Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Over the past three decades the labour market outcomes of immigrants to Canada have declined. Many recent arrivals have had difficulty finding employment, and earnings have gone down, particularly among men. Research has shown that there is no single explanation for this decline, pointing instead to a number of factors such as a shift in source countries, weak language skills, low economic recognition of foreign work experience and the high-tech bust of the early 2000s. In response, the Canadian government has significantly altered the country’s immigration policy. Although labour market outcomes have improved somewhat since the reform, the overall trend has not been reversed. Garnett Picot and Arthur Sweetman review the existing research, discuss recent changes to immigration policy and programs, and present a number of policy recommendations to address these challenges.
Immigration has always attempted to fulfill multiple short-term and long-term economic goals. The 2002 reform of the selection of immigrants under the Federal Skilled Worker Program strengthened language and education requirements, reflecting a focus on the longerterm potential of newcomers’ human capital. More recent policy changes — greater use of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the Provincial Nominee Program and ministerial instructions— have shifted the focus toward the short term, responding to pressures to fill occupational and skill shortages. The 2002 reform led to some improvements in immigrants’economic outcomes, and through the Provincial Nominee Program the number settling outside Canada’s three major cities increased. It is still too early, however, to assess the long-term effects of more recent policy changes. The authors therefore conclude that it will be important to evaluate their impact in order to avoid unintended results.
While working to meet short-run goals, policy-makers must also consider the long-run economic outcomes of immigrants and their children and the broad impact of immigration on standards of living. In contrast to adult immigrants, child immigrants and the second generation (those born in Canada) generally have quite positive educational and economic outcomes, with one significant exception: earnings of second-generation members of visible-minority groups are lower than might be expected in light of their high average educational levels. Unfortunately, further discussion is curtailed by the lack of research into some economic issues, notably the impact of new immigration on the economic well-being of Canadians.
The authors recommend several reforms to immigration policy, including reducing immigrant inflows during recessions, selecting younger immigrants, continuing to emphasize language skills, placing employer-sponsored immigration within the context of the longer-term goals, maintaining the focus on highly skilled immigrants (those in the skilled trades as well as college and university graduates) and supporting continued economic success among the children of immigrants.