Globe and Mail Op-Ed: Having Immigrant Engineers and Physicians driving Ubers is a National Disgrace

February 26, 2024

This article first appeared in The Globe and Mail’s February 25 issue and has been duplicated below for the Windmill Microlending community to access. To subscribe to The Globe and Mail and to read the original article in full, click here.

Claudia Hepburn is the chief executive of Windmill Microlending, a national charity that offers affordable loans to immigrants.

Canada attracts a wealth of internationally trained professionals as permanent residents, but too often they fail to thrive. Many settle for low-skill work, others choose to leave. A recent Statistics Canada report found that 15 per cent of immigrants depart Canada within 20 years of their arrivals.

This country must address the barriers that prevent immigrants from contributing fully to the economy.

In 2019, an RBC report showed that the gap between the earnings of immigrants and their Canadian-born peers had grown by more than 250 per cent over the past 30 years. About 40 per cent of that gap was attributed to immigrants working in jobs below their education levels. We’ve all met enough engineers and physicians driving for Uber to know that the prevalence of highly skilled immigrants in the gig economy is a national disgrace.

Governments should put in place measures to enable our highly educated immigrants to contribute at the tops of their skill levels. Fixing our immigrants’ underemployment problem, RBC estimated, could add about $50-billion annually to Canada’s gross domestic product and contribute to a regeneration of the country’s productivity.

How can this be achieved? Ontario was the first province to ban discriminatory Canadian work experience requirements in regulated professions, a good first step. We need provincial governments and regulatory bodies to address the unnecessary complexity involved in reaccreditation. We must also address the financial barriers that prevent our skilled immigrants from reaching full employment and productivity.

Lack of access to affordable credit is an insurmountable barrier to achieving full employment for many immigrants. Though every Canadian financial institution is competing to provide newcomers with their first bank accounts, banks are seldom willing to extend credit for career loans. Our banking system is strong because it is risk averse, but the lack of available credit for newcomers hampers Canadian productivity.

Skilled immigrants do not require free tuition, but they often need loans to kickstart their Canadian careers. Affordable loans can be essential for covering expenses related to reaccreditation, obtaining Canadian certificates, or for acquiring tools or vehicles necessary to access employment. Since banks have shown little interest in this market, an experienced not-for-profit lender attuned to the needs of skilled immigrants, with support, could scale up to meet this national gap.

The Canadian dream – for prospective Canadians and for those of us born here – is that Canada welcomes people from all over the world and integrates them successfully, creating substantial economic gains for newcomers, their families and also for Canada. That dream is only possible if immigrants can navigate the barriers to full employment.

For now, Canada is the lucky recipient of a record number of immigrants, but that luck is not likely to last. The countries we rely on most for immigrants are experiencing declining birth rates and, in some cases, rising GDP and opportunities.

Countries like Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland, with faster-growing productivity, more wealth per capita, or higher quality of life for immigrants, are increasingly perceived as more attractive destinations for resettlement.

The abundance of international talent seeking permanent residency here is likely temporary, unless Canada makes some overdue changes to support newcomer productivity. It’s an opportunity we cannot afford to waste.

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