Vancouver project highlights barriers to employment for newcomer women

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Newcomer Cindy Chan graduated from Dalhousie University in the early 90s and ran apprenticeship programs for three Hong Kong universities for 25 years before immigrating to Vancouver in January 2021.

But despite her Canadian degree and extensive experience working abroad, she says she had difficulty finding a job in her field.

Chan says she believes all newcomers deserve a job that reflects their overseas work experience. Thus, in October, she began to participate in a storytelling project with the association Pacific Immigrant Resource Society (TAKEN).

“Redefining the Canadian Experience” publishes articles on immigrant women and their experiences of employment in Canada. It received $21,000 in funding from the Vancouver Foundation and aims to highlight systemic discrimination in the job market, where many employers reject immigrant applicants because they lack Canadian work experience.

Chan, who landed a contract position as a program coordinator at Vancouver Community College last summer, says she has met many newcomers who have faced many employment challenges even though they were fluent in English.

“One was an English teacher at the time [in Romania]”, she says. “But her first job here was at Tim Hortons, then she stayed there for a while, then she moved to a casino and worked as a cashier… she had always wanted to come back to her own field of profession.”

Chan says she knows another woman who, despite her MBA and many years of marketing experience in India, was told by a hiring manager for a junior administration position that other candidates had more of local experience than she.

A project review report will be submitted to the foundation after its conclusion this month.

“It’s borderline ridiculous”

According to Statistics Canada, newcomers, especially visible minority women, are even more likely to become unemployed than non-immigrants. 2016 Census data shows an unemployment rate of 14.2% among women of color who immigrated to Canada in the past five years, compared to 6.6% among non-immigrant women of color.

SAIP program coordinator Sanzida Habib says it often takes five years or more for highly skilled immigrant and refugee women to return to the profession they had before coming to Canada.

In addition to struggling to find affordable child care and allowing their partner to take additional Canadian training or certification, she says these women feel compelled to volunteer many hours to gain Canadian experience. which she hopes will improve their employability.

“It’s not fair,” she said. “You have to volunteer when you need money to settle in a new place where you have just arrived and you have no one to support you.”

In an interview for the project, Michael Yue, acting director of Vancouver Community College’s partnership development office, says he persuaded members of the recruiting committee to hire Chan because he viewed his international experience as a asset.

Michael Yue, director of partnership development at Vancouver Community College, says it doesn’t make sense that many employers are asking for Canadian work experience from people who are new to the country. (Vancouver Community College)

Yue, who immigrated from Hong Kong 30 years ago, says he got his first job in Canada after volunteering for five months and didn’t face so many obstacles looking for a job. a job than other newcomers.

Still, he says, it’s unfair that many employers and professional associations still require Canadian experience from recent immigrants.

“It’s borderline ridiculous,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t understand why they consider foreign-trained professionals to be almost inferior…they’ve built projects that are probably 10 times bigger than what we’ve built in Canada.

Euphemism for discrimination

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has adopted a Politics nine years ago, which said that the requirement of Canadian work experience could be discriminatory, unless employers and professional regulatory bodies could prove otherwise.

The Office of the British Columbia Human Rights Commissioner told CBC it is aware of the issue, but is not currently working on a similar policy.

When asked if they had received any complaints about employers asking newcomers if they had Canadian work experience, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal said it did not. was unable to provide information in time.

Queenie Choo, CEO of British Columbia-based settlement services agency United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society (SUCCESS) admits that some employers see Canadian work experience as essential. The agency therefore organizes its programs under the banner of helping new immigrants gain this experience.

SUCCESS CEO Queenie Choo says her settlement services agency is developing programs for newcomers looking for work under the banner of helping them gain Canadian experience. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Choo says the organization helps newcomers by connecting them with volunteer opportunities, internships with Canadian companies and mentorships with Canadian-based professionals.

“There are a lot of success stories, depending on what newcomers are looking for,” she said.

Izumi Sakamoto, a social work professor at the University of Toronto who helped shape the OHRC policy, says she hopes Canadian experience requirements could be dropped altogether.

Izumi Sakamoto, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto, says requiring Canadian work experience could be a way of suggesting that overseas work experience is inferior. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

Sakamoto says many employers, especially in small and medium-sized businesses, emphasize Canadian experience during interviews to the point where it becomes a euphemism for racism and xenophobia – believing international experience to be inferior. and justifying that newcomers must conform to the dominant white culture.

“Let’s not pretend we’re not racist…and just work together to get rid of that prejudice,” she said. “Just accept immigrants as they are and work with immigrants.”

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