Non-Recognition of Credentials: A Barrier to the Successful Economic Integration of Canadian Immigrants


Globalization is a societal process of ongoing interconnected economic, cultural, social, and political changes. This globalization project mobilizes people of different backgrounds or demographics across national borders by transferring goods and services, technology and information, skills and knowledge, and the flow of investments. In addition, it allows cultural fusion from various regions of the world, allowing immigration policies to adjust to the needs of capitalist economies, particularly of wealthy nations. Canada is no exception to that global economic trend, becoming a pluralistic society looking for a better approach to managing an evolving multicultural society. This global economic trend affects immigration policies catering to local or national corporate or commercial activities. Canada’s economy keeps afloat through the influx of exceptionally professional and skilled immigrants. However, foreign credentials generally remain for requirement purposes only, which become a passage instrument to obtain an entry visa. Consequently, Canadian employers do not recognize foreign credentials and devalue work experiences in the labour market. The non-recognition of credentials is a barrier to the successful economic integration of Canadian immigrants.

Credential Barriers

Selection of immigrants to Canada requires high eligibility: education, language proficiency in English or French, work experience, and age. These eligibility criteria attract the most highly educated individuals from other countries to apply as immigrants. Those most educated professionals and high-skilled workers are but are not limited to medical doctors, dentists, nurses, accountants, lawyers, teachers, and management executives and managers. These jobs are classified as professional and skilled work skill levels zero and A.

The Canada National Occupational Classification (NOC) classifies occupations based on specific jobs and is grouped based on work duties or work a person does. For example, Skill Type 0 (zero) are management jobs, such as restaurant managers, school administrators, human resource managers, financial managers, senior government managers and officials. Skill Level A includes careers requiring a university degree, such as doctors, dentists, nurses, engineers, and architects. Technical jobs and skilled trades are under Skill Level B, which requires a college diploma or training as an apprentice. Examples of this category are chefs, electricians, and plumbers.

Skill Level C, which includes food and beverage servers, industrial butchers, product assemblers, and long-haul truck drivers, requires high school and specific training. Finally, Skill Level D is under the labour job category and usually gives on-the-job training, such as cleaners, oil field workers, and other general labourers. However, the government website informed applicants that this classification system is exclusively for immigration processing. Therefore, the government does not give any assurance of employment as they come to Canada. In addition, the government provides no specific program for these immigrants to guide them to integrate into Canada’s economy successfully.

As a result, since they immigrated to Canada, such professional or skills credentials are barely recognized; thus, newcomers grapple with challenges and difficulties in establishing a living. But, again, immigrants must remember that those credentials are for selection purposes only, and successful participation in the labour market is not guaranteed. In this respect, a significant volume of literature validates that most educated immigrants experienced a lack of credential recognition by Canadian employers (Hira-Friesen, 2018a: 37; Hira-Friesen, 2018b: 72; Hande et al., 2019: 721), devaluation of their foreign credentials (Frank, 2013: 76), or lack of recognition of qualifications (Anderson, 2010: 301). Frank describes the obstacles to immigrants’ employment success as structural barriers, considering the devaluation of foreign credentials (Frank, 2013: 76), a systemic exclusion of some immigrants from entering their professions, mainly if certificates are from non-traditional regions of origin like Africa and Asia (Basran and Zong, 1998; Pendakur and Pendakur, 2000; Bauder, 2003; Li, 2003 cited in Frank, 2013: 76-77), and the status of “outsider” hinders newcomers in job success (Kogan, 2004: 447 quoted in Frank, 2013: 81).

In addition, labour market segmentation as part of the capitalist economy requires labour for the unpleasant and unpopular jobs that give companies flexibility (Stalker, 2001 cited in Lusis and Bauder, 2010: 30). In other words, Lusis and Bauder observe that if labour market engagement rules exclude immigrants from the primary segment, then these immigrant workers are relegated to the lower or second segment of the labour market (2010: 30). This segmentation of labour signifies hierarchy in the workplace. On the one hand, newcomers to Canada represent a possible solution to the country’s labour force shortages; at the same time, since they are relatively younger, they provide potential population growth for Canada’s aging workforce (Hira-Friesen, 2017: 13).

The non-recognition of foreign credentials and work experiences pushes this group of immigrants to participate in the labour market where their training does not fit, and work experiences are irrelevant. They need to survive while adjusting to economic challenges. As a result, they stepped down from the social echelon they were entitled to in their countries of origin; thus, accepting menial and precarious employment was the only option at the time. Hira-Friesen sees it as a necessity rather than a choice (2017: 39); for example, a foreign teacher or a nurse working as a nanny, a cashier, and a cleaner – multiple jobs – to support the family’s daily needs. Hence, the previous example is a shift from the standard employment in their country of origin based on credentials to the non-standard job in their destination country. It also connotes a change in immigrants’ perception of life in Canada as what they perceived before immigration.

Participation in Precarious Labour

In a study conducted by Hira-Friesen, she defined precarious employment as individuals working in temporary jobs, multiple jobs, and most of the time, involuntary part-time work (2018b: 72). Due to limited social networks or connections, immigrants need to be flexible and creative to survive; thus, they turn to more informal channels to secure jobs (Hande et al., 2019: 721), or “survival jobs” as termed by an interviewee in Hande et al.’s study (2019: 272). This change in immigrants’ occupational experience shifts from standard to non-standard work arrangements, making organizations and labour markets more flexible (Kalleberg, 2009 cited in Hira-Friesen, 2017: 3).

At the same time, such flexibility positively affects many families, excluding workers from social protections available through standard employment relationships, such as job security, quality jobs, training, and mobility opportunities (Kalleberg, 2009: 562 cited in Hira-Friesen, 2017: 3). Those conditions are essential to newcomers as they settle in their host country; thus, employment insecurity becomes detrimental to their successful integration into the Canadian economy (Hira-Friesen, 2017: 3). This kind of experience in Canada’s labour market significantly impacts immigrants’ perception of Canada as a just and equal society known internationally. Canada’s portrayal as a land of fairness and equality diminishes exacerbated by poor working experiences, accentuating a powerful illusion of robust legal protections and a regulated labour market (Hande et al., 2019: 722).

Furthermore, immigration controls, as a means of increasing representation of national labour force prioritization in employment, also protect migrants from exploitation; however, in practice, it does neither because it functions as both labour flow regulator and creator of certain forms of labour (Anderson, 2010: 301). Anderson further articulates that immigration works to form types of jobs with particular relations to the labour market and employers through making entrant categories that impose institutionalized uncertainty, combined with less formal migratory processes producing precarious workers (2010: 301). Entrant migrants include skills, earnings, experience and age, country of origin, or marital status, expecting a younger age profile (Anderson, 2010: 308). However, the eagerness of immigrants to have a better position away from their country of origin supplants or displaces these underlying immigration issues, which individuals with a high level of education and work experience vie or compete.

Moreover, other push factors by which most educated immigrants involuntary engage in precarious labour are but are not limited to the following: newcomers’ exclusion rule of labour market labour as a dictate of capitalists, discriminatory policies of employers to hire those with Canadian experience, and the immigrants’ classification as “others.” Consequently, despite their relatively high educational attainment, immigrants are employed in the secondary labour market or general labour such as caregiving and construction labourers (Hande et al., 2019: 721).

Then, finally, immigrants are trapped in situations that expose them to exploitation, bar them from upward mobility in their careers, affecting their socioeconomic status by widening the wage gap with their Canadian-born counterparts. In addition, their involuntary participation in precarious employment indicates downward occupational mobility that might adversely affect newcomers’ and their families’ well-being. Hira-Friesen sees that engagement in a dangerous job partly creates a deficit in immigrant earnings and recognizes the combined discriminatory hiring practices and discounting foreign education and work credentials may lead to precarious work, leading to low wages (2018a: 36).

Further, Hira-Friesen also explains that low income is a crucial source of common standard economic integration among immigrants, coupled with existing discourses surrounding economic integration disadvantages (2018a: 36). She also observes that non-whites are expected to earn less than their white counterparts, which is a valuable indicator of economic discrimination (2018a: 37). Thus, income is another factor to consider in evaluating immigrants’ difficulty integrating into Canadian society. Several research projects also show that Canadian immigrants find it difficult to incorporate because of economic low-income rates, which cannot be at par with the earnings of their Canadian-born counterparts.

Despite the high level of education and relevant foreign work experiences, skill and educational upgrading could help gradual employment mobility. In a study, Hira-Friesen found the effect of education on precarious labour; however, as education increases, being employed increases; for example, it is possible to work as a sessional instructor or research assistant if an individual has a graduate degree (2017: 14). In contrast, regardless of education, language skills, and pre-migration job backgrounds, today’s immigrants are more likely to encounter difficulties in the Canadian labour market; hence, it describes an increasing income gap between them and non-immigrants with comparable human capital, along with racialization of income disparities and poverty (Goldring and Landolt, 2009 mentioned in Hira-Friesen, 2018b: 72).

Sociological Analysis of the Research

The lived experiences of the research participants and the government data used to study this phenomenon have a solid relationship to Karl Marx’s conflict theory, in which the concepts of class, inequality, and exploitation encapsulate my analysis. Irrefutably, individuals live in a class-based society, meaning the organization of the public is based on grouping,  strata, hierarchy, and class system. Therefore, social institutions are organized in the same manner. In this sense, Canadian immigrants and the labour market as institutions illustrate such characteristics as a particular group of people.

On the one hand, the economic immigration system deliberately classified immigrants as workers, which is also true of the immigration system of Canada. Accordingly, the selection of eligible immigrant applicants is classified based on their skills, work experiences, and educational attainments, reflecting their socioeconomic status; considering immigration entails financial capability through the proof of settlement funds. On the other hand, the eligibility criteria imply who might be included and excluded to compete in the application process. As a result, the competition does not cease in the bid for an immigrant visa. Still, it increases in the receiving country’s labour market and integration dynamics into the Canadian economy, intensified by a lack of recognition of foreign credentials and work experiences.

Furthermore, the non-recognition of credentials and work experiences are forms of discrimination and prejudices in the layering of the labour market competing for employment that could be linked to inequality and attainment of desirable socioeconomic status (SES). Thus, it reflects the racialization of immigrants based on their education and employment background. As a result, the capitalists dictate the segmentation of the job market (dual labour market) into primary and secondary employment. The direct labour market includes white-collar or primary jobs earning a salary, security, and robust paybacks. In contrast, the secondary market contains blue-collar jobs earning hourly wages and is characterized by job insecurity, less or no benefits, and social protection.

Most literature reveals that primary jobs, such as managerial, supervisory and other higher positions, are intended for white people. Nevertheless, secondary employment, such as menial and risky jobs like cleaning, driving, and security guards, are reserved for non-Whites, immigrants, and those they consider “others.” Similarly, immigrants were again classified as the“reserve army of labour,” ready to work in precarious jobs because no meaningful choice was available. Here, despite their high education and qualifications, immigrants are exposed to any form of employers’ exploitative practices while amassing profits at the expense of workers’ vulnerable conditions. Thus, immigrants are wittingly classified and racialized in the Canadian labour market.

Sociological Analysis of the Policy

The Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) is based on the value of human capital. Human capital includes education, training, health, and experience. For example, individuals could increase their productivity through excellent schooling and enhanced skills training, such as communications skills, technical skills, mental health, and personal resilience or problem-solving skills. These characteristics are important aspects of businesses, ensuring investment profits and value-added. This perspective motivates the government to invest in human capital, allowing shifts from relatively poor areas of earnings to where possibilities and opportunities are better. However, the human capital model confuses labour with labour for wages while capital for profits.

Subsequently, using the conflict theory framework, such a human capital paradigm reinforces inequality, competition, exclusion, stratification, and domination of those individuals of high socioeconomic status, which describes the class-based structure. The policy strengthens pay gaps among workers, competes for limited opportunities,  and heightens competition in the labour market. The National Occupational Classification’s (NOC) categorization and grouping of jobs demonstrate employment hierarchy and structure in the job market and workplace. At the same time, acquiring education and training in universities and colleges requires financial investments, illustrating one’s socioeconomic status, which also reflects one’s capability in producing the settlement funds. This eligibility widens the gap for prospective FSWP applicants.

Accordingly, the eligibility criteria reproduce unequal chances while excluding those without a single selection criterion among potential immigrants. For instance, an applicant is most likely highly qualified on other criteria yet could not meet the financial requirements. The requirements for eligibility are starkly structured, indicating inequity and implying competition along the process. Also, civil status and age are plus factors in the application; hence, competition and disparity intersect with one’s chances based on age, gender, ethnicity, and class that demonstrate one’s SES. For instance, a married applicant is more likely to be given a chance than a single unmarried counterpart, which illustrates the capability to produce fiscal requirements, doubling the possibilities with equally recognizable education and experience the spouse has.

Moreover, younger applicants have a more incredible opportunity to be selected based on the probability of more extended economic participation. In contrast, a couple has a better chance of having a break to secure pieces of training to be more competitive in the employment market or to integrate economically. In the same way, adaptability-wise, a married couple is more flexible than a single person, considering the spouse or partner’s education and the funds to bring to Canada. Thus, the government must revisit and review the program and assess its lacking component to utilize human capital and take full advantage of its gains and expansions. 


The non-recognition of Canadian immigrants’ credentials is an obstacle to their successful integration into the country’s economy. Canada has an effective program for attracting and accommodating significant volumes of immigrants through its human capital immigration scheme. However, it also requires the government to effectively monitor and evaluate if the economy fully utilizes immigrants’ potential or the human capital for maximum gains. Therefore, a bridging program is needed to enhance or enrich human capital and transform it into tangible economic benefits. For instance, post-arrival services direct immigrants to cooperative education, bridging courses, and practicum or internship packages, motivating them to be proactive pecuniary actors.

Otherwise, the depreciation, devaluation, or non-recognition of foreign credentials will be an ongoing practice in the Canadian job market, forcing the skilled and highly educated immigrant population to participate in precarious labour to survive the unforeseen costs of immigration. I argue that this downgrading technic demonstrates a failure on the part of the government in managing human resources and views the group of immigrants as a reserve army of labour. Therefore, the absence of recognition or ignorance of the immigrants’ credentials entails underlying exclusion, exploitation, alienation, discrimination, and institutional racism, reinforcing social inequality and supporting capitalist interests (maximizing profits) in Canada, an internationally known egalitarian society.

Finally, the government must consider re-examining and evaluating the FSWP under Ontario’s Express Entry Human Capital Priorities stream to include post-arrival services in its implementation that guarantee maximum advantage to Canada’s economy. I highly recommend extensive research projects, both qualitative and quantitative, to magnify more empirical evidence in aid of legislation, for example, highly skilled and professional immigrants’ employment in precarious labour. To conclude, whether established or recent newcomers are underrepresented or overrepresented in precarious work compared to their Canadian counterparts is a strong basis to help Canadian policymakers better understand immigrant employment market outcomes; thus, strategize and implement appropriate immigration policies in the future (Hira-Friesen, 2018a: 36.

The Policy Brief

Ontario’s Express Entry Human Capital Priorities Stream, an immigration stream, is under the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) – Federal Skilled Worker Program. Government data shows that Canada attracted the most educated individuals to live permanently and acquired citizenship in the past decade. In addition, immigrants have a high level of educational attainment and valuable work experiences from their countries of origin or elsewhere outside Canada. Because of the country’s international reputation as a fair and just society, a land of opportunities, and a multicultural approach to governance, people immigrated with high hopes of experiencing living in such an ideal place. However, immigrants experience quite differently establishing their lives, which their economic integration deemed less complicated considering their qualifications. The problem lies in the non-acceptance or unfair consideration of immigrant credentials in the Canadian labour market or by Canadian employers.

Many relevant sociological studies validate this concern of professional and skilled immigrants. Literature shows that Canadian employers’ views on foreign education and work experiences are less relevant to the needs of the Canadian labour market, affecting immigrants’ job market performance and economic integration into Canadian society (Houle and Yassad, 2010 cited in Hira-Friesen, 2018a: 37); thus, newcomers, particularly recent immigrants experience a higher rate of non-standard employment (Hira-Friesen, 2018a: 37), or precarious work, such as characterized as temporary, involuntary, and multiple jobs (Hira-Friesen, 2018b: 72). The participation of this group of immigrants, perceived to be obligatory, exposes them to exploitation and discriminative practices at the workplace because this secondary type of work has no security, benefits, or social protection. Consequently, the downward employment mobility of these most educated immigrants has a high probability of affecting their well-being, including their families.

In this view, the potential of this group of immigrants is neglected or underutilized for Canada’s economic gains. Therefore, policymakers must not solely focus on attracting educated immigrants to boost the host country’s economy; the host government must also recognize newcomers’ credentials, ensuring gainful employment for all sexes (Hira-Friesen, 2018b: 84). Immigrants require quality work and necessary training, providing them with a healthy environment for successful integration (Hira-Friesen, 2017: 3) while giving career opportunities for upward mobility. It also recommended that the government create specific services to meet the need for economic integration and prepare the immigrants to participate in the suitable labour market based on their education and credentials. Availability of accessible services is significant to the immigrant adjustment for economic integration and labour market participation, such as cooperative education, internship or practicum opportunities, and review centres for professional certification based on their skills and education. The cost of such an initiative could be included in the required immigrant settlement funds.

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