Major step-back on Canadian immigration system – Only those with “Canadian experience” need apply


October 10, 2012 by cerisontario

Rather than move past insular policies that devalue experience acquired abroad, Canada is going forward to perpetuate the increasingly common attitude that only “Canadian Experience” is welcome inside its borders.

Many immigrants are frustrated that employers ask them whether they have “Canadian experience” and in one study said that they felt they needed to wear a mask to fit in.


On August 17, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) quietly unveiled a major overhaul of the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the main economic immigration program commonly known as the “points system”. This announcement solidifies the changes to the immigration system CIC has been releasing for the past several months. In a recent report for the Maytree Foundation, Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl argue that the new system implements a “two-step process” for potential immigrants, who are now required to enter Canada as temporary foreign workers and pass language and “Canadian Experience” tests before being eligible to become permanent residents. While the new FSWP targets a younger and more “flexible” workforce that is presumably able to adapt to Canadian society, these changes effectively disguise how the government is simultaneously admitting more and more foreign workers into Canada through temporary visa programs. Rather than somebody chosen on merit acquired abroad, the new immigrant in Canada will be selected based on country of origin, race, religion and culture. It sounds like the government is betting that employers are more enlightened than the rest of society as to who will make the best Canadians.

In a globalized world where experience gained abroad is usually a highly sought after skill, why is the Canadian government so insistent on a concept that hasn’t even been defined by our country’s academics, business leaders, or community workers? “Canadian Experience” as a requirement for immigrant employment has been argued to be an institutionalized form of racism that allows employers to devalue the education and work experience gained in other countries. Many leading corporations have done away with “Canadian Experience” in their recruitment and hiring strategies to instead focus on transferable skills that immigrants bring either from working in Canada or abroad.

So why is the department’s Minister Jason Kenney taking a step backwards and penalizing people with international experience? Devaluing such credentials further sends a message to around the world that skills gained outside of Canada are worth less than those earned here. In its recent news release (September 24, 2012), the Ontario Office of the Fairness Commissioner raised concerns that this change may “validate(s) the discriminatory practice of devaluing work experience obtained outside of Canada” and “unintentionally encourage employers to violate the Ontario’s Human Rights Code”. Further, the Ontario Human Rights Commissioners (OHRC) launched a survey about “Canadian experience” in the job market because “[newcomers] often talk about the requirement for ‘Canadian experience’ as a big barrier to their entry into the workforce” according to Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner of OHRC (October 4, 2012). On the contrary, the federal government has increased their reliance on “Canadian experience” as a key criterion for selecting skilled immigrants. Along with a growing emphasis on immigration fraud and abuse as a key issue, the federal government is propagating a xenophobic stereotype that immigrants are not only worth less because of their backgrounds, but they are also likely to violate immigration laws.

Maytree Foundation President Ratna Omidvar has aptly pointed out (op-ed, Globe and Mail, May 9, 2012) that high language standards reflect the government’s interest to recruit more immigrants from Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and other so-called “Western” countries rather than emerging economic superpowers like China and India that have fueled immigration over recent years. Are we going back to an archaic immigration model that picks and chooses, preferring Anglophone homogeneity over a multicultural mosaic?

Over the past ten years, Canada has increasingly admitted more foreign workers under temporary foreign work programs (now numbering over 300,000 per year) while introducing ways to scrutinize who is worthy of permanent residence. The new changes to the Federal Skilled Workers Program solidify this pattern of providing employers easy access to “flexible” labour, while limiting their rights and barring most from establishing themselves in Canada. Through strategic and questionable emphasis on “Canadian Experience”, the government is endorsing a highly prejudicial and discriminatory policy while diverting our attention away from a revisionist agenda for Canadian immigration; one that will produce a temporary and deportable labour force with a strong message that only a select few can become full members of Canadian society.

About the blog authors

Izumi Sakamoto is associate professor at University of Toronto’s  Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, acting director of the PhD program, and principal investigator of the Canadian Experience Media Project.

Rupaleem Bhuyan is an assistant professor at University of Toronto’s  Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

Jane Ku is an associate professor of women’s studies and sociology/anthropology at the University of Windsor.

Daphne Jeyapal is a third year PhD student in social work at the University of Toronto.

Lin Fang is an assistant professor at University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and associate research scientist of Columbia University.

An earlier version of this article was published in Chinese as: “Canadian Experience” Media Team at the University of Toronto. (2012, August 28). Major step-back on Canadian immigration system. Singtao Daily. Retrieved from Singtao Daily website

Update on October 22, 2012
The “Canadian Experience” Media Team

In response to a request by the Maytree Foundation, we would like to clarify our position as written in our original blog post on October 10, 2012 to distinguish our analysis from that of the reports we draw upon.  In their recent report, Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl argue that one of the most important cumulative impacts of recent changes to immigration policy is that more people will have to arrive in Canada first as temporary foreign workers or international students before being eligible for permanent residence; Alboim and Cohl refer to this as a “two-step process”.  While their report does not focus on “Canadian experience”, we argue that many people who enter Canada as temporary foreign workers may never be able to qualify as permanent residents due to increased immigration fees, increased documentation requirements for English or French proficiency (i.e. high test scores), and the ambiguous requirement of “Canadian experience” in both the Canadian Experience Class and the Federal Skilled Worker Program.

We would also like to clarify that although Ratna Omidvar’s op-ed does point to the reality that high language standards can shift source countries, her article does not speak to the intentionality of the Federal government.  We would like to highlight how this shift is linked to the institutionalization of “Canadian experience” within the current direction of immigration policy.  We hope that this clarifies our opinions and delineates our position from that of Maytree Foundation and the authors of these works.

We would also like to clarify the figure we gave for temporary foreign workers in Canada. In Facts and Figures for 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Canada reported 300,000 “temporary foreign workers” were present on December 1, 2011.

One thought on “Major step-back on Canadian immigration system – Only those with “Canadian experience” need apply

  1. Bob Munro says:

    Canada should train the people who live here to fill the labour shortages

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