EXCLUSIVE | Immigrants are more educated but unemployed

Martine Turenne | Money | Published on December 5, 2016 at 17:20 – Updated on December 5, 2016 at 17:30

Montréal is where immigrants are the least well integrated into the labor market. Quebec’s metropolis has the worst North American performance in the gap between the unemployment rate of its citizens who were born there and that of immigrants: it is 10%, compared with 6% in Toronto and 5% in Vancouver.

Paradoxically, it is worse for the more educated: the unemployment rate of immigrants holding a foreign diploma is nearly 12.5%, while it is about 7% for those with a Canadian diploma.

“What a waste of talent! You bring people in, but there are blockages everywhere!” exclaims Raymond Bachand, president of the Quebec Institute (IdQ).

IdQ, in collaboration with the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal (MCC) and Montréal International (MI), has just published a study on the issue.

According to their analysis, university graduation among Montréal immigrants (33%) is higher than among those she calls “natives” (24%), whereas it is rather the opposite in 13 of the 16 other cities studied.

According to the Institute, this gap is mainly explained by the low level of education of the native population compared to the corresponding education level of “natives” and immigrants in other cities, which is above average.


The lack of recognition of skills and qualifications as well as work experience obtained abroad is being blamed as the main cause of the problem.

According to Raymond Bachand, professional orders in Quebec are particularly rigid. “It’s scandalous!” he said. “The nurses have commented that agreements with France seem to work well. But otherwise, you have to start all over again as if you were 25 years old … Yet it is the same human body everywhere. And a plumber is a plumber.”

Immigrants, said Mr. Bachand, are required to retrain in their qualifications 25 years after leaving university, without taking into account their real experience. “We should require an internship or training, up to a few months.”

The language question was not addressed in the study. For many jobs, especially university positions, mastery of French and English is required, which is not the case elsewhere in the country. “Of course, this issue is more important here than in the rest of Canada,” says Raymond Bachand. “It makes things more complicated.”

The countries where immigrants received their qualifications also have not been identified, so it is not possible to know whether the prejudice of Quebec employers is greater towards those from certain countries than others.

Urgent need to get mobilized

Yet every employee counts. As a result of the aging of its population, the need for labor in the Montréal metropolitan area has begun to be felt, notes the IdQ: with immigrants having been excluded since 2006, the number of 25- to 54-year-olds has decreased by 10%.

“It’s 115,000 fewer people!” says Raymond Bachand. “This is a recipe for a decay. This is a societal issue. We need to integrate the new workforce.”

What to do?

The director of the IdQ, Mia HomsyIl, believes that the situation is “intolerable” and calls for the mobilization and rapid implementation of eight proposals put forward in the study. “We need aggressive solutions, because of an abnormally high rate of unemployed people,” she says.

Although the study did not measure the link between the origin of the diplomas and the unemployment rate, the IdQ suggests adjusting the score in the selection grid to favour immigrants who have degrees awarded by institutions “whose reputation and quality standards are similar to those of Canadian institutions.”

The Institute also proposes to “change the paradigm of professional orders,” notably by setting up short-term training courses within a year of receiving the application.

The retention of international students (whose degrees are Canadian, which is an asset) is one of the proposals: IdQ suggests increasing the number of foreign students staying in Montréal each year from 4,000 to over 10,000.

Like Ontario, the Institute wants to prohibit discrimination in hiring based on where the work experience took place. “Employers in Ontario no longer have the right to prioritize Canadian work experience,” says Raymond Bachand.