Every year, the Toronto region welcomes half of all immigrants who arrive in Canada. As a city, we are home to the second highest proportion of immigrants worldwide, surpassing Sydney, Los Angeles and New York, and trailing only Miami. Nearly 44 per cent of the GTA’s population and 47 per cent of the City of Toronto is foreign-born.
The majority of newcomers to Toronto are skilled workers. More than 60 per cent of people who immigrate to the GTA are specifically selected for their skills, and more than half have some form of post-secondary education. In addition to job-specific skills, immigrants bring knowledge of different languages, markets and investors. These individuals can and should play an important role in our region’s economic, social and political life.
The large numbers of immigrants in the Toronto region create an unparalleled competitive advantage in today’s global economy. New research at the University of Toronto suggests that the growth of knowledge-based industries is closely linked to levels of immigration and diversity. Toronto scores higher than almost all other North American cities on these indices.
A good example lies in the telecommunications industry. With the dramatic decline of global communication costs, we now have telephone and Internet service centres in the Toronto region that serve customers worldwide in their native languages. With residents who speak more than 100 different languages and come from over 200 different countries, Toronto should be at the forefront of this new, high wage global service industry.
Toronto is not fully capitalizing on this multicultural and highly skilled labour force advantage. Immigration-related policies, funding and services are currently fragmented or poorly coordinated across governments, the voluntary sector and other service providers, and are often unresponsive to the specific needs of Toronto region communities. In addition, Ontario receives only 38 per cent of federal settlement funding, despite taking over 50 per cent of total immigrants.
Government support for immigrants focuses on first stage needs, such as shelter, orientation and language instruction. But, as immigrants enter Canada with higher education and skill levels, they also face significant barriers to finding suitable employment. These barriers include things such as a lack of information on employment in their trade or profession, difficulty in having international education and credentials recognized, lack of access to employment-relevant language training and a lack of opportunities to gain Canadian work experience. The Conference Board of Canada has estimated that if all immigrants were employed to the level of their qualifications, $3.42 to $4.97 billion would be added to the economy each year – the largest share of that in the Toronto region.
In order to capitalize on the advantages of immigration, we need to improve our ability to address the second stage needs of new immigrants. We need to speed up their entry into the labour market in jobs that are appropriate to the education and skills they bring. We need to become a ‘centre of excellence’ for integrating immigrants.
In 2004, both senior levels of government have taken first steps towards tackling this issue.
The government of Ontario has committed to investment $4 million over three years to create the CON*NECT program. CON*NECT is working with colleges to create a framework that will provide internationally trained professionals and trades people a way to fast track their entry in the workplace.
The federal government announced $4 million in federal funding to enable more international medical graduates to practice medicine in Canada.
In addition, the government of Ontario has signed a letter of intent with the federal government to develop a joint immigration agreement. This agreement aims to increase local involvement in developing immigration policy, identify a new funding formula and achieving seamless integrated services. Finally, at the end of September, 2004, the provincial government appointed an advisor, former Ontario justice George Thomson, to work with Ontario’s regulatory bodies on ways to further reduce barriers for the internationally trained. Mr. Thomson’s primary task will be to review the current appeals process of the regulatory community and develop a set of common principles upon which to base a standard independent appeals mechanism.