Employment Discrimination and Ethnicity in Toronto, Canada

Eye opening was my new job as an IT recruiter here in Toronto, Canada. As a North American born and Canadian raised and educated, I knew something was askew. Reading hundreds of resumes per week I wondered why it took so long for me to find work, though it is not exactly in my job stream. Why where there so many newly immigrated foreigners out of work? Why where there so many second generation immigrants, fluent in English and Canadian educated, having such a difficult time finding work, in our ethnically diverse Toronto?

It is old news that recent immigrants to Canada have a difficult time finding gainful employment in their specialty. It goes without saying that new immigrants to Canada may have language issues which limit their employability, but year on year there are news articles about surgeons from foreign countries living in Canada only able to find work as truck or taxi drivers. With personal experience from friends I believe this is completely true.

In this tough recession, after years of unemployment, despite my Canadian employment experience and Canadian education, I could not understand why I could not find a job. I was perplexed. Was it the state of the economy? Was it my studies in China and fluency in Mandarin that companies did not like? Was it my Chinese name?

One jewel of a link from the Globe and Mail article caught my attention:

But there is more to the problem than just the state of the business cycle, a case made by Philip Oreopoulos, a labour economist at the University of Toronto, in a paper called “Why do skilled immigrants struggle in the labour market?

While I cannot comment on the methodology of the study the conclusions of Dr Oreopolous make a lot of sense in my situation and explain a lot.

Thousands of resumes were sent in response to online job postings across multiple occupations in Toronto to investigate why Canadian immigrants, allowed in based on skill, struggle in the labor market. Resumes were constructed to plausibly represent recent immigrants under the point system from the three largest countries of origin (China, India, and Pakistan) and Britain, as well as non-immigrants with and without ethnic sounding names. In addition to names, I randomized where applicants received their undergraduate degree, whether their job experience was gained in Toronto or Mumbai (or another foreign city), whether they listed being fluent in multiple languages (including French).

The study produced four main findings: 1) Interview request rates for English-named applicants with Canadian education and experience were more than three times higher compared to resumes with Chinese, Indian, or Pakistani names with foreign education and experience (5 percent versus 16 percent), but were no different compared to foreign applicants from Britain. 2) Employers valued experience acquired in Canada
much more than if acquired in a foreign country. Changing foreign resumes to include only experience from Canada raised callback rates to 11 percent. 3) Among resumes listing 4 to 6 years of Canadian experience, whether an applicant’s degree was from Canada or not, or whether the applicant obtained additional Canadian education or not
had no impact on the chances for an interview request. 4) Canadian applicants that differed only by name had substantially different callback rates: Those with English sounding names received interview requests 40 percent more often than applicants with Chinese, Indian, or Pakistani names (16 percent versus 11 percent). Overall, the results
suggest considerable employer discrimination against applicants with ethnic names or with experience from foreign firms.

Clear is the conclusion from page 8:

Applicants with English-sounding names with Canadian education and experience received callbacks 40 percent more often than did applicants with Chinese, Indian, or Pakistani names. Conditional on listing 4 to 6 years Canadian experience, being foreign educated (whether at a highly ranked school or not) did not affect callback rates
substantially… Adding more language credentials, additional Canadian education, or extracurricular activities had little impact on these overall results… Overall, the results suggest considerable employer discrimination against ethnic Canadians and immigrants.

Because of the diverse multicultural nature of Toronto this conclusion is shocking to me. Despite my decidedly Canadian upbringing, is it my Chinese name that is my Achilles heel? Is this also true for my children? While there is relative racial harmony here in Toronto, we still have a long way to go for employment equality. Irregardless of the reasons for discrimination, and the author has suggested many, this discrimination greatly harms job seekers, just as it has harmed my family and myself.

Despite the Ontario Human Rights law that bans discrimination due to ethnicity, it is difficult or impossible to legislate equality in hiring practices. It is these same companies that are bypassing some really excellent talent. Yet this is Canadian culture, and I learned this from a very young age. Unlike the Americans we are much more subtle here in Canada. It will be interesting to see if this hiring practice will persist as Toronto becomes even more ethnically diverse. I hope that there will not be the unspoken two tier society that we have today.

4 thoughts on “Employment Discrimination and Ethnicity in Toronto, Canada

  1. Kevin Frost

    I agree with you that unfortunately there is discrimination in the Canadian hiring process. I am also immigrated recently to Vancouver and see how the “networking” works.

    But I would like to highlight one of my experience which might surprise you. Walk into a T&T supermarket here in Vancouver and find me an employee who is not Chinese! I bet you will not find. I found many Chinese HR persons in different companies. You can imagine who they are prefer. See the advertisements where the Mandarin language is required. Also interestingly you can walk into any SUCCESS employment office and you will realize that they are managed by Asian people. But the peoples who attend these employment offices are not Asian origin:-)

    You know I am against any discrimination and I like Chinese people, but do not think so that you are better that you are criticizing:-)

  2. Matthews

    As more emerging markets develop, there will be less need to emigrate to countries like Canada or Australia.
    The brain drain must stop and allow those poor countries to develop themselves with their own people.
    Just take indian and chinese people, because both sum 2.6 billion. But leave other countries alone.

  3. Ahebban


  4. Daniel

    Any immigrants reading this page: Don’t become part of the millions of under-employed or unemployed immigrants who are fooled yearly to come to Canada. Its just a scheme by their Government to get your money off of you (spending it on properties, cars, lawyers, etc.), just to be excluded from their job market. Next year 250,000 other fools take your place…… They will give you a million excuses of ‘what you do wrong’ (layout of CV, etc.), but ask any one with a doctorate degree driving a cab in Canada: It is nonsense. They want your money, but try and work in your field of expertise there. You will be discriminated against on a level that is just unheard of. I have worked in many countries on high level (Directors level, as a Chartered Accountant – also Canadian Chartered Accountant) and was shocked too, after some 80 job unanswered applications, to have learned this the hard way. You won’t even get an e-mail or a phone call returned. Good luck to even just be granted an interview by an employment agency.

    [Don: I am a proud Canadian and have lived here most of my life. I do agree with your assessment that immigrants have a terribly difficult time finding work in their specialty. Still, this is my home and I continue to seek a solution or at least understand why this problem occurs. I have no answer. The facts are that I personally know many people who have migrated here, could not find good job prospects, and then returned to their home countries. Some simply ran out of money. It is expensive to live here in Canada.

    There are job problems with not only recent immigrants but for those of us from visible minorities who are born and raised here. For us there are no issues of language, culture nor education because we are Canadian. Something blocks our path to good jobs nonetheless.

    I do not believe that this is some scheme from the Canadian Government to trick immigrants out of their money. I believe that there is a psychological issue with hiring managers and Canadian companies that may shy away from immigrants/visible minorities. Why this is I cannot say and no one from these companies would be willing to say. Maybe this is because in general Canadians are more conservative and are therefore not willing to give newcomers a chance? Of course this is only my opinion.

    As for recruiters, they will mimic the hiring requirements of the Canadian companies. They will only call you if they have a chance at getting their commission. There is nothing personal here, just business. If Canadian companies will not hire you, then recruiters learn this very quickly and will not call you.

    Still, without gainful employment you will lead a life of poverty here in Canada. We have the most well educated taxi drivers here in Toronto, and sadly this is not shocking news at all. We had a case where an medical doctor from India who could not find work and now drives a taxi saved a patient in his taxi while on route to a hospital. This is so sad, I know. This applies to all Canadians, immigrants, visible minorities, and born and raised in Canada. Companies in the US are much more open to giving immigrants a chance. Maybe you could look at other countries.]

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