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RESEARCH DATA CENTRE
Immigrant Youth and Employment: Lessons Learned from the
Analysis of LSIC and 82 Lived Stories
Miu Chung Yan
A. Ka Tat Tsang
RDC Research Paper No. 29
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views expressed here.
Immigrant Youth and Employment: Lessons Learned from the
Analysis of LSIC and 82 Lived Stories
Miu Chung Yan
A. Ka Tat Tsang
RDC Research Paper No. 29
Immigrant Youth and Employment: Lessons Learned from the Analysis of LSIC and 82
Sean Lauer, Lori Wilkinson, Miu Chung Yan, Rick Sin, and A. Ka Tat Tsang
First published as:
Lauer, S., L. Wilkinson, M.C. Yan, R. Sin, and A.K.T. Tsang. 2012. “Immigrant Youth and Employment:
Lessons Learned from the Analysis of LSIC and 82 Lived Stories.” Journal of International Migration and
Copyright notice: © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011
Link to online edition of the journal at:
Immigrant Youth and Employment: Lessons Learned
from the Analysis of LSIC and 82 Lived Stories
Sean Lauer & Lori Wilkinson & Miu Chung Yan &
Rick Sin & A. Ka Tat Tsang
Published online: 13 May 2011
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011
Abstract Finding a job has become a critical challenge to many youth. Immigrant
youth, who have been a key part of the global migrants, are particularly vulnerable
when entering the job market of the host country due to various structural barriers.
However, in both public policy discourse and research, their labour market
experience tends to be overlooked. In this paper, we report the employment
experience of recently arrived immigrant youth based on an analysis of the LSIC and
findings of in-depth interviews of 82 immigrant youth in four cities in Canada. Our
results reveal that recently arrived immigrant youth tend to work in lower-skilled
employment, experience significant delays in finding employment, have difficulties
with foreign credential recognition, and have fewer means to access to job markets.
Int. Migration & Integration (2012) 13:1–19
M. C. Yan (*)
School of Social Work, University of British Columbia,
2080 West Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada
Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia,
6303 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1, Canada
Department of Sociology, University of Manitoba,
183 Dafoe Road, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2, Canada
School of Social Work, McMaster University,
Kenneth Taylor Hall, Room 319, 1280 Main St. West, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4M4, Canada
A. K. T. Tsang
Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto,
246 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A1, Canada
Keywords Immigrant youth
Immigrant Youth and Employment: Exploring the Experiences of Newly
Arrived Immigrant Youth in Canada
Youth (un)employment, as indicated in the United Nations Millennium Declaration,
has become an intern ational global concern. In December 2009, when the
unemployment rate in Canada hit a 12-year high of 8.4%, the youth unemployment
rate was nearly double at 16% (Usalcas 2010). Employment challenges can result
from the intersection of many facto rs including age, education qualifications, class,
ethnicity, place of birth, and gender to name just a few. Many youth who recently
migrated to Canada find that being an immigrant has an additional, significant and
negative effect on their labour market trajectory. Why is it important for us to
understand the labour market entrance strategies of young migrants? It is because
international migration is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the young. According
to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2010), 44.5% of migrants arriving in 2009
are under age 24; if we include those aged from 29 to 34, that number increases to
57%, a figure comparable to other international destinations (United Nations
Population Fund 2006).When the effects o f immigrant status are examined, we find
that the unemployment rate of these youth is approximately two times greater than
the rate for youth born in Canada (Wilkinson 2008). Unlike the extensive work done
with the educational trajectories of newcomer youth, the experience of newcomer
youth in the labour market remains understudied and is the focus of this study.
Research on employment among newly arrived immigrants often omits youth (Chui
and Tran 2003;ChuiandTran2005; Schellenberg and Maheux 2007). The rationale
for exclusion is that this segment of the population is the least likely to be active in the
labour market and is commonly engaged in other activities such as schooling.
However, this means that little is known about the younger migrants arriving in
Canada and their labour market entrance strategies and long-term occupational
trajectories. Our study explores the labour market experiences of this unique, often
overlooked group of migrants by examining their labour market trajectories in the first
4 years after their arrival in Canada. The definition of youth in research varies widely.
In some studies, youth is defined as the period between age 15 and 24 (see Saunders
2008). While Statistics Canada employs an age range from 15 to 24 to report the
youth unemployment rate, almost all of the federally funded youth employment
programs set the age range of youth at from 15 to 30. As stated in a United Nations
report, “‘youth’ is not so easily circumscribed; it essentially represents the period of
transition between childhood and adulthood, the nature and length of which vary from
one individual or society to another” (United Nations 2007: xxvi). Similar conclusions
can be reached about the population of immigrant youth in Canada, although there are
significant differences in labour market trajectories that vary by age within this
Funding for this study was provided by a SSHRC/Metropolis Strategic Grant “Immigration and the
Metropolis”, grant number 808-2007-1001. The analysis is based on confidential microdata and the
opinions expressed do not represent the views of Statistics Canada.
2 M.C. Yan et al.
definition of youth, and must therefore be taken into consideration. In this study, we
decided to arbitrarily define youth as people aged from 15 to 29 years old.
Our aim in this research is to explore the experiences of newly arrived
immigrant youth using data from two unique sources. We use the Longitudinal
Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC) master data file and pair this with in-
depth interviews of 82 imm igrant youth in four Canadian cities. The LSIC data
were collected by Statistics Canada with the intent of examining closely the
experiences of newly arrived immigrants during the first 4 years after their arrival
in Canada. We have narrowed the scope of our research to newly arrived youth, so
that our interviews target only the youth from the same g roup of newly arrived
immigrants, allowing further examination of the experiences of these youth in the
years immediately after their arrival. Our focus allows an in-depth exploration of
this group, rather than a comparison with the experiences of older immigrants or
Our results reveal that recently arrived immigrant youth encounter difficulties finding
work due to their limited access to social resources among family and friends and due to
discrimination barriers associated with credentials, language and accent and racism.
Much of what we know about the labour market experiences of immigrant youth in
Canada is based on a small number of studies. Using results from the Annual Labour
Force Survey and the Alberta Refugee Study, Wilkinson (2008) finds that immigrant
youth between the ages of 15 and 24 years have a higher unemployment rate than their
Canadian-born and refugee youth counterparts. Beaujot and Kerr’s(2007)analysis
reveals that immigrant, along with Aboriginal youth, are likely to have lower incomes
despite their level of education and whether or not their education was obtained in
Canada. Like their parents, young immigrants are finding it difficult to secure jobs and
are taking a longer period of time to reach income parity with their Canadian-born
counterparts. This echoes Galabuzi’s(2007) findings that newcomers are three times
more likely to live in poverty, regardless of their employment status.
Immigrant youth face several unique challenges. Some studies show that lack of
“Canadian” work experience is a critical barrier to employment for many immigrant
youth, particularly those who are members of racialized groups. In Canada, two
studies find that immigrant youth are less likely to have worked during their
secondary and post-secondary education than those youth born in Canada (Kilbride
et al. 2004; Kunz 2003). Nearly 60% of Canadian-born youth between the ages of 15
and 19 have work experience prior to leaving high school, compared with only 25%
of migrant youth (Statistics Canada 2007b). Perreira et al. (2007) find that in the
USA, immigrant youth who arrive after age 6 are less likely to work during their
school years. They also argue that work experience during adolescence and young
adulthood helps young people acc umulate resources such a s job references,
networks, job skills and work ethics that lead to better economic outcomes as adults
(Perreira et al. 2007). Immigrant youth are less likely to accumulate these resources
and may find it difficult to compete for career jobs as adults since they are less likely
to work during their post-secondary schooling.
Immigrant Youth and Employment 3
Coming from immigrant families is another challenge for the newcomer youth.
Newcomer youth coming from families who are struggling economically themselves
are just as likely to experience difficulties with transitioning to the labour market as
adults (Kilbride et al. 2004). Those youth may also lack the family and friendship
networks that are useful for locating employment (Shields et al. 2010). Payne (1987)
finds tha t u nemployment may run in families a nd is linked to long-term
socioeconomic challenges. The economic performance of immigrants, particularly
in terms of income, is also lower than their counterparts in the general population
(Monitor 2004; Zietsma 2007) even among those holding Canadian credentials
(Anisef et al. 2003). Therefore, the family’s economic background and networks
may have a significant influence on the employment of immigrant youth.
Discrimination also plays a role in economic disadvantage among newcomer
youth. Discrimination comes in many forms. As Kilbride et al. (2004) reports, the
distinctive experience and concerns of immigrant youth, the level of proficiency in
both the English language and Canadian pronunciation may have a great influence
on the settlement process of immigrant youth, including the search for jobs. The
Canadian job market has been notorious for being difficult to enter not only for the
foreign born in particular, but also for ethno-racial minorities in general (Pendakur
2005; Pendakur and Pendakur 1998; Tran 2004). Discrimination against ethno-racial
minorities is not entirely based on skin colour. Recent studies also find that signs of
membership, particularly one’s last name, are also important stigmas (Oreopoulos
2009; Silberman et al. 2007). Galabuzi (2007), Kunz (2003), Brekke ( 2007) and
others, all find that the economic disadvantages faced by racialized immigrant youth
are substantially higher than those faced by white people. Other research by Sh ields
et al. (2006) outlines the frustrations experienced by racialized newcomer youth in
terms of the systemic structural and cultural barriers to finding meanin gful
employment. These observations confirm those by Nesdale and Pinter (2000).
Networks are shown to be an important source of jobs. As reflected in the youth
employment literature, the family is the most important resource for gaining access to the
labour market through the social ties of parents, siblings, relatives and their friends
(Granovetter 1974;Holzer1987;Yan2000). A growing body of research on youth
entering the labour market reveals that family networks are a significant source of
information about employment opportunities. Leu (2009) reports that nearly 70% of all
jobs in the USA are obtained as a result of family and friendship networks. Immigrant
youth, however, are less likely to benefit from social network ties for severa l reasons.
Individuals with smaller or less effective networks are much less likely to find
employment, a finding supported by a research conducted by Kunz (2003) and Kilbride
et al. (2004). Bradley and Taylor (2004) also find that racialized youth are slightly more
likely to be unemployed than their white newcomer counterparts. It is also found that
when immigrants rely on their friendship networks, because their social ties are small
andlessrobust,theyarelesslikelytofindgoodwork(Fangetal.2010). This difference
cannot be accounted for by difference s in job search strategies as immigrants use similar
strategies to native-born people. Perreira et al. (2007) find that due to their smaller and
less powerful networks visible minority youth are less likely to obtain good occupational
opportunities than those who are non-visible minorities. Finally, Yan et al. (2008)find
that despite the economic boom in British Columbia in the mid-2000s, the benefits of
social ties to new generation youth from immigrant families looking for work are few.
4 M.C. Yan et al.
Our research is divided into two distinct phases designed to coincide with our
different data sources. In phase one, using the LSIC (Statistics Canada 2007c), we
examine the empl oyment experiences of immigrant youth who were between the
ages of 15 and 29 at the time of their arrival in Canada. In total, there were 52,569
(weighted) LSIC respondents who met the age criteria. The LSIC is the only
randomly selected national longitudinal sample of newcomers to Canada. It contacted
and interviewed respondents who arrived in Canada between October 2000 and
September 2001. Two follow-up interviews were conducted at 2 and 4 years after arrival
for a total of three interview waves (Statistics Canada 2007d). Participants are
representative of the major immigrant-sending countries and major entrance classes
except for refugee claimants who were excluded from the sample. Interviews were
conducted in 15 different languages. The LSIC provides detailed information about
their reasons for migrating, education inside and outside Canada, recognition of
foreign credentials, job history, occupation and income. Our results are weighted
according to guidelines outlined by Statistics Canada Research Data Centres. The
analysis was conducted using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences.
In phase two, we conducted semi-structured interviews to obtain a more complete
picture of the short-term integration experiences of newcomer youth from four study
cities: Vancouver, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Toronto.
Toronto and Vancouver were
selected as they and their outlying communities are the top two destination cities of
immigrants to Canada. We include Winnipeg and Hamilton for several reasons.
Manitoba has the most successful Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) . In 2009,
nearly 13,000 newcomers came to Manitoba under the PNP (Manitoba Labour and
Immigration 2010). Winnipeg is the fifth most popular destination for newcomers to
Canada despite the fact that it is Canada’s tenth largest city. Hamilton presents
similar characteristics. With a population of just over 692,000 (Statistics Canada
2007a), it is similar in size to Winnipeg. Like Winnipeg, Hamilton is a tier-two city
that attracts a large number of immigrants. Between 1997 and 2006, 32,252
immigrants arrived in Hamilton (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2007). It is the
third most popular city of destination for migrants to Ontario. This makes Winnipeg
and Hamilton interesting case studies of migration to mid-sized cities.
Our sampling strategy relied largely on referrals and promotion by individuals,
immigrant settlement agencies, Service Canada and ethno-cultural community
organizations. We recruited participants who arrived in Canada in or after October
2001, who were between the ages of 15 and 29 years at the time of the interview,
and who had participated in both Canadian schooling and work activities for at least
1 year. Table 1 outlines the characteristics of phase two participants by city.
There is variation in the educational credentials held by those who participated in the
interview portion of our study. Approximately 39% of the participants in our study have
university-level education that they had already obtained in Canada at the time of the
The number of unweighted cases is just over 2,500, which limited our ability to examine the results of
individual countries and characteristics in greater detail.
Montreal would be another ideal choice of a large city with an important immigrant population. Our goal
with the interview data is not a nationally representative sample. We hope to capture a wide variety of
experiences with these interviews, including large and mid-size cities, and different employment sectors.
Immigrant Youth and Employment 5
interviews in phase two while one third have a high school diploma or less. Another
10% were enrolled in some type of post-secondary education, either a trade/diploma or a
degree program, at the time of the interview. Nearly 70% of the participants were
employed at the time of the interview. Participants living in Hamilton pose a slight
anomaly given that 65% of our respondents were unemployed at the time of the
interview. The actual unemployment rate for youths in the four study cities may differ
from the sample averages reported. This might partly reflect the actual local
employment conditions and it might be partly due to our strategy of including some
unemployed youth in our samples. We felt it important to include the experience of
unemployed persons. Our participants came from across the globe
with nearly 30%
from Africa, 48% from Asia, 9% from the Middle East, 9% from Latin America, the
Caribbean and Pacific Islands, and 10% from Europe and the USA. There are nearly
equal numbers of female and male participants. Their average age on arrival was
19.9 years while the average age at the time of interview was 24.1 years.
Table 1 Selected characteristics of participants in semi-structured interviews in Vancouver (n=20),
Winnipeg (n=22), Hamilton (n=20) and Toronto (n=20)
Vancouver (%) Winnipeg (%) Hamilton (%) Toronto (%) Total (%)
Female 60 55 55 35 51
Male 40 45 45 65 49
Education in Canada
Less than high school 0 23 10 25 15
High school diploma only 20 23 15 15 18
Post-secondary in progress 15 0 50 10 18
Trade certificate/diploma 15 0 0 25 10
University 50 55 25 25 39
Employed 95 77 35 65 68
Unemployed 5 23 65 35 32
Area of origin
Africa 20 32 35 20 27
Asia 60 59 25 45 48
Middle East 5 0 20 10 9
Latin America, Caribbean and
15 5 10 5 9
Europe and the USA 0 5 10 25 10
Source: demographic data provided by 82 participant interviews
Participants from Africa came from Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda,
Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Those from Asia came from Bangladesh, Burma, China, Hong Kong, India, Korea,
Nepal, Philippines and Taiwan. Those from the Middle East came from Afghanistan, Iran, Jordan and Saudi
Arabia. Those from Latin America, Pacific Islands and the Caribbean came from Fiji, Barbados, Mexico,
Peru and Colombia. Those from Europe and USA come from England, Greece, Russia and the USA.
6 M.C. Yan et al.
The mean length of each interview was 60 min. The interviews were audio-taped
and transcribed verbatim. Data from each city were analysed at their respective sites
with the assistance of NVivo. A thematic analysis method was employed. To
maintain consistency among the four sites, a coding scheme was co-developed and
monitored by the researchers through personal and online meetings.
Table 2 describes the work experience of newcomer youth using LSIC data. Our results
show that 53.5% of the respondents already had some work experience by the time of
their first interview. Although there is some variation by age, there is a convergence in
work experience reported during the wave 3 interview by which time 84% of the
respondents had obtained at least some work experience in Canada. This figure is slightly
higher than what would be expected among Canadian-born youth of a similar age.
Although most newcomer youth find work and many enter the labour market quickly,
this does not imply that those experiences are uniform or seamless transitions. Table 3
provides a snapshot of the employment experience for those respondents participating
in employment at wave 3. On average, newcomer youth changed jobs one or two
times during the 4-year span, and over 90% of these youth experienced at least one
jobless spell of 7 days or longer, a figure comparable to Canadian-born youth. While
many youth had secured full-time employment within 4 years after arrival, particularly
among older youth, over 30% of those respondents report either being dissatisfied
with their job or actively looking for a new job at the time of the interview.
Working Low-end Jobs
Like Canadian-born youth, most newcomer youth find their first work in low-skilled,
low paying jobs in the service and retail sectors. For them, these types of jobs are
temporary, useful for ‘getting by’, to gain job experience, to meet people and to
provide income for their households and/or pay for further education. A 24-year-old
male from the Philippines who lives in Vancouver tells us in his interview that his
job is temporary. I’m just doing part-time for my work at Future Shop and then part-
Table 2 Employment rates prior to and post-arrival in Canada by age on arrival
Age on arrival
6 months after arrival
2 years after arrival
4 years after arrival
15–19 15.8 29.5 67.8 83.1
20–24 42.6 56.5 80.0 82.2
25–29 85.6 64.0 81.2 85.2
Total 57.7 53.5 77.5 84.0
Source: (Statistics Canada 2007c) LSIC masterdata file
Immigrant Youth and Employment 7
time as a promoter at the club. So I still pursue my photography but haven’t enough
to sustain my living and pay for my bills and my living expenses.
Many feel pressure from their parents to pursue employment while still in
school. Working durin g the pursuit of school is a fairly common occurrence
among Canadian-born youth with 41% of females and 52% of males working at
the same time as attending post-secondary education (Baisley 2011). Two things
distinguish the newcomer experience from Canadian-born youth. First of all, many
are forced to work ‘underground’ while their immigration applications are being
processed. As a participant in Toronto tells us, I did some underground work while I
was waiting for my work permit, which was ok for me; I need to survive so I did the
underground work. I didn’t have the work permit then, so I couldn’t apply for other
The second thing is that lower end jobs are promoted as a way of getting
‘Canadian’ work experience. Youth are told that this will open doors to jobs in
which they were trained and may have worked in their countries of origin. A 22-
year-old female who lives in Hamilton and is originally from Zimbabwe tells us:
Well I was pushed to it because from what I have been hearing, it’s hard to get a
job after school if you don’t have work experience. After all, that’s the reason
why my parents had a tough time because they don’t have Canadian experience.
So my parents were pushing me, my dad especially, to get as much experience as
you can while I’m in school so that it’s easier after school.
Many gain this experience at low-end jobs such as McD onalds. For some, this
type of work is meaningful and does provide them with experience, particularly in
improving their English and communication skills. It also helps them learn more
about our culture and society. We have the following comment from a 23-year-old
female from the Philippines working at a service job, I think that I’m matured a lot
as a person and most of the stuff I learned at work didn’t really learned at home or
either school, so for her, the experience was necessary and worthwhile.
For others, however, the low-end jobs are long term and an example of significant
downward trajectories in their careers. A female participant from Winnipeg tells us
my husband put a lot of pressure on me and tells me not to be spoiled and that I
won’t get a job in what I used to do, so I started looking in other places like coffee
places, fast food restaurants and malls. After 18 months of searching and despite
having Master ’s degrees from both Canada and Bangladesh, she remains
Table 3 Employment experiences 4 years after arrival by age on arrival
Age on arrival
Number of jobs
Dissatisfied or looking for
15–19 2.37 98.1 36.2 31.9
20–24 2.50 94.5 67.5 31.3
25–29 2.38 91.2 75.1 31.0
Total 2.40 93.7 63.6 31.3
Source: (Statistics Canada 2007c) LSIC masterdata file
8 M.C. Yan et al.
Finding Work: The Market Value of Family and Friends
The value of social ties, including family, friends and acquaintances, are often
considered resources for people in search of work. It is also commonly
recommended that job seekers draw o n these ties when searching for work. We
find immigrant youth take advantage of social ties in the job search, but limitations
in the resources contained in their networks lead them to rely on friends rather than
family. ‘Canadian’ friends rather than other co-ethnic friends also appear to be
important in our interviews. We expand on this below.
Using the LSIC provi des a picture of the job search process of newcomer youth
and we have supplemented this with details from our phase two in-depth interviews.
In this analysis, we focus on the first job a respondent held after arriving to Canada.
Table 4 below directly compares the use of family and friends in securing that first
The table shows that family and friends are important for securing work among
newcomer youth with just over 45% of new jobs secured through the ties of family
and friends. Family ties appear to be most important among 20 to 24 year olds while
friends are most important to the youngest newcomers from 15 to 19 years old.
Another interesting finding from the table above is the ratio of importance of friends
versus family. Overall, newcomer youth are 1.5 times more likely to use friends to
secure a job than family. This ratio reverses in the period from age 20 to 24 when
family become slightly more important than friends, but is still very strong among
the other age groups examined.
These observations from the LSIC are echoed by our phase two interview
participants who indicate that networks are useful in searching for work in Canada,
but the quality and usefulness of family and friendship networks varies. Most
participants in phase two indicate that family networks were only marginally helpful
in the job search process, providing indirect help such as settlement support and
information. One reason respondents give for not using family ties in the job search
process was the lack of knowledge their parents and relatives have about the labour
market in Canada. Being newcomers themselves, many adult family members do not
have the specific knowledge that can help young people secure jobs. For similar
reasons, family members also lack viable employment networks themselves. The
information and support of family members was only effective if the family member
was already well established in Canadian society. A Ghanian participant, living in
Vancouver, reports, yes my dad sometimes go to um mech anic shops, drops off my
Table 4 Job-finding assistance from friends and family by age on arrival
Age at arrival (year) Family (%) Friends (%) Ratio of using friends vs
family to find work
15–19 21.5 36.5 1.70
20–24 29.0 25.4 0.88
25–29 12.0 24.1 2.00
Total 18.3 27.5 1.50
Source: (Statistics Canada 2007c) LSIC masterdata file
Immigrant Youth and Employment 9
resume, talks to them about what a good boy I am. He goes to friends to drop my
resume to give anybody they know but still uh some of them call me for interview.
Few participants reported job search assistance from more distant relatives. A
couple had found work in the public sector from aunts and uncles or brothers and
sisters. This reflects a predicament that many immigrant families face. A lack of
close familial networks and a truncated social network due to migration negatively
affects their values in the job search.
Friendship networks are overwhelmingly perceived to be more valuable than family
networks by study participants. A 29-year-old Korean male in Vancouver reports that
friends are the fastest way because through other job search routes, it takes long time
since you have to go through all the stages. The study participants rated the assistance
of friends much higher than that of family members, but a number of them preferred
job market information from ‘Canadian’ friends. One participant from Winnipeg
reports I asked my friend for help. She is Canadian. I know my English is poor, I need
practice and I also feel nervous when talking with another person. It is good to talk to
another person who is good in English. ‘Canadian’ can often be interpreted as a
codeword for white and native-born. A female from Zimbabwe expressed this well
when she said, well the people I did ask for, my white friends, that I did ask for job
opportunities, they had high places in the job place.
Although our phase two respondents express this preference for help from
‘Canadians’, the LSIC data suggests that, in line with the findings from Ooka and
Wellman (2006) for Canadian-born youth, these types of ties are used less often than
co-ethnic ties for initially finding work. In fact, as Table 5 shows, LSIC respondents
were more than three times as likely to use co-ethnic friends as non co-ethnic friends
to secure a firs t job in Canada. This may reflect the types of network ties respondents
hold after arrival, particularly when first entering the labour market. Drawing on non
co-ethnic help might be preferred, but those resources may not be available to
newcomers who are entering the labour market for the first time. Our phase two
respondents did describe seeking help from co-ethnic friends, particularly those who
had been in the country for longer periods of time. A 29-year-old Saudi Arabian
woman in Hamilton reports ‘I wouldn’t’ say ‘newcomers’ they have been here for
more than ten years.(Q: so they are still immigrants?) Yes. So they know how to help
newcomers and what’s the challenges you face. Several Chinese participants from
different cities indicated that their longer-term friends who are also Chinese assisted
them with resume and cover letter writing.
Nesdale and Pinter (2000) find that friendship networks have an indirect effect on
finding work. In their study, those whose cultural background most mirrored the host
society were more likely to be used in the job search. Ooka and Wellman’s(2006)
Age on arrival (year) Co-ethnic (%) friends assistance
in finding work
Table 5 Job-finding assistance
from co-ethnic friends by age on
Source: (Statistics Canada
2007c) LSIC masterdata file
10 M.C. Yan et al.
study of Canadian youth finds that those with friendship networks that are ethnically
homogeneous are more likely to use friends to help them find jobs. Conversely, those
with ethnically heterogeneous friendship networks are less likely to use friends to find
employment. McPherson et al. (2001) find that ethnic background is the greatest
determinant of homophily, the propensity for individuals with similar social, economic
and demographic characteristics to ‘hangout’ together (Lauer and Yan 2010). Peer
groups, particularly among young people, have a significant influence on educational
and occupational attainment according to these and other researchers (see Ibarra 1995).
Seeking Formal Help: Experience with Service Agencies
Participants in our phase two interviews were asked about their experiences with
community and government organizations in the process of school-to-work transition.
Looking again at the LSIC data provides some context for these interviews. Table 6
compares the use of employment agencies, including the Canada Employment Centre
with the use of informal job search strategies through family and friends. From the
table, it is clear that newcomer youth are securing their first jobs far more often
through informal sources rather than employment agencies. Employment agencies are
somewhat more useful to the older youth, but still the value of friends and family far
outweigh that of the assistance of the agencies. Perhaps the fact that employment
agencies and other organizations were not popular places for newcomer youth to
locate work should not be surprising. Ng (2006) finds that employment agencies rank
the lowest in terms of importance in finding work among native-born youth.
Despite the conclusions from the table above, many participants across the country
who participated in our phase two interview did report using the resources of a non-
government or government agency in their search for employment and re-training upon
their arrival in Canada. Twenty-two (27%) participants reported their use of formal
services in conjunction with networks of family and friends, a percentage which is
higher than the results in the LSIC data and higher than for Canadian-born youth. Their
experiences with formal services are mixed. Many feel that these services are useful for
helping them start the job search. A South Asian female participant from Winnipeg told
us a success story I also joined [Agency X], it’s free and paid training for immigrants
and that program was really good for me because I came to know about lots of
information about employment and I get lots of knowledge about the free programs
here and free language classes here. So that’s why I get enrolled in that program and
then I got my job. However, while the service programs were helpful, they were good
Table 6 Assistance from employment agencies in the job search by age on arrival
Age on arrival (year) Friends/family (%) Employment agencies (%) Ratio of friends and family
to employment agencies (%)
15–19 58.0 2.9 20.00
20–24 54.4 5.0 10.88
25–29 36.1 9.9 3.65
Total 45.8 7.0 6.54
Source: (Statistics Canada 2007c) LSIC masterdata file
Immigrant Youth and Employment 11
only for entry level, low-paid employment and were far less useful for making
connections with jobs that would provide careers.
Negative feedback was also received. One participant made the observation that there
are many advisors in the agencies and (they are) very friendly and try to help you, but
the working opportunity they can provide is limited to the lower paid or entry level
ones. This was a theme that was echoed throughout the interviews conducted across
the four cities. Some participants observed that the service organizations were very
busy and they felt badly about asking for assistance. One Filipino youth in Vancouver
reported his experience of seeking help from an employment agency, they said, hey,
why don’t you apply to McDonald’s? Now, she was like, she just wanted… Her goal
was just to get us a job as soon as possible and it doesn’t matter how, what kind of job,
you know, she doesn’tcare. A female participant from Mexico now living in Hamilton
observed that the guidance offered by different agencies seems contradictory. That is a
different thing from McMaster career counsellor and they were telling me all positive
things. Here (at the immigrant centre) it was like, okay. Try to move all your Canadian
things into the first line; all the things that you have done in Canada and (on) the
second page, all the things you have done in Mexico. A participant from Vancouver
reports that the programs offered at her school couldn’t help me understand the culture
and the background, uh especially how to communicate with your employer and their
expectations. The fact that only 27% of our survey participants, most of whom were
referred to us by community organizations, have sought help from formal services
may reflect that there is still much room for the organizations that provide formal
services to this youth group to improve their services.
Volunteering: The Positive and Negative
In our phase two interviews, we learned that many newcomers are given the advice
to take a volunteer job, especially if they are having difficulty transitioning to the
labour market. Volunteer work is supposed to assist newcomers to develop that all
important ‘Canadian’ experience in order to help them attain employment in their
field. It is also purported to assist newcomers who need to gain more confidence in
speaking the official languages by giving them opportunities to use them in an
employment setting. It may also increase their social and friendship networks,
helpful in getting the ‘word out’ that they are looking for work.
Table 7 provides a snapshot of the volunteer activities of newcomer youth from the
LSIC. It is clear that volunteer work is a common pursuit of newcomer youth. Column 1
describes the percent of participants who accepted a volunteer job at least one time
during their first 4 years in Canada. Fifteen- to 19-year olds in particular were very likely
to volunteer their time. Following the suggestion that volunteer work is pursued in order
to gain important skills and experience for employment, the table also examines the
amount of instrumental volunteering in which these young newcomers participated. The
instrumental volunteering column includes youth that volunteered in order to achieve a
goal beyond the volunteering itself; this includes volunteering to get Canadian
experience, to be able to work in their field of expertise, or in order to develop various
skills including such as language skills. Column 2 shows that, of those who volunteered
at least some of their time, volunteering with instrumental motivation was very
common. Over 40% of the newcomer youth hoped to gain some external value from
12 M.C. Yan et al.
their volunteer work. For some, this paid off. Over 20% of those who volunteered some
of their time found work directly from the volunteer experience. Of course, this means
that many newcomer youth that volunteered for instrumental reasons did not find work
as a result of this experience. Schugurensky et al. (2005) report that adult immigrants
are twice as likely to volunteer to gain work experience than those born in Canada.
They also felt the experience was very rewarding and very few (9%) felt it was a
Our phase two interviews reflect the mixed value of volunteering in order to secure
work. While some participants had positive experiences that led to full-time, permanent
employment, others did not. A primary motivation for many newcomers to volunteer is
the hope that the experience will lead to a paid job offer from the organization. Like many
Canadian-born youth, a few participants reported that the volunteer experience was
helpful in determining whether or not their chosen field of study would suit their career
trajectory. A young woman from Hamilton reports volunteer will help you network and
gain experiences and know what you like and what you don’t like. And it’seasiertoget
a volunteer job, see what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are.
Unlike Canadian-born youth, some of our participants found their volunteer
experience did assist them with learning how to speak English more fluently. One
participant in Winnipeg found the volunteer experience helped her to articulate her
skills on her resume which led to several interviews and eventually a full-time job as
a settlement worker. Volunteering is not always done with the expectation of
obtaining employment. A few of our participants indicated that they felt they needed
to give back to their community and to assist other newcomers in their settlement
process. A young woman from the Congo used her volunteer experience with
African communities in Winnipeg to better her English. Later, she assisted other
newcomers from Congo, Uganda and Rwanda as she could work in the four
languages of that area.
Volunteering is not always a rewarding experience. For some youth, the experience
has led to frustration and exploitation. Many youth are told that if they volunteer, they
can gain the ‘Canadian’ work experience needed for entry level jobs in their professions.
Unfortunately, employers do not often see it this way. An Iranian participant living in
Vancouver agrees, But anywhere else you put under your volunteer, people just, they
either skip it or they don’t really look at it, take it seriously. A participant from Toronto
agrees, without volunteering, you don’t have any Canadian reference at all. But even if
you go and volunteer there, chances are they don’t give you good reference; they are
very picky and very serious; it’sverydifficult.
Table 7 Volunteering for work experience by age on arrival
Age on arrival (year) Ever volunteered (%) Instrumental volunteering (%) Volunteering leads
to job (%)
15–19 57.0 44.5 26.1
20–24 33.2 45.6 18.8
25–29 39.5 42.5 20.0
Total 42.4 43.8 21.8
Source: (Statistics Canada 2007c) LSIC masterdata file
Immigrant Youth and Employment 13
The Challenges of Finding Work: Linguistic Barriers, Racism and Being
Barriers to finding jobs are also reflected in the LSIC data. Table 8 shows that a
significant number of respondents (45%) have had some difficulties finding work at
some point in their first 4 years in Canada. This is particularly true for older youth
who move into the labour market more quickly.
Any amount of discrimination is troubling, but direct discrimination is less
commonly expressed in the LSIC data than language difficulties. In our phase two
interviews, we find that the problems of discrimination and language can often be subtly
linked as accent and skin colour combine to play a role in the perception of newcomers.
Double Jeopardy: Coloured Accent
Of this group having problems, language problems comprise the largest proportion
of the difficulties they encounter (35%). This matches the findings from our phase
two interviews. A Zimbabwean male working for an investment firm report s his
experience with his accent and interaction with his clients. Now my accent, you may
not be able to detect it but if I am talking to a client and I have this heavy ‘new
Canadian’ accent and I am not a normal Canadian that they expect. They would not
trust me to handle their money, basically. A Ghanaian living in Vancouver tells us
his perception of racism in the hiring process. I have spoken on the phone with about
25 to 30 different companies on the phone and I know they did not call me back
because of my accent and I have been to about 14 interviews and I know because of
my skin colour and the way I sound. Then I have faxed a lot of resumes. Maybe it’s
my last name or where I come from.
Discrimination is not only faced by racialized youth. A Russian male living in
Toronto tells us about the barriers he faced in looking for a job. He reported: Idon’thave
any data to support this of course but sometimes I feel the employers here they
exercise some sort of anti-Slavic discrimination because my last name, because my
name is hard to pronounced… It’s just the feelings that I get sometimes. Russians are
minority and Russians have this stereotyped of not speaking English well and when
they see this name. The barriers to employment caused by accent and not by language
fluency are very important to note. Language fluency issues affect one’s eligibility for
employment. Those not fluent in the official language will experience difficulty in the
interview process and are unlikely to get hired. Those with accented English face a
Table 8 Problems finding work by age on arrival
Age on arrival (year) Any problems finding
Language problems (%) Discrimination
15–19 53.4 32.0 7.5
20–24 60.4 38.0 10.0
25–29 71.9 34.7 11.4
Total 64.5 34.9 10.3
Source: (Statistics Canada 2007c) LSIC masterdata file
14 M.C. Yan et al.
different set of barriers. As these examples from our research show, there is very little
tolerance in the Canadian labour market for those with accented English.
Several participants in all the cities report they felt they encountered discrimi-
nation in their job search or at work. Although they could not point to a direct
incident, they have the perception that racism occurs, especially when they see their
Canadian-born white friends finding work faster. A female from Zimbabwe reports,
(o)nce I applied for a position in a store and it is primarily a white store. And it was
my friend and I and my friend is white and obviously I am black. We both applied
and I had a bit more experience because I volunt eered before as a cashier, so I know
a little bit about the position, but she got hired and she had no job experi ence.
Whether or not race really played a role in the selection of this candidate is certainly
an issue, but the perception that skin colour limits one’s chances in life has a
powerful effect on some immigrants’ occupational outlook and how they regard their
future in Canada. However, many participants reported they had experienced an
incident of racism since arriving in Canada, although most often it was limited to an
isolated event. One participant in Winnipeg tells us, like not very strong. But
sometimes I do feel biasness from some people, but mostly it is okay. It’s not a bad
place to live as an immigrant. Another participant from Vancouver tells us, when I
am going to interview, I (wish) I could change the colour of my skin to become like a
white person and then go and get the job and then change back. But it’s not flexible.
Once I’m Black, I will always be black and I don’t think people like black people
working for them for a fact, what I have seen.
The perception that racism might have played a role in an interview is a powerful
force that can negatively influence a person’s feeling of belonging in Canadian
society. A participant from Afghanistan relates her observations. Actually, I have
never experienced anything about this but this is what I think. You know what I
mean. I’m not trying to be racist or something, but if a white guy is trying to find a
job, they can get a job in a week. You know my friends, they quickly got a job. And I
told them that you can find a job because you guys are white.
For some, however, the experience of finding a job and working in Canada did
not present a signifi cant barrier. For them, their immigrant status and prior
experience did not prevent them from finding suitable employment in Canada. For
instance, some perceive that language and accent issues are largely unfounded. A
Chinese participant living in Hamilton reports, I think for immigrants who want to
get a job, it’s not really the English and the accent, it’s the courage. Many
immigrants don’t apply for a lot of jobs because they feel that their English is not
good enough and they are not confident in themselves. So I would just say keep
trying and don’t give up easily and youth need some courage and do some
preparation before you had the interview.
How do our results compare with other studies regarding discrimination and
acquisition of employment among youth? Recent research in the USA indicates that
there is a marked decline in the influence of race, ethnicity and racism on
employment and other indicators since the 1960s (Pager 2007). Yet when average
income and occupational attainment are considered, visible minority and immigrant
youth still lag behind the attainments of white, native-born youth in Canada and
elsewhere (Pager 2007). A study of African-American and Caribbean-American
youth in the USA indicates that nearly 90% have experienced at least one or more
Immigrant Youth and Employment 15
acts of racism in a single year, with males and later adolescents experiencing the
greatest number of incidents (Seaton et al. 2008). Bauder (2001 ) finds that ethnicity
is a significant factor predicting the odds of being employed, particularly among
immigrants; those from Europe are more likely to be employed than those born in
Canada, while all other racialized groups have a significantly lower probability of
being emplo yed. For the youth from African, Caribbean, Chinese and Latin
American countries, the odds of being employed are tw ice as low as for Canadian-
born youth. In short, our more recent quantitative and qualitative data confi rm this
trend in ethnic discrimination faced by migrant newcomers in the labour force.
Implications and Conclusions
During the 4-year period in which data were collected for the LSIC, many youth
respondents had, at one time or another, tried to access the Canadian job market.
Most of them found low-skill jobs by mobilizing their social resources among family
and friends. The stories of the 82 interviewees substantiated the findings of the LSIC
analysis and also provided an experiential understanding of both the value and
limitations of formal and informal resources among immigrant youth. Lack of work
experience, particularly Canadian experience, along with language and accent
discrimination is what emerges from these interviews.
Some considerations for public policy and social programming follow from the
findings presented here. First, immigrant youth may require specific information that
many Canadian-born youth do not require. Coming from immigrant families, their
parents have limited knowledge of how to navigate the labour market information
system in Canada. They also need basic, culturally appropriate training from resume
writing to job interview skills. Second, the stories of the 82 youth and the LISC
analysis concur with the results of existing studies that show that the lack of
resourceful social networks hampers them from obtaining job information and
connections to employers. Meanwhile, having network work resources is different
from knowing how to mobilize them. It is important to develop social programs that
can help immigrant youth to build and also to mobilize diverse social resources.
Mentorship programs, co-opt education and paid internships are all possible options.
Third, linguistic and racial discrimination are difficult to prove empirically.
Although not all our participants have directly experienced these kin ds of
discrimination, the perception that one has not obtained a job because of the colour
of one’s skin, the way one speaks or the origin of one’s education is a powerful one.
While it may be the case that these kinds of discrimination are less common than we
think they are, what needs to be remembered is the power of perception. The
perception that one has been discriminated against because of ascribed character-
istics plays a significant role in one’s outlook on life. Meanwhile, the recent field
study on resumes further reveals possible discrimination against new immigrants
who bear a non-Anglicized name (Oreopoulos 2009). Ensuring equitable and fair
hiring will have a direct impact on the long-term integration of immigrant youth.
Fourth, despite their limitations, the parents of these youth are still an important
source of support. Therefore, it is critical to assist parents with helping their children
find work in a socioeconomic context where temporary, unstable employment has
16 M.C. Yan et al.
become the norm. A young professionally trained woman we spoke to indicated that
her parents constantly ‘hounded’ her about getting a ‘real job’ or going back to
university to obtain a professional degree as they felt her work as a settlement
counsellor was unstable, low paying and unsuitable for someone with her
educational background. The reality, particularly in the current labour market, is
that all labour market entrants need to be flexible in terms of their short-term
employment goals. While an entry job may be unpleasant, it can provide experience
necessary for future labour market success. What is needed is a greater
understanding from parents that employment trajectories in the current labour
market are sometimes bumpy and circular. The idea that a university education is the
best pathway to good employment is no longer true, but immigrant parents may not
always understand this. Therefore, there is a great need to educate many newcomer
parents who lack basic information about the education system and the labour force.
Information workshops can be provided for parents, either by immigrant-serving
organizations or by schools that would help them to better understand the different
educational, vocational and training opportunities available to their children.
To conclude, the data from the LSIC and the interviews reported in this paper only
shed some light on the complexity of the employment situation faced by immigrant
youth. Further research with a focus on immigrant youth will be needed. In view of the
many challenges that immigrant youth face when entering the Canadian job market, the
government may need to develop an immigrant youth employment policy and program
that can support these youths and their parents who have never been properly prepared
for these new structural challenges. This is particularly important for newcomer families
when their adult members themselves are struggling with their own settlement.
Acknowledgements This study was made possible by the joint research grant (Grant #: 808-2007-1001)
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Sean Lauer is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia.
His curren t research applies institutional approach es form economics and sociology to families,
communities, and immigration processes.
Lori Wilkinson is associate professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Manitoba. She is the
Economic and Labour Market Domain Leader for the Prairie Metropolis Centre. Her research focuses on
the economic, educational and social integration of children and youth.
Miu Chung Yan is associate professor in the School of Social Work at the University of British
Columbia. He was the Acting Director and a Domain Leader of the Metropolis British Columbia. His
research focuses on new generation youth from immigrant families, place-based settlement and integration
service, and service needs of immigrants.
Rick Sin teaches social work at McMaster University. His research focuses on the examination of race and
racism in public discourse of cultural identity and diversity.
A. Ka Tat Tsang is Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Toronto. He holds the Factor-
Inwentash Chair in Social Work in the Global Community. He does research on immigrants, cross-cultural
social work practice, and mental health.
Immigrant Youth and Employment 19