It takes newcomers to Canada roughly 10 years to find employment that matches their skills and education, far longer than Canadian-born workers with similar backgrounds, according to Statistics Canada data.

Even for those with the highest levels of education and qualifications, it still takes years before they find jobs that are commensurate with their potential.

This lag and other challenges newcomers face when integrating into Canada’s economy are the focus of a new research project conducted by the Conference Board of Canada.

“That’s far too long,” said Iain Reeve, Associate Director of Immigration Research with the Ottawa-based not-for-profit research organization.

“It’s a really lengthy period for even the most skilled people that we attract to Canada. We are going to look deeper at that phenomenon.”

Called the Centre for Business Insights on Immigration, this project will conduct research and publish key reports on topics such as balancing labour market demand and human capital potential in immigrant selection and expediting economic integration of immigrants.

The aim of this project, supported by Scotiabank, is to produce insights that can help improve and accelerate economic integration of newcomers to Canada, as well as help employers more effectively hire, retain and advance immigrant talent. The project also aims to help identify current gaps in the Canadian labour market and provide data to help policy-makers develop better-informed decisions around immigration policy.

To support this critical research, Scotiabank has pledged $300,000 over three years. As a sponsor, the Bank would hold a seat on the steering committee and have input on the research topics.  

This investment is being made through ScotiaRISE, the Bank’s 10-year, $500-million initiative to promote economic resilience among disadvantaged groups.

“The Conference Board of Canada’s research on immigration and newcomers is important and impactful,” said Maria Saros, Vice President & Global Head, Social Impact. “We are pleased to support their work and hope this initiative will help strengthen our country's immigration system by better understanding the needs and gaps, as well as shed light on what more employers can do to help newcomers integrate and thrive in Canada.”

The goal is to generate insights that can be applied by all types of employers across the broader Canadian economy, and support and funding for the Centre comes from multiple sectors, including tourism and technology.


I'd like to see immigrants find work that is satisfying to them, compensates them fairly and engages them much sooner in their process, because that doesn't just benefit them, their earnings, their life satisfaction and their satisfaction with coming to Canada. It benefits Canada.”

Iain Reeve, Associate Director of Immigration Research at the Conference Board of Canada

The Centre for Business Insights on Immigration was announced during the ScotiaRISE Economic Resilience Summit, a conference featuring sessions and keynote speakers on the issue of economic inclusion in Toronto on May 12.

The first area that the Centre’s work will focus on are the “big picture questions,” said Reeve.

That includes comparing the newcomer talent pool with the needs of Canada’s labour market.

The country’s approach for many years has been to bring talented people with high levels of education and professional experience, as well as French and English knowledge, from other countries. However, those candidates don’t necessarily align with what Canadian employers are looking for at a given time, Reeve noted.

“On the one hand, bringing in the best and the brightest who are most likely to be successful in the long term makes sense. But also bringing people who are going to match with available positions, which will also help them be successful, will help the Canadian economy meet its needs. So balancing those two objectives a little bit more effectively is first and foremost at the top of our mind.”

For example, while there is a shortage of doctors and other health specialists and an ongoing need for technology talent, there is also demand for workers in manufacturing, transportation and in the housing industry, he noted.

“Where we have really seen a huge shift is in the demand for the middle, and entry-level positions,” Reeve said. “All of these things have a balance, but it is clear that the purpose that our system was built for is different than the context that we find ourselves in now,” he said. “And we can reasonably foresee that is going to continue for some time.”

Another area of focus will be the hiring stage and the hurdles faced when finding talent, such as assessing newcomers’ skills, experience and education, and how that contributes to underemployment.

Discrimination and racism are still factors, whether intentional or due to unconscious bias, said Reeve. But the challenge of applying longstanding methods to assess a candidate’s credentials – such as speaking to a previous employer or obtaining school transcripts – when dealing with multiple languages or across borders is another element, he added.

“What can we do to support employers to make that easier so that more immigrants get hired?” he said. “So that employers can take advantage of all the immigrant talent that's out there that's currently underemployed or not working in the places that they would like to and certainly could?”

He hopes that the Centre’s research can help find ways to significantly cut down the 10-year employment lag that newcomers face.

“I'd like to see immigrants find work that is satisfying to them, compensates them fairly and engages them much sooner in their process,” Reeve said. “Because that doesn't just benefit them, their earnings, their life satisfaction and their satisfaction with coming to Canada. It benefits Canada. If our people are working as productively as they can, that is good for economic growth.”