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Immigration, Integration and the Production and Utilization of Scientific Knowledge: What are Canada’s Challenges?

Conference Day: 
Day 3 - November 3rd 2017

Organized by: Martin Taylor, Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN)

Speakers: Jane Badets, Assistant Chief Statistician, Social, Health and Labour Field, Statistics Canada; Ümit Kiziltan, Director General, Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada; Ravi Pendakur, Professor of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa; Arthur Sweetman, Professor, Department of Economics, McMaster University

Moderator: Dr. Michelle Gauthier, Special Advisor, CRDCN

Takeaways and recommendations: 

What we know:

  • The foreign born population (i.e. first generation) make up the majority (53%) of STEM graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree between the ages of 24 and 64 in Canada; 72% of people with an engineering and engineering technology major field of study have an immigrant background (first and second generations in Canada combined), while 71% of people with a computer science and mathematics major field of study have an immigrant background. The data source for this information is the 2011 National Household Survey.

  • Established Economic Principal Applicants whose highest level of schooling was at least a STEM university bachelor’s degree from a Canadian institution are more likely to be working in STEM jobs at 54% in Canada compared to their Canada born counterparts at 41%. Here the term “established immigrants” is referring to immigrants who received permanent resident status between 1991 and 2000. STEM occupations are those in which a majority of the employed population, between the ages of 25 and 64, are STEM educated. The data source for this information is the 2011 National Household Survey – Immigration Landing File Linkage Database.

  • Immigrants make up about 22% of Canadian population yet 35% of Canada Research Chairs.

  • Immigrants in STEM used to earn about 20% less than Canadians. That gap has increased to 40%. The gap could have been worse if policies hadn’t been implemented.

  • Economic immigrant principal applicants are twice as likely to start knowledge-based businesses.

  • Immigrants account for about one third of patents, but one quarter of the population. STEM occupations and training account for most of the ethnic patenting advantage.

  • Language skills seem to play a crucial role in allowing STEM skills to be of value in the Canadian labour market.

  • Canada, unlike the U.S., hasn’t made the physical capital investments required to make STEM immigrants productive in the workforce.

Policy lessons learned:

  • The Express Entry Program, launched in 2015, is an example of policy based on strong evidence of what works in determinants of success (e.g. earnings; more STEM immigrants working in STEM jobs).

  • Patents as a proxy for immigration: Immigrants produce far more patents in the US than in Canada; Canada’s “points system” may be hindering productive/innovation employer-employee STEM matches (Express Entry program could help).

  • The economic integration of immigrants is probably one of Canada’s most evidence-informed large-scale national economic and social policies.

  • Canada needs to do more to improve literacy, communications and numeracy skills among immigrants; such foundational skills have significant rates of return in the labour market.

Producing better data:

  • Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada is making more of its internal data available to Canada’s scientific community in partnership with StatsCan, CRDCN and the policy community, and looking at ways to make it more accessible (e.g. virtual remote access).

  • For the first time, immigrant category of admission has been added to the 2016 Census which will allow for a deeper dive into the topics such as the retention and outcomes of recent immigrants and refugees to Canada.

  • Immigration data are increasingly being linked and integrated with other data sources, including census data, educational data, tax returns, and labour force survey and provincial health databases. This provides a more complete picture of how, for example, students studying in STEM do in the labour market after graduating and over time. Even more data integration is needed to answer key policy questions.

  • Popular memes that conflict with evidence tend to take priority in policy. “We need to think seriously about knowledge transfer.”

  • There are pockets of remarkably deep knowledge within the civil service, as well as the policy and academic communities but this knowledge has limited influence on popular discourse. (e.g. the positive effect of immigration on the structure of an aging population).

  • Economists and social scientists tend to study the same issues over and over while leaving many policy relevant topics unexplored; the academic community could do better.

What we don’t know:

  • There is a need for more qualitative data.

  • There are social determinants that are not tracked that could help explain why wage gaps are higher for immigrants compared to visible minorities (e.g. where they were raised and schooled; loss of social and professional networks, discrimination based on skin colour).

  • There is still much we don’t know, but they tend to be the hard questions, such as:

    • Economic and fiscal impact of immigration. Causal impact on GDP per capita is unclear.

    • Does immigration have small positive or small negative effects

    • What would Canada look like if we had a different immigration policy?