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Study: Immigrants' education and required job skills

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1991 to 2006

Established immigrants—those who had lived in Canada for between 11 and 15 years—had more difficulty finding jobs reflecting their educational attainment in 2006 than they did in 1991.

During this 15-year period, the proportion of long-term immigrants with a university degree in jobs with low education requirements, such as clerks, truck drivers, salespeople, cashiers and taxi drivers, rose steadily.

In 1991, about 12% of long-term male immigrants with a university degree had jobs with low educational requirements. By 2006, this proportion had increased to 21%.

The gap between these long-term male immigrants and Canadian-born workers widened during this period. The proportion of Canadian-born university-educated men who had jobs with low educational requirements remained stable at about 10%.

Among long-term female immigrants, the increase was more modest, but their rates were higher. Between 1991 and 2006, their rate rose from 24% to 29%. In comparison, the corresponding proportion for Canadian-born women remained at about 10% for the entire period, as it did for their male counterpart.

These increases for established immigrants suggest that the difficulties, which have long plagued immigrants who have arrived recently, today have an impact on established immigrants. They also suggest that difficulties experienced by recent immigrants are not necessarily temporary.

The proportions for recent immigrants—those who have lived in Canada for less than 5 years—were also up, but remained within the levels observed since 1991. Among these short-term immigrants, nearly 24% of university-educated men had jobs with low educational requirements, as did slightly less than 40% of their female counterparts.

A number of factors could have been behind this deterioration for long-term immigrants. Among men, the change in their profile explained only one-quarter of the deterioration. The factors included in the profile were mother tongue, country of origin, level of schooling, age, region of residence and visible minority status.

On the other hand, certain fields of study lowered their chances of having a job with low educational requirements. The fact that many of them had degrees in applied sciences provided some protection in 2006, despite earlier job losses in the information technology sector. There were similar findings for established female immigrants and for recent male immigrants.

Thus, an important part of the deterioration for immigrants during the 15-year period appears attributable to factors other than socio-demographic characteristics.

Note to readers

This article deals with the representation rate of immigrants with a university degree in occupations with low educational requirements. Census microdata files representing 20% of the Canadian population are used. Occupations with low educational requirements are defined as jobs generally requiring a high school diploma or less.

Some of these factors may have included the language skills of immigrants, as well as the non-recognition of their credentials, their level of schooling or their experience acquired in foreign countries.

They might also have included the quality of education received by nationals of relatively new countries of origin, economic cycles and the immigrant class in which the individual gained admittance to Canada, that is, refugee, family reunification and economic immigrant.

For recent female immigrants, changes in socio-demographic characteristics explained the entire increase in occupations with low educational requirements.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3901.

The article "Immigrants' education and required job skills" is now available in the December 2008 online edition of Perspectives on Labour and Income, vol. 9, no. 12 (75-001-XWE, free), from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Diane Galarneau (613-951-4626;, Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division.