Potential Barriers to Employment for Immigrant Job Seekers
Immigrants can face a number of barriers when they try to secure
employment in Canada. First and foremost are the challenges with
obtaining Canadian accreditation for their skills and education.
Lack of Canadian work experience, lack of knowledge about Canadian
workplace culture, low proficiency in English, isolation, and depression
are also common challenges. These barriers, along with others, are
discussed in the following article by Viet Tran, Director of the
Employment Transition Program and one of VIRCS three founders:
Canada says that new immigrants continue to have more difficulty
in finding a job than Canadian-born residents.
In addition to the general difficulties of regular job seekers in
the mainstream society, immigrants and visible minorities have to
cope with many other barriers to employment. It is very difficult
for these job seekers to find and maintain employment, particularly
for unemployed immigrants who are new arrivals, lacking an understanding
of working culture and workplace norms of the mainstream society.
Despite the fact that the majority of these new arrivals bring positive
working habits such as loyalty, hard working, etc. to the new workplace,
they may not be able to maintain their employment because of misunderstanding
and differences in culture and practices at the new workplace such
as team work, conflict resolution, working relationship with coworkers
and supervisors, differences in communication styles, and miscommunication/misunderstanding
at work (this is particularly true for those with a low level of
communication skills in English).
Immigrant job seekers normally cope with both systematic and personal
barriers to employment. Accreditation is one of the worst systemic
barriers and English comprehension is one of the major personal obstacles
for highly skilled immigrant job seekers to find employment in their
professional fields. Yet, the majority of them are willing to take “entry
level” positions and struggle to get back to their former careers
in the long run. They work hard to upgrade their English and also
try hard to have their degrees/certification accredited for long-term
employment goal. In reality, it is impossible to break the iron wall
of systemic career protectionism, particularly in BC.
The following significantly constitute the most systemic and personal
barriers that immigrants- particularly foreign-trained professionals
and trades people must overcome in order to find long term employment
compatible with their skills and experience:
Accreditation of Skills: It is difficult
and expensive for clients with professional backgrounds to have their
education and experience
evaluated and recognized. Majority of the program’s skilled
trade workers and professionals face special challenges in their
search for meaningful employment in their former field. For example,
many of them encounter the dilemma of requiring licensing before
being considered for employment in their profession, but they are
unable to apply for any form of license until they obtain experience
within Canada. It is especially true for refugees who were forced
to leave their homelands without documentation, and therefore their
educational accomplishments are not verifiable.
Lack of Canadian basic training and upgrading
overseas trades or training skills are not recognized. Local employers
either discount overseas foreign qualifications or hire the person
at a much lower salary rate. Training institutions normally do not
have their training programs customized to meet the needs of internationally
trained professionals or skills trade workers for skills upgrading.
Lack of Canadian work experience: Many
new immigrant job seekers have neither Canadian work experience nor
a stable work history (because
of war or political/social turmoil in their former countries).
Lack of Knowledge of Canadian laws, bylaws, and
trained professionals and skilled trade workers from other countries
normally do not know North American standards required for their
profession. It is essential for local training institutions to provide
them with special training courses about Canadian laws, bylaws, and
regulations in their professional fields.
Lack of English proficiency: This is the
main barrier to employment for many immigrants. It prevents many
professionals from getting
a job where they can utilize their expertise. It is also a roadblock
to employment for the skilled trade immigrants who normally do not
have high education from their former countries. Lack of English
may be interpreted as poor communication resulting in limited social
networking for employment search. Language barrier may lead to loss
of confidence, depression, and withdrawal.
Different Culture norms: Cultural barriers
are also a burden for our clients being able to find employment.
Speaking well about oneself
is not socially accepted in many cultures. North American concept
of “selling yourself for work” is an alienated idea from
other cultures. “Avoiding eye contact” – a sign
of respect elsewhere – could be easily misinterpreted during
a job interview as lack of confidence or even dishonesty.
Lack of local Network: Networking is an
essential part of the job search process. It is impossible to have
access to hidden job openings,
unless one has an extensive network. In many cases, it is very true
that it is not what you know, but whom you know will help you successfully
Accessibility of Training: Most immigrant
clients are unaware or unable to access training opportunities. Some
are restricted by language
or finances while others are intimidated by the application process
or discouraged by a lack of self-esteem. For others the concept of
an adult going to school or changing careers in mid-life is culturally
No Knowledge of Labour Market Information:
Many immigrant job seekers neither recognize the important role of
LMI in marketing their skills,
nor do they know how to collect and filter information necessary
for their employment search.
Lack of Job Search Skills: The exercise
and process of job search in other countries are not as comprehensive
as in North America.
Many immigrant job seekers do not how to prepare a resume or a cover
letter. They do not know how to market themselves as well as sell
their skills and experience in the labor market. Immigrant job seekers
normally cannot compete with mainstream applicants in a job interview.
Unrealistic Expectations: Internationally
Trained Professionals - particularly from Europe - who have high
education, technical skills,
and/or good English Language skills tend to have a high expectation
for employment that prevents them from getting their first stepping-stone
job in Victoria. This situation exists until they either accept the
condition of the local labour market after a long employment search
or face the financial reality when their savings is about to be drained.
It normally taxes these clients’ time and energy until they
adapt to the reality of the local labour market, usually within six
months to a year.
Deflated Expectations: Many immigrants
bring with them distorted ideas about life in North America. Demystification
can be especially
trying for clients with professional backgrounds who face entry level
work outside of their field.
Loss of Supports: Being in a new country
means losing family ties and friendships which otherwise would offer
support and guidance
in times of difficulty.
Lack of basic “modern-life” skills:
Immigrants from third world countries may lack skills such as time
management, stress and
anger management, budgeting, and general information needed to cope
with the way of living in North America. It is hard for them to find
and keep their first job in Canada.
Racism: Immigrant job seekers may feel
a psychological blow to their search for employment, when discrimination,
and probably racism play a role in the hiring process. Racism is
also a primary concern for visible minority job seekers, particularly
those who apply for management positions or jobs in the public sector.
It makes them feel rejected and the negative impact generally pushes
them into a withdrawal mode.
Loss of confidence & self-esteem:
Only a small percentage of internationally trained professionals
and highly skilled trade workers
were able to secure a professional job in their former field. Many
of them have only two choices: either accept entry level positions
or stay unemployed and keep dreaming of going back “home” for
their former jobs. In both cases, they have confidence and self-esteem
gradually eroded after years of trials and failures to find meaningful
employment. It may take toll on their emotion and destroy their family
We, at the Employment Transitions & Coaching Program, recognize
the above roadblocks to employment for immigrant job seekers. We
provide them with specialized employment assistance services to meet
their unique needs.
The ETC program has successfully helped ten thousands of immigrant
job seekers overcome their employment barriers, increase their employability,
find and maintain employment since 1990.