3 in 10 young immigrants may leave Canada in 2 years: survey

A new online survey shows 30 per cent of newcomers are considering leaving the country within the next two years. Dilshad Burman with the reasons why and what it means for the Canadian economy.

By Dilshad Burman

A new survey of young immigrants is highlighting some long standing issues in Canada’s economy as well as some warning signs for the future.

The national survey conducted by Leger for the Institute of Canadian Citizenship (ICC) suggests that 30 per cent of newcomers below the age of 35 as well as 23 per cent of university educated new immigrants will likely relocate within the next two years.

“As Canada depends so heavily on immigrants, not just for the labour market, but for culture, ideas, entrepreneurial energy — the list goes on and on and on — this should be pretty concerning that the youngest, brightest and most ambitious of the newcomer generation are giving Canada a second thought,” Daniel Bernhard, CEO of ICC told CityNews.

Why are newcomers disenchanted with Canada?

Bernhard says while it is a combination of factors that is leading newcomers to reconsider laying down permanent roots in Canada, the survey underscored two main concerns: cost of living and recognition of credentials/job opportunities.

Among newcomers aged 18 to 34, 75 per cent felt the rising cost of living means immigrants are less likely to stay in the country and 46 per cent of Canadians in the same age group felt the same way.

Bernhard said the rising cost of living affects all Canadians, across the board, but the issue is tied in with professional and status expectations for newcomers.

“Let’s remember that newcomers are more than twice as likely to hold an undergraduate degree or higher than the average member of the Canadian public,” said Bernhard. And as Canada seeks out more educated and talented newcomers, Bernhard says they tend to come from a “higher status” in their home country as well.

“When they’re coming here, the failure for us to recognize their talent and professional credentials and work experience leads to, I think, what they perceive as an underpayment and that combined with the high cost of living leads to a status downgrade of sorts,” he said. “There’s a cost to moving to another country and newcomers are not complaining that they expect a Rolls Royce to be waiting for them at the airport. But I think they were recruited to come here to work in specific fields because of their skills and when the labour market doesn’t recognize [that] and asks people with 15 years experience to be applying for jobs that require five, I think there’s an understandable disillusionment that results.”

The survey indicates that only 16 per cent of newcomers and 22 per cent of adult Canadians below 35 feel that Canada adequately recognizes the credentials and work experience of immigrants. When it comes to level of pay based on experience, 31 per cent of both groups in the same age range feel immigrants are fairly compensated. A larger discrepancy is seen between the two groups when it comes to job opportunities: 45 per cent of Canadians feel immigrants get fair opportunities in the country’s job market whereas 33 per cent of newcomers feel the same.

Bernhard says the numbers show that the problem is widely recognized across the population.

“This is not just a problem for the quality of life of immigrants. This is a problem for the whole of society,” he said.

He adds that while the survey showed that 72 per cent of new comers below 35 felt Canada provides a good quality of life for immigrants, that is not enough to keep them here.

“As the type of people who come get more and more educated, they’re also more and more mobile. They’ve got choices,” he said. “If they don’t find satisfaction here, if they don’t find fulfillment here, they’ll go find it somewhere else and that’s going be a huge challenge for our country,” said Bernhard.

Read the full survey below:


What does this mean for Canada’s economy? 

Economics expert Atif Kubursi, professor emeritus from McMaster University, says allowing immigrant talent to slip away will set Canada’s economy back on the world stage and dull the country’s competitive edge.

“The world economy is now basically restructured. Now we have a knowledge-based economy. We compete on the basis of knowledge, on the basis of creativity,” he explained. “Gone are the days where we could depend on oil and natural resources. We cannot compete except with people with knowledge, skills, entrepreneurship and creativity.”

Kubursi says young new immigrants are the dynamic segment of society who bring vital new skills and talent to the country, that are crucial to Canada’s transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based one.

“If we do not give these people the chance to apply their education, to land jobs that are consistent with their expectations, we are denying society the incredible wealth of experience, knowledge and vibrancy that these people bring to it. This country has been built by people like them,” he said. “Intellectual capital and entrepreneurship are assets. If you lose them, you lose all the capacities that come with them.”

Bernhard points to the current and ongoing crisis in healthcare as just one example of how not making use of immigrant talent directly affects society as a whole.

“In Ontario alone, for example, we have over 13,000 doctors who are trained outside of Canada — tens of thousands of people who have completed their Canadian accreditation exam and still can’t work,” he said. “Meanwhile, you and me are waiting over a year and a half for basic necessary surgeries.”

He adds that the same could be said for businesses looking for labour and struggling with the high costs involved.

“[Canada is] not recognizing so many other people who want to work in the system — from healthcare to education, software design etc. If we don’t make use of this talent, we will behave as though it doesn’t exist and we will suffer the consequences,” he said. “It’s not just about immigrants’ wellbeing, it’s about at our collective future.”

Kubursi echoes those sentiments.

“Competition and those who win it are those who have the command of this language and skill [of the new knowledge-based economy]. If we are negligent of this very important, dynamic segment society, we’re going to lose and lose big. Our future is at stake here,” he said.

How can Canada better retain immigrant talent?

Bernhard feels both policy and cultural changes are needed to ensure immigrants choose to stay in Canada and feel fully invested in the country.

Recognition of educational and professional credentials is a critical issue for many immigrants, as reflected in the survey. Bernhard feels both federal and provincial governments could make policy changes that would allow for more appropriate and efficient use of the talents of foreign trained professionals.

When it comes to welcoming newcomers, Bernhard says the federal government is doing a good job of bringing Canada the “best and brightest in the world.”

“I think what we’re missing to some extent is a cultural change, especially on behalf of employers, for things like the value of ‘Canadian experience,'” he said. “This is a huge discriminatory barrier that gets thrown in people’s faces.”

Bernhard says while there is no doubt that work experience in the country is important, it is not important enough to turn away a highly qualified candidate who may not have it.

“Can it not be taught within a couple of months? And then someone who has 20 years of experience can be right on their way. Do you really need to pay a penalty for your entire career because of a lack of Canadian experience at the beginning?” he asked.

Kubursi agrees, saying it falls on everyone from the business community to Canadian entrepreneurs and educational institutions to make sure immigrants survive and thrive in the country.

“We have to all work together in a social project to make sure we don’t lose this — I hate to call them capital — but they are intellectual capital and knowledge capital,” he said. “To a great extent discrimination is extremely costly and particularly when it’s discrimination against the most promising sector and segment of society.”

Bernhard adds that he hopes businesses in particular will realize that there is already an existing talent pool within the country that they can immediately benefit from.

“You don’t have to fly them from across the world. They’re here, they’re ready. They’re very, very enthusiastic about making contributions to the Canadian economy and I think business leaders need to do a better job of recognizing what this talent looks like,” he said. “I would really encourage business leaders in particular to just rethink the way that they approach the labour market and recognize these skills are here. Their competitive edge is just sitting and waiting for them to call.”

“[We have to make sure] we do not stand in the way of absorbing this incredible segment under which our future is going to be underwritten,” added Kubursi.

Survey Methodology

The study included an online survey of 1,519 general population Canadians aged 18+ completed between February 25 – 27 2022, using Leger’s online LEO panel, in addition to an online survey of 2,103 New Canadians using ICC’s New Canadian panel completed between February 24 – 28. Weighting has been employed to ensure that the sample composition accurately reflects the adult population of Canada, as per the latest Census Data.

No margin of error can be associated with a non-probability sample (i.e. a web panel in this case). For comparative purposes, though, a probability sample of 2000 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

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