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A landmark national study confirms what new immigrants already know: They are financially no better off now than they were at the turn of the millennium, and have poverty rates three times higher than Canadians, despite their high levels of education.

The Statistics Canada study is an indictment of Canada's immigrant selection model, which actively recruits skilled professionals, most of whom cannot get work in their fields, and are forced to accept jobs delivering pizza or pumping gas.

In 2002, low-income rates among immigrant families during their first full year in Canada were 3.5 times higher than those of people born in Canada -- higher than at any time in the 1990s. By 2004, they were 3.2 times higher.

This is the first-ever study examining the chronic low income of immigrants, and the researchers tracked as many as 280,000 people over 15 years.

The study, released yesterday, found that the probability of entering a low-income period was very high for immigrants during their first year in Canada, ranging from 34 per cent to 46 per cent. If immigrants did not accept a low-wage job during their first year, the likelihood of entering a period of low income fell to 10 per cent or less, suggesting that they are better off holding out for a job in their field, rather than accepting a minimum-wage job.

"The shift to more educated and skilled-class immigrants has changed the face of the chronically poor in the 1990s," wrote Statscan analysts Garnett Picot, Feng Hou and Simon Coulombe.

Low income was defined as $26,800 for a family of four; immigrants who fell in that category for at least four of their five years in Canada were considered to be chronic low income.

The study found that one in nearly five immigrants who arrived between 1992 and 2000 were living in a state of chronic low income.

"The study validates what we intuitively know: There is a huge disconnect between the labour market and our immigration program," said Ratna Omidvar, executive director of the Maytree Foundation, which promotes the integration of immigrants.

In 1993, Ottawa modified the selection model for immigrants to attract more highly educated newcomers. The proportion of new immigrants with university degrees rose to 45 per cent in 2004 from 17 per cent in 1992.

These highly educated immigrants might have been expected to earn more. However, by the early 2000s, skilled immigrants had a greater chance of being low income than immigrants who came in under the family reunification program. The downturn in the high-tech sector in 2000 also had an impact, the report notes.

"I was certainly misled," said Denis Mathew, a 32-year-old MBA graduate from India who came to Toronto in October, 2006.

"The advertisements for Canada overseas gave the impression that there is a lot of growth here.

"But the only opportunities here are for unskilled labour."

Mr. Mathew has more than 10 years experience in advertising in India and Dubai and worked for the eighth-largest advertising firm in the world, Hakuhodo Percept.

However, his expertise counts for nothing. Mr. Mathew has been to more than a dozen interviews, and is always told the same thing: "You must have Canadian experience," he said with a rueful laugh.

It is a vicious circle. He cannot get the Canadian experience unless a Canadian employer will take a chance on a newcomer.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates that the un- and underemployment of immigrants costs the economy as much as $5-billion a year, said Harish Jain, professor emeritus at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business. "It is not just the cost to the economy, but the demoralizing effect on immigrants, which can result in social upheaval," he said.

The government has launched a number of initiatives to assist newcomers, including a federal agency to help foreign professionals integrate into the work force. Ontario passed a bill last year to help ensure that regulatory bodies that license professions are more transparent.

But many immigrants are in non-regulated professions, including finance, business, information technology and human resources. "It's the failure of the community of people who hire," Ms. Omidvar said. Some corporations are taking small steps to open their doors to skilled foreigners. The Royal Bank of Canada, for example, has stopped asking applicants where their degrees are from in an attempt not to screen out immigrants.

Without more measures such as these, more and more skilled professionals such as Mr. Mathew will give up on Canada. A 2006 Statistics Canada study found that one-third of male immigrants leave within 20 years of their arrival -- more than half within their first year of arrival.

"It is a criminal waste of my knowledge and experience," said Mr. Mathew, who plans to leave Canada by the summer if he doesn't land a job in his field.