Friday, February 2, 2007

EDITORIAL: A sorry waste of talent

Toronto Sun
EDITORIAL: A sorry waste of talent

2 Feb. 2007

Canada, as we've all proudly proclaimed for years, is a land of opportunity. A nation of prosperity. A country of equality for all.

But it turns out we have to put an asterisk next to all of the above, and a subnote saying Canada is a country of opportunity and equality -- unless you're an immigrant.

Shockingly, according to a report released earlier this week by Statistics Canada, life for newcomers to our land is getting tougher, not easier.

Immigrants arrive on our shores filled with hopes for a better life but find themselves shut out of jobs and incomes that many other Canadians take for granted.

Too often they're denied opportunities in the fields for which they trained in their countries of origin. As a result we have doctors driving cabs, engineers cleaning floors, teachers working retail.

In 1980, low-income rates for immigrants in the country for five years or less were 1.4 times higher than those of the Canadian-born. In 1990, they were 2.1 times higher, in 2000, 2.5 times higher and in 2004 they were 2.7 times higher.

In 1992, StatsCan says, 17% of immigrants entered the country with degrees. Twelve years later, that had grown to 45%. Yet in 2004, low-income rates among immigrants during their first full year were about 3.4 times higher than that of people born in Canada.

Consider the case of Hamdi Mohamed, who fled Somalia and came to Canada as a refugee with her mother in 1989. A trained high school teacher with a degree in history and literature, her skills weren't recognized in Canada and the only work she could find was as a dishwasher.

Now, at 42, she's executive director of Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO), helping ensure others don't face experiences similar to hers.

But we can't leave the work up to ad hoc groups. It's unconscionable that immigrants with so much to offer are being marginalized while professional fields in Canada cry out for skilled workers.

We need to find ways to fast-track the qualification process to determine whether the training that newcomers bring with them measures up to our country's own exacting standards and then either get them working or provide the additional skills required.

To do anything less is unfair both to the immigrants and to Canada.