In the third quarter of 2023 alone, Canada welcomed 107,972 new arrivals, mainly permanent and temporary residents. These newcomers are expected to improve the country’s economy, fostering growth in economically vital sectors.
However, recent immigrants — those who have arrived within the past five years — encounter higher unemployment rates compared to their Canadian-born counterparts. The statistics for 2023 reveal a significant disparity, with the unemployment rate among recent immigrants standing at 8.8 per cent, while it was notably lower, at 5.1 per cent, for individuals born in Canada. This translates to recent immigrants being 1.7 times more likely to be unemployed.
Some of the factors contributing to this inequality could stem from regulatory barriers related to job licensing or the insistence on Canadian work experience for newcomers. This preference is a considerable obstacle for newcomers who may have relevant international experience but lack a Canadian work history.
Amid these challenges, many newcomers resort to survival jobs just to make ends meet. These jobs are well below their skills, experience and expertise.
But other immigrants embark on a journey of career transition as they navigate their paths to success in Canada. This reality is echoed in the experiences of Youssef Skalli, Danna Ibrasheva, and Neha Sharma. All three are highly skilled immigrants who changed careers in order to secure their first jobs in Canada.
Youssef Skalli, originally from Morocco, transitioned from human resources to coaching in Canada. Having arrived in 2021, he initially volunteered for the employment service agency in Ottawa, and within three months, he was offered a full-time position with the same agency.
“I came to Canada with the idea of starting my coaching practice. But I wanted to work first to get myself familiar with the working environment and the job market in Canada,” Skalli said. “I needed to capture the mindset and workplace culture in Canada so that I can offer the best services to my coachees.”
After working for six months with the employment service agency, Skalli embarked on his solopreneurship journey. Skalli said he had noticed a disconnect between immigrants, the services offered by the agency, and the trends in the job market during his interactions with different HR professionals.
“There is a lack of knowledge between what the market has to offer and the skills of the immigrants. I say with full transparency that there is a systemic bias in the job market, with continuing stereotypes which were established 40 years ago.”
One of the main aspects that Skalli noticed is that all immigrants are put into one basket. “There is an assumption that immigrants do not speak English or do not speak (multiple) languages, while there are different immigrants who speak multiple languages,” Youssef said.
In Skalli’s opinion, there are systemic biases in the job market, with one being the need for Canadian experience.
“In every country worldwide, there is an economy that is emerging, growing, developing, or already developed. How are these economies supported? They are supported by the people of these countries, the very same people who move to Canada and bring their knowledge with them. Why is the Canadian experience considered as an asset? How can an immigrant gain the Canadian experience if the first door is not open for them?”
Skalli said that immigrants come to Canada with a growth and success mindset, with many having the courage to change their lives to contribute to Canadian society and economy.
“However, there is a tendency to focus on what they lack rather than acknowledging the contributions they bring and the skills they possess,” he said.
A native of Kazakhstan, Danna Ibrasheva arrived in Canada with 10 years of experience in human resources. In her new country, she decided to become a business analyst. When asked why she chose to leave human resources, she mentioned experiencing burnout in the HR industry due to the emotionally draining nature of the profession.
Ibrasheva decided to learn how to code. She enrolled in the Women in Tech program, which is offered by the Making Changes Association and provided free of charge to newcomers like Ibrasheva.
She graduated in the top three of her cohort and secured an internship at TC Energy in Calgary. Ibrasheva then spent three months searching for a job; after 252 job applications, 12 screening calls, three coding challenges and six interviews, she received two job offers.
“Job hunting was very stressful. I recommend new immigrants to be prepared for the process,” Ibrasheva said. “Be resilient and patient because you will face so many obstacles. Be ready for rejections, lots of rejections.
“The Canadian job market is based on networking and referrals. It is not about what you know, it is about who you know.”
Neha Sharma, originally from India, transitioned from the aviation industry to human resources. She arrived as an international student and earned her MBA in St.Catherines, Ont.
“I left my comfortable job of 15 years and decided to take the leap of faith. Transitioning from being a flight attendant to an international student was overwhelming,” Sharma said.
“To begin with, I lost my social and financial independence. Earlier, I was travelling the world, and now I was cocooned in a small room in a student living apartment. It felt like my wings had been clipped off. With no incoming cash flow, and my savings being spent in paying exorbitant tuition fees and taking care of my living expenses, I had to be wise and frugal with my spendings.”
During her first year in Canada, Sharma focused on studying and didn’t look for work. She completed an MBA and still found it hard to get her foot in the door of a Canadian company.
While looking for jobs on LinkedIn, she connected with Immigrant Networks and began to expand her network and engage in information interviews. She honed her resume and began to post HR-relevant content on her LinkedIn account.
“Creating my personal brand was instrumental in landing my current role. The effort that I put into building my online presence led to people reaching out to me,” Sharma said. “Some of my content went viral and I was approached by a recruiter for my current role.”
Sharma said people who wish to move to Canada should conduct research before coming.
“Sometimes reality can hit hard after landing into a new country. Culture shock, variations in weather, lack of a support system, and anxiety about job search can make the transition to a different country strenuous and can make people disappointed and demotivated,” she said.
“There is no one strategy that fits all and hence, one needs to be open to unlearn, learn and relearn. Networking and reaching out to professionals in roles similar to your area of expertise can provide industry insights. Formulating a targeted approach can culminate into getting that one opportunity that enables you to get your foot into the door.”
Makhabbat Aitekenova, a journalist from Kazakhstan, is a graduate of Nazarbayev University, the country's top institution known for its English-language instruction. With over five years of experience in broadcast journalism and digital media, Makhabbat is skilled in writing for television, radio and newspapers. She recently arrived in Canada in September 2023, with plans to further her career in journalism, focusing on local and immigrant stories. In her spare time, Makhabbat enjoys reading books about Canada, with her latest literary delight being 'The Colony of Unrequited Dreams' by Wayne Johnston. You are welcome to follow her on LinkedIn and X.