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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:


Statistics 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 opportunities: Many 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 regulations: Internationally 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 gain employment.

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 unacceptable.

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, misunderstanding, prejudice, 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 fabrics.

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.