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In 2006, as in 2001, about 16% of immigrant workers in Canada used languages other than English or French at work. The use of non-official languages at work was associated with a lack of official language skills, low levels of education, lower skilled jobs and lower earnings for immigrants. It was more common among those who had arrived recently in Canada.
Immigrants have been making a growing contribution to Canada's labour force. In 2006, about 3.8 million immigrants worked or had recently worked in Canada, up from 3.3 million in 2001. Immigrant workers who used a non-official language at work totalled 611,400 in 2006.
Of the 611,400 immigrants who used languages other than English or French at work, about 17% used only non-official languages and made no regular use of the official ones. About 26% used non-official languages most of the time but also used an official language, and 57% used a non-official language on a regular basis but an official language was the one which they used most of the time.
Almost 16% of those who used a non-official language at work reported that they could not conduct a conversation in either English or French.
Immigrants who used a non-official language at work generally tended to have less formal education than those who did not. Almost half had a high school diploma or less; close to one in four had no diploma or certificate at all.
In contrast, among those who made no use of non-official languages, about one-third had a high school diploma or less and about 1 in 10 had no diploma or certificate.
Immigrants who arrived at older ages, particularly after the age of 50 years, were more likely to use a non-official language at work.
The use of non-official languages at work was less frequent among younger immigrants, 12% among 15 to 24 years old who held jobs. At the same time, more than 18% of immigrants over the age of 65 who worked used non-official languages on the job.
The use of a non-official language at work is a transitional phase for some immigrants. The proportion of immigrants who used these languages decreases with the length of residence in Canada.
Even when gender, age, education, year of immigration and official language ability were taken into account, immigrants who used non-official languages at work earned less per year on average.
Holding other factors constant, they were also less able to convert their educational qualifications into higher earnings.
Generally, immigrants who used a non-official language at work were more likely to be members of low-income households. Also, those who used a non-official language in the last job they held were about twice as likely to be unemployed in the week prior to the census. Moreover, they were more likely to be in low skilled jobs.
For instance, in 2006, immigrants who used a non-official language at work were four times as likely to work as sewing machine operators and two and a half times as likely to work as cooks and childcare workers, twice as likely to work as labourers and 25% more likely to be restaurant workers than were those who did not.
This report is based on two articles published in the January 2009 issue of Canadian Social Trends.
The articles use data from the 2001 and 2006 censuses to describe immigrants who used a language other than one of Canada's official languages in their workplace at least on a regular basis. These immigrants include persons who used only a non-official language, as well as persons who used both non-official and official languages at work. Only immigrants who worked at some point in the year of the census or the immediately preceding year were included in the analysis.
One article explores their official language ability, gender, age, age at immigration, level of education, and their place of work, as they relate to which languages they used at work. The second explores the impact of working in a non-official language on immigrants' occupations and earnings.
Immigrants who use a non-official language at work are more likely to be self-employed and to own businesses which employ others. The services and employment they provide may be important to the functioning of their linguistic communities and to newcomers who lack official language skills.
Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3901.
The January 2009 issue of Canadian Social Trends, no. 87 (11-008-XWE, free), is now available from the Publications module of our website.
For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979; firstname.lastname@example.org), Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.