Despite improvements by the Canadian governments to recognize diversity, such as anti-discriminatory policies in Calgary’s labour force, immigrants continue to struggle to achieve income parity with average Canadian wages.
Although language barriers and transfer of credentials play a significant role in the economic status of newcomers, many immigrants report that discrimination at work is what limits them.
“The hourly wages of university-educated immigrants living in Canada are, on average, one-fifth lower than those who are Canadian born,” says Anupam Das, an associate professor of economics in the Mount Royal University department of economics, justice and policy studies.
“Canada has a high proportion of immigrants relative to other developed countries. The wage gap is so large in Alberta, I suspect it will be true for Calgary to an extent.”
According to a 2016 census from Statistics Canada, the visible minority population has been on a steady rise, peaking at 1.3 million new immigrants taken in by Canada – the highest level in almost a century.
Now, immigrants make up more than a third of Calgary’s population.
As important drivers of labour force growth and productivity, Calgary immigrants have surprisingly lower wages than Canadian-born workers.
The census showed that while Canadian-born citizens earned $36,300 on average, immigrant status citizens only made $29,770.
Other studies show that the gap between median hourly wages of university-educated immigrants and Canadian-born citizens has been on the rise since 2006 in all but three Canadian provinces; Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.
Das speculates that these numbers are accurate. He believes that discrimination in hiring processes are part of the problem.
Untold stories of discrimination in the workplace
Naheed Gilani is an independent financial consultant. Born and raised in Calgary, Gilani speaks perfect English but he’s careful when applying for jobs because his name and face aren’t “Canadian” enough.
“If you change your name for the purpose of the job application, you will suddenly get a lot more interviews.”
Gilani recalls a time when he was discriminated against in a workplace. He says, “In smaller centers in Southern Alberta … I’m pretty sure somebody called me a ‘Taliban.’”
Gilani is convinced that the reason discrimination happens in Calgary, is because people fear the unknown.
“People just haven’t interacted with people of different backgrounds,” Gilani says.
Gilani’s story isn’t the only one of its kind.
With the increase of immigrants, the subtle rise of racism and discrimination has been especially noteworthy.
According to a 2011 study in the American Economic Journal by Philip Oreopoulos, people with foreign names were less likely to receive a call back from employers.
Oreopoulos’ study cited a 2006 census that stated immigrant unemployment rates were nearly twice as high because hirers judge applicants based on the sound of their names.
Melanie Peacock, an associate professor of General Management and Human Resources at MRU’s Bissett School of Business, highlights the systemic discrimination that immigrants tend to face.
According to the research studies Peacock observes, she adds, “[Employers] automatically assume that a person won’t have the right communication skills or have the right experience. Even if they move past that, [the employers] want Canadian experience.”
A 2017 online survey commissioned by Think for Actions and Insights Matter showed that 72 per cent of respondents believe Canada has adopted an increasing climate of hatred.
Think for Actions is a think tank based in Calgary focused on effectively engaging district affairs. Insights Matter is a non-profit organization that generates solutions to community issues based on research.
“[There has been] a lot of Islamophobia, a lot of ignorance, a lot of misunderstanding. We have to educate people, we have to show people who we are,” says Shima Safwat, founder of One Nation, a Calgary group dedicated to creating understanding and awareness for different cultures in the community.
Building a better future
According to Safwat, Gilani is right. People often create barriers to immigrant-status residents out of fear because immigrants trigger personal assumptions of other people’s traditions.
“I feel like my kids are in the middle … [they] have some restrictions in our society … because they are not Egyptian anymore and they are not fully Canadian,” says Safwat.
A wearer of the Niqab, a traditional piece of clothing that covers the face, Safwat explains that she is not oppressed nor forced to wear the Niqab, rather, she wears it by choice.
But despite Safwat’s efforts to educate people about the Niqab, people still stare. Just last month, Quebec passed a religious neutrality law, Bill 62, that banned face-covering and stated that those who required public services must now uncover their face to receive them.
According to other immigrants and experts in the Calgary community, people hesitate to share their struggles although they imply that they’ve experienced their fair shares in their workplaces.
They worry that what they say could be misunderstood and take away from the gratitude they have for those who hired them.
Irfan Chaudhry, a criminology professor at the University of Alberta, says, “often what you see regarding discussions of inclusion is just a matter of trying to create an equitable playing field.”
Chaudhry is also the founder of the Twitter Racism Project, a case study founded in 2013 dedicated to tracking online racism through tweets, as well as the lead researcher for the Alberta Hate Crime Committee, an organization that aims to foster a safe environment through addressing hate crimes, promoting awareness and enhancing government response.
“Some groups require support just to get the fair shot that other groups have,” Chaudhry says.
“The biggest tension is the perception that when you are inclusive of one group, it’s at the expense of another group.”
Although there are programs and services available to help newcomers in Calgary such as Calgary Immigrant Educational Society (CIES), Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) and Centre for Newcomers, the economic status of many immigrants are still limited by unintentional discriminatory actions in the workplace.