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Canadian immigrants from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe are earning less than those from other nations, according to a study released by Statistics Canada.

Male immigrants who came to Canada between 1995 and 1999 earned an average of 24 per cent less than those who arrived between 1965 and 1969 - after adjusting for inflation.

The study attributes one third of this decline to Canadian employers undervaluing foreign labour experience, particularly the work experience of people from non-Western, developing countries.

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During the 1960s, each year of foreign work experience equated to a 1.5 per cent increase in an immigrant's income - today, that number stands at 0.3 per cent.

Language ability and nation of origin are also cited as factors in immigrants' overall economic nosedive.

"Immigrants from Northern, Western and Southern Europe saw essentially no change in the [financial]returns to their foreign experience" from the 1960s, the report states.

Immigration patterns in Canada have drastically shifted since the 1960s, when 70 per cent of Canada's immigrants were born in the United States or Northern, Western and Southern Europe and 21 per cent came from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Those numbers were reversed by the late 1990s.

The foreign work experience of immigrants is being undervalued in Canada, according to Jeffery Reitz, a immigration expert at the University of Toronto.

"Justifiably or not, it's happening ... and that's producing more negative outcomes for immigrants," he said.

Prof. Reitz said research needs to be conducted to help immigrants improve their status.

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Statistics Canada noted a steady decline in immigrants' income levels during the 1990s, but most experts attributed the decline to the country's economic recession, Prof. Reitz explained.

But during the economic prosperity of the late 1990s, most migrant's fortunes did not improve.

"Education levels of all Canadians were rising rapidly over the same period and created a much more competitive environment," Prof. Reitz said.

The study suggests that the foreign education of Canada's immigrants is not valued any less than it was 30 years ago. On average, a four-year university degree earned abroad raised an immigrant's earnings by 38.1 per cent in the 1960s and increases it by 38 per cent today.

Overall income deterioration is also attributed to "compositional factors" such as language and technical prowess.

Today's immigrants are less likely to cite English or French as their first language. Their networking skills and unfamiliarity with the Canadian labour market could also factor into their economic hardship, the report states.

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Statistics Canada also notes that many immigrants arrive in Canada from developing nations and often lack the technical skills needed to compete in an advanced, knowledge-based economy.

Montreal-based immigration lawyer David Cohen said the economic hurdles immigrants face may be a product of racism, either conscious or unconscious, on the part of employers.

"Let's take the earnings of immigrants from places like India and China and place them up against other visible minorities in Canada," Mr. Cohen said. "I'm not pointing a finger and saying Canadians are racist ... but, for many people, the employment doors may be harder to push open."

Overall, the salaries of new entrants to the labour market - whether immigrants or native Canadians - have declined throughout the 1990s. But Prof. Reitz said this should not take away from the economic plight Canadian immigrants face.

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