The “Canadian Dream,” i.e., the prospect of a better life and the opportunity to start anew in Canada, lures hundreds of thousands of engineers, doctors, and other high-skilled professionals every year. However, while Canada is often touted as a land of opportunity, for many immigrants the Canadian Dream will always remain a dream—a fantasy, rather than a reality.

Canada has one of the highest ratios of high-skilled immigrants to low-skilled immigrants amongst first-world countries; around 50% of immigrants to Canada are high-skilled, compared to 16% in the case of the United States [1]. Yet, while high-skilled immigrants in the US are now out-earning their local counterparts, the rift is only growing in Canada, where the average immigrant with a university degree earns 33 percent less than their Canadian-born counterpart [1]. In fact, every year, many immigrants leave Canada for countries such as the US, where it is far easier for them to get jobs that match their credentials [2].

Many companies often ignore those with non-Western university degrees to avoid the added hassle of researching foreign institutions, as they receive a high number of applications on a daily basis. To make matters worse, many Canadian companies demand “Canadian work experience,” which immigrants are unable to acquire. Thus, in Canada, it becomes virtually impossible to return to one’s prior professional level. The only way out of underemployment is “Canadian work experience,” and the only way to find Canadian work experience is through the same employers who demand this experience. With such barriers, it is not surprising that so many of our truck drivers happen to have engineering degrees. In many cases, new immigrants simply do not know the extent to which underemployment plagues Canada’s immigrants. The government does its best to convince prospective immigrants that Canada will promise a better future, spending $3.5 million on advertising annually [3]. This can be misleading, and is costly not only to the immigrants themselves, but also to the Canadian economy. An estimated $20 billion dollars is lost in productivity owing to this “mal-employment”the trend of overqualified candidates working minimum-wage jobs [4].

To bridge the gap between workers who may lack certain training and employers who are unwilling to risk hiring workers with foreign credentials, standardized competency exams for each professional field could be administered in Canada. This would allow potential immigrants to determine the amount of training they need to meet the standards required to practice their professions in Canada. People could then gain certifications by taking the necessary exams, which would be developed by the Canadian government with insights from top employers in each field. By writing the exams, employees would be able to acquire necessary certifications easily, rather than by having to invest in courses which may not even be entirely relevant to their workplaces in Canada. Furthermore, this could help potential immigrants decide if they should actually come to Canada. Instead of arbitrarily admitting “high-skilled” workers, only to have them end up flipping patties at McDonald’s, economic immigrants would be accepted depending on the need for such workers.

Once the credentials required of immigrants are made more accessible and obtainable, the promised Canadian Dream may finally start becoming a reality.

Illustration: Amy Yan