Skilled immigrants struggle to find jobs as government plans to welcome more

As the federal government prepares to open the door to more immigrants to drive economic growth, some who are already here say they're struggling to find jobs, despite being highly-educated and qualified.

On Monday, the Liberal government announced that it is boosting the base number of immigrants allowed into Canada next year from 260,000 to 300,000. More than half of the increase will come from immigrants in the "economic" class, which includes skilled workers, businesspeople and caregivers.

Immigration Minister John McCallum said the new target "lays the foundation for future growth." But skilled immigrants already settled here are worried about the present.

Survival jobs

"I don't see a lot of growth," Sandy Chugh said when describing his current job. Despite having years of experience in marketing and a bachelor's degree from Ireland, the 32 year-old is working in a warehouse for the retailer Best Buy.

Chugh says landing the job, which involves stocking warehouse shelves and loading trucks, took six weeks and four interviews. He thinks it will take too long to find a position he's truly qualified for at the company and is now looking to start his own recycling business.

Working at a job they're overqualified for is something Chugh says many of his immigrant friends are going through.

"I know lots of people working in call centres," he said.

Chugh arrived to Toronto from India last April. His wife has an MBA but is working a "survival job" at $14 an hour. "She deserves better," he said.

'Not so many opportunities'

Julie Wei immigrated to Canada last April but she hasn't lived in her native China for nearly a decade. Since 2007, she lived, worked and studied in the United States, where she earned a PhD. in educational psychology from the University of Illinois.

Wei says Canada's "openness" to other cultures attracted her. While Wei has enjoyed immigrating to Canada, her job search has been disappointing and she's unemployed.

"I'm realizing there are not so many opportunities," Wei, 40, said in an interview with CBC News.

Despite her education and teaching experience at Universities in China and the United States, Wei has not been able to land a job at a Canadian institution.

"I'm adjusting my expectations," Wei said, as she's now branching out her job search to include just about any relevant position at a university.

"I'm not sure which area I can improve," she said.

Canadian experience

While it's true that parts of the country are dealing with high unemployment, some immigrants blame their employment trouble on another factor: a perceived tendency employers have to prioritize Canadian experience over foreign experience.

Wei, for example,believes she has the experience to get hired but it's overlooked because she didn't acquire it in Canada.

"I think it's more to do with the culture," Sandy Chugh said. "They're looking for people who have Canadian experience, Canadian degrees."

Izumi Sakamoto, an associate professor of social work at the University of Toronto, says it's an issue many skilled immigrants are facing.

"When they show up to job interviews, they're told they don't have Canadian experience and can't be hired. Somehow your experience is inferior to that of a Canadian," Sakamoto said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

"It's not a good feeling," Sakamoto said.

It may also violate Ontario's Human Rights Code. In 2013, the Ontario Human Rights Commission began drawing attention to Canadian experience requirements. The commission considers it a form of discrimination.

Sakamoto says that while many large employers and human resource managers are aware of this, small business owners may not be. As Canada prepares to welcome more skilled immigrants, Sakamoto wants to see more awareness.

"Immigrants should not feel that their skills are inferior to those in Canada."