The most notable exception was immigrants with diplomas who had landed before 1997 and had obtained their postsecondary diploma within Canada. This group, representing almost half of all immigrants with diplomas, had an employment rate that was comparable with that of their Canadian born counterparts.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3701.

The study, "The Canadian immigrant labour market in 2007: Analysis by region of postsecondary education," is now available as part of The Immigrant Labour Force Analysis Series (71-606-XWE2008004, free). From the Publications module of our website, under Free Internet publications, choose Labour.

For general information or to order data, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-866-873-8788; 613-951-4090; To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Jason Gilmore (613-951-7118,, Labour Statistics Division.