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(ROBERT GALBRAITH/Robert Galbraith/Reuters)
(ROBERT GALBRAITH/Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Jobless rate up for Toronto immigrants Add to ...

Nearly one in five recent immigrants in Toronto is jobless - the highest November since Statistics Canada started collecting the data in 2006.

The labour force survey results paint a worsening unemployment picture for the city's newcomers that stands in sharp contrast to that of Canadian-born residents, whose jobless rate dropped this month.

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New programs announced this week target integration for Canada's immigration capital, even as Toronto - which used to draw half the country's newcomers - is becoming less attractive as a destination of choice.

While jobless rates dropped both nationally and locally - to 7.6 per cent Canada-wide, the lowest level in two years, and to 6.7 per cent from 9.2 per cent earlier this year in Toronto - unemployment is ramping up for people who have come to Canada in the past five years.

In Toronto, 19.7 per cent of recent immigrants are unemployed. That's far higher than the 13 per cent who were jobless just a year ago, and nearly three times the jobless rate for Canadian-born residents.

It's not unusual for immigrants to be hit harder by recession and to take longer to recover their job prospects. But Toronto relies more on immigrant labour now than it has in the past: As of 2011, virtually all of the city's job-market growth depends on immigrants.

"Because of the fact that more than 50 per cent of our residents are foreign-born, there's a sharper thrust and a higher stress for us to do really well," said Ratna Omidvar, president of the Maytree Foundation.

What's perennially missing in a city with a plethora of disconnected services and growing socioeconomic stratification, advocates argue, are the tools to connect immigrants to jobs. To this end, the federal government has pledged $2.3-million in funds to help Torontonian immigrants integrate - cash that has gone to programs started in May of this year.

And a new initiative through Scotiabank is teaming up with the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council to try to link immigrant professionals with their Canadian counterparts.

Immigrants who've arrived in Canada since the financial crisis face a growing Catch-22 of employment barriers, says TRIEC executive director Elizabeth McIsaac. They are at a disadvantage from the start, and the longer their lack of Canadian experience bars them from the job market, the harder it is to join and the longer their unemployment is a drag on the rest of the economy.

"If you landed in the middle of a recession and you didn't get your first opportunity, your time out of the market exacerbates the challenges you had getting into it.… It begins to have a multiplying effect - a real scarring effect on immigrants."

In the meantime, Mayor Rob Ford, who mused during the election campaign that it would be nice if Toronto could shut its door to immigrants, could be getting his wish: In 2009, Toronto attracted 32.8 per cent of Canada's immigrants, compared to 49.9 in 2001.

In part, says Ms. Omidvar, this is because cities like Winnipeg have made an extra effort to market themselves to immigrants. But the onus is on Toronto to do the same, and to address barriers from licensing bodies that keep foreign-trained professionals out. "We have some systemic issues that we have to deal with: We can't keep saying, 'The immigrant has to do better - learn more languages, become more hockey-savvy.' "

When she left a successful job in marketing with RBC in Trinidad to join her family in Canada, Alana Mohan, now 35, was unemployed for the first time since she was 19. After months of searching, she says, she took a job two weeks ago doing billing from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. for a Toronto-based shipping firm, for a fraction of her previous salary.

She hopes she'll be able to find a job in her field, she says, but it's frustrating to come up against the perception that her 10 years of professional experience is useless in her new home. "I cannot lie and tell you there's no measure of regret because I'm in this situation," she said. "But … I still believe I am where I'm supposed to be. I believe a door will open."

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