Ethnic Enclave

Working in ethnic enclaves limits newcomers’ opportunities

Immigrants who work in ethnic “enclaves” in major cities earn less than other Canadians and have a tougher time adapting to this country’s economy, according to an internal federal government document.

“Studies found that enclaves have a negative impact on the earnings growth for male and female immigrants,” says a report obtained under the Access to Information Act by immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.

The point was included in a federal report prepared in early 2011 to assess minimum language standards for immigrants brought to Canada under the “provincial nominee” (PN) program.

The report focused on concerns within Citizenship and Immigration Canada about the ability of program nominees in some provinces to speak one of Canada’s two official languages.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently acted on those concerns, announcing in April that program applicants in semi- and low-skilled jobs will be required to meet minimum language standards in English or French starting July 1.

More than 38,000 workers and their families came to Canada in 2011 under the program, which has become hugely popular with provincial governments seeking to meet severe labour shortages.

The report obtained by Kurland cited research showing that immigrants who can speak English or French adequately have earnings comparable to their Canadian-born counterparts.

But those who don’t speak an official language struggle in the labour force and often end up working in “enclave” immigrant communities in major cities.

The report said the number of immigrants working in a non-official language jumped 14 per cent between 2001 and 2006, involving 611,000 people.

Roughly one in six immigrants “only” used a non-official language and of this group, close to 60 per cent indicated they couldn’t conduct a conversation in English or French.

“While some researchers point to the possibility of such immigrants becoming employed in an ethnically sheltered (enclave) economy, several recent studies have shown that there are many disadvantages to doing this,” according to the report.

Several studies, for instance, showed that jobs in these enclaves are mostly in the lower-paying service industries, and taking those jobs can put the employee in a rut.

“Exposure to one’s group reduces the accumulation of skills specific to the host country’s labour market, decreases the knowledge of the local native language and impedes immigrants’ economic progress,” the report said.

The report also found that workers who speak little or no English or French face greater risks in terms of occupational health and safety, since they tend to be in physically demanding occupations and may be unaware of their rights.

Language proficiency also plays a critical role in the social integration of immigrants and their young children, it said. “It has a direct relationship with newcomers’ ability to settle, adapt and integrate into Canadian society.”

A federal government-funded 2009 research paper by University of British Columbia geography professor Daniel Hiebert, which looked at immigrant enclaves in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, said those areas have higher unemployment levels and that residents are “slightly” more dependent on government transfers.

This article first appeared HERE.

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