Here’s a bit of really good news: Last year, newly arrived immigrants were more likely to have jobs than native-born Canadians.
This is hugely important. It suggests that recent reforms to Canada’s immigration system are working. People coming to Canada from overseas are finding work and helping the economy grow.
With immigration heating up as a federal election issue, the facts are not on the side of those who seek to reduce the flow. New arrivals are not sinking into unemployment and dependency. They are flourishing.
Recent data from Statistics Canada show that in 2018, 63.9 per cent of people aged 15 and older who arrived in Canada within the past five years were employed. Among those born in Canada, the figure was 62.3 per cent. (I am grateful to freelance journalist Jason Kirby, who posted the new data on Twitter.)
Compare last year with 2014, when 63 per cent of native-born Canadians were employed, but only 57.7 per cent of new arrivals. What happened?
One factor must be the launch of the Express Entry program on Jan. 1, 2015. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was worried that newly arrived immigrants did not always have the language and job skills needed to find work quickly.
To correct the problem, the Harper government introduced Express Entry, a program that fast-tracks potential immigrants who have either a job offer in hand, or who are abundantly qualified to find work: fluent in an official language, with an advanced degree and/or experience in fields where workers are badly needed.
Express Entry has helped eliminate the employment gap between new immigrants and native-born Canadians.
Like other developed countries, Canada has an aging population and a low birth rate. “If you look at Canada’s demographic challenges in the coming years, the one thing that is really going to save us and help ensure our prosperity is immigration,” Rachel Curran, who was Mr. Harper’s policy adviser and now works with him at his consulting firm, said in an interview.
“The fact that we’re able to attract and recruit the best and brightest people from around the world is really going to be key to our prosperity in the coming decades,” she added.
Other factors are also at work. As I wrote in October, more than four times as many foreign students are studying in Canada today as in 2000. Those students are entitled to work in Canada after they graduate, and are prime candidates for permanent residence under Express Entry.
Brendon Bernard, an economist who studies the Canadian job market at Indeed Hiring Lab, points to increasingly restrictive immigration policies in the United States as one possible reason skilled workers prefer coming to Canada.
In an October report, he showed that the U.S. share of people in India who used Indeed’s website for overseas job searches had fallen from 60 per cent to 50 per cent over the past two years, while the Canadian share increased from 6 per cent to 13 per cent.
“Job-seekers from India looking at roles in Canada quite often search for tech-related roles," Mr. Bernard said in an interview. "These roles are in high demand in the Canadian economy and they’re important for Canada’s long-term productivity growth as well.”
A few caveats: A tight labour market in recent years has helped everyone – new arrivals as well as native-born Canadians – find jobs.
Also, the employment rate – the percentage of people working – is measured differently from the unemployment rate – the percentage of people looking for work who can’t find it. The unemployment rate is still higher among newly arrived Canadians (9.4 per cent) than for those born in Canada (5.7 per cent). But in 2014, the unemployment rate was almost twice as high for recent immigrants as for native-born Canadians. By just about any criterion, Mr. Bernard observes, the trend is toward employment convergence between skilled immigrants and the native-born.
The Quebec government plans to cut the province’s immigration intake by 20 per cent this year, while Maxime Bernier’s nascent People’s Party says it would seek to restrict the flow of immigrants, claiming that too high a level “creates social tensions and conflicts.”
Politicians of every stripe should debate immigration policy. But they must debate from the facts. And those facts show current policies are working amazingly well.