Is the Need for Canadian Experience for Job Seekers Really Just Hidden Racism?

Others, Racism , Refugees

Contributed by: Inasmuch

There’s a resigned acceptance – to the point that it has practically become a joke among Canadian newcomers – that to get a job of any note, you must have Canadian experience.

It doesn’t matter that you could be qualified up to your eyeballs in your home country. Or have been a professional in your field for 15 years before moving. Or even that you’ve transferred your entire world to Canada because your role is on a government-issued list of skills in demand.

Employers want Canadian experience. 

And that’s why I want to ask the question: if this isn’t a form of systemic or hidden racism, what is it?  

After all, newcomers of whatever stream – refugee, Express Entry, federal skilled worker – are being continually turned down for employment because of their lack of experience in Canada. 

As one man, who is still struggling to find meaningful employment after emigrating to BC from Eastern Europe three years ago, told me: “I knew that leaving my country at level ten would mean I would have to start at level six in Canada. I never dreamed I would have to start at zero.” 

The truth is employers are actively excluding exceptional candidates and talented people because of such a blinkered demand. They scan a resume – see an unfamiliar name from a country they don’t know much about – and make a snap judgement. And at a stroke they miss out on a great hire.

It’s true that sometimes someone’s English isn’t up to scratch – and that can indeed be a limiting factor. And systems like accounting might be different across the world – much like they are across Canada. But newcomers are willing and able to upgrade their skills with ESL training and additional courses. They have great transferable skills – if only they had the chance to showcase them.

However, that still doesn’t account for the overwhelming majority of people from overseas who experience being turned down or not promoted because of a lack of Canadian experience.

It isn’t just doctors or other “protected” professions this is happening to. Although, as a side note, it does seem a crying shame that an experienced and able orthopaedic surgeon is working as a landscaping assistant, because he cannot enter the medical field – even as a care assistant – because he doesn’t have any Canadian experience.

The truth is, it’s happening in every field and industry sector. These rejections are hidden under the guise of “Canadian experience” and seem to be universally accepted. It may not appear directly in job ads, but you only have to talk to a couple of newcomers to hear anecdotes and experiences of being turned away from job opportunities because of a perceived lack of Canadian experience. Indeed, there are even web pages on major job sites like that are dedicated to the phenomenon. 

Employers might as well state: foreigners not welcome.

So newcomers are faced with little choice. 

They can take a much lower grade job and hope for a break later, or they take any job just to survive. Or they try to start their own business to gain some kind of meaningful work. It’s pretty soul destroying. 

Plus, every newcomer is told that networking is one of the best ways to find a job. It’s often a case of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. Again, that stacks the odds against the newcomer – whatever their industry, skills or experience. 

There have been horrendous forms of systemic racism in Canada in the past – the Chinese Immigration Act, the Indian Acts, residential schools, the Komagata Maru, or the internment of Japanese families to name but a few. I’m not saying that losing out on a job opportunity for lack of Canadian experience is anywhere near comparable. But I venture to suggest it’s still a form of racism nonetheless.

Canadian employers are effectively saying that, even though newcomers are legally entitled to work in Canada, probably have lots of experience and great qualifications in their chosen field, as well as desire and determination to succeed in their new country, they are not welcome. 

Precisely because they are new to the country. 

It’s not fair and it’s not an approach that harnesses the opportunity and talent of newcomers. It dismisses their transferable skills, is a terrible waste of knowledge and is plain short-sighted. And it automatically makes newcomers into “other”.  

There has to be a better way.