Guang Jun Liu arrived in Toronto in 1990 with a master’s degree in robotic control from China.Today, the Ryerson University professor is the Canada Research Chair in control systems and robotics, specializing in control systems in aircraft and mobile robots, and working with groups such as the Canadian Space Agency.
According to a new Conference Board of Canada study, Liu is living proof of how immigrants can help boost Canada’s stature in innovation, which ranks 14th out of 17 industrialized countries.
“Productivity and innovation are critical for economic development,” said the report, titled Immigrants as Innovators: Boosting Canada’s Global Competitiveness. “At every level of analysis, immigrants are shown to have an impact on innovation performance that is benefiting Canada.”
Examining the relationship between immigrants and innovation in areas such as research, culture, business and global commerce, the report found that:
• At least 35 per cent of an estimated 1,800 Canada Research Chairs are foreign-born, even though immigrants are just one-fifth of the Canadian population.
• Immigrants to Canada win proportionally more prestigious literary and performing arts awards, comprising 23 per cent of Giller Prize finalists and 29 per cent of winners; 23 per cent of Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards winners are immigrants;
• Immigration increases innovation by expanding Canada’s trade relations. A 1 per cent increase in the number of immigrants to Canada corresponds to an increase in imports of 0.21 per cent and exports by 0.11 per cent.
Yet, despite the enormous benefits that newcomers can bring to Canada, the report notes they still face “onerous and often unnecessary obstacles” that limit their potential.
These include inadequate recognition of international experience and qualifications, failure of employers to tap foreign language skills which could be employed in international markets, and lack of opportunities for newcomers to fully use their skills
Liu said he, too, had a tough time when he first came to Canada as a visiting scholar and later enrolled in the University of Toronto’s robot control PhD program.
“Language is a big obstacle. Technically, my English was good, but you need to be able to speak good English and communicate well to get published,” he said. “I was lucky to get my credentials recognized and have had some good employers.”
The report recommends employers hire immigrants at all levels of their organization, including in leadership roles; match the staff’s diversity to that of their markets; and encourage immigrant employees to share their diverse points of view, a key for innovation.
Innovative Immigrants in Canada
• K.Y. Ho came from China in 1984 and started the graphics company ATI with two other immigrants from Hong Kong. The company pulled in $10 million in revenue in its first year and was acquired for $5.4 billion by AMD in 2007.
• Mike Lazaridis came from Turkey in 1966 and founded Research in Motion (RIM), which created and manufactures the BlackBerry.
• Peter Munk came from Hungary in the 1940s and founded Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold-mining corporation.
• Stella Melo came from Brazil in 1996. An atmospheric physicist, she has developed equipment and models to study the conditions of the atmosphere. The data she collects are used for weather forecasting and to examine people’s long-term impacts on the planet.
Source: Immigrants as Innovators: Boosting Canada’s Global Competitiveness