Original Article


Yves Robichauda,*, Rana Haqb, Pawoumodom Matthias Takoudac, Sylvie Albertd
Author Information & Copyright
aDepartment of Accounting, Faculty of Management Laurentian University, yrobichaud@laurentian.ca.
bDepartment Marketing and Management, Faculty of Management, Laurentian University, rahaq@laurentian.ca
cDepartment of Finance and Operations, Faculty of Management, Laurentian University, mtakouda@laurentian.ca
dDepartment of Business Administration, Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Winnipeg, s.albert@uwinnipeg.ca
*Corresponding author: yrobichaud@laurentian.ca

© Copyright 2022 The Korean Association for Canadian Studies. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Feb 28, 2022; Revised: Mar 03, 2022; Accepted: May 28, 2022

Published Online: Jun 30, 2022


This paper investigates the experiences and barriers faced by internationally trained immigrants (ITIs) in achieving their economic and labour market integration goals in Northern Ontario (NO). Seventy-four face-to-face interviews were conducted with 74 ITIs, immigrated to Canada within 10 years and living in a NO community for a minimum of 6 months. Participants reported greater credential devaluation in NO and higher emphasis by employers on Canadian experience. Participants had inflated expectations of their economic and social integration, fuelled by current immigration strategies, but lacked the necessary support systems within NO communities. Findings have policy relevance at the federal, provincial, and community levels extendible to other remote communities across Canada. (100 words)

Keywords: Economic integration; Canada; barriers for newcomers; Northern Ontario; ITI; remote communities; Canada


Canada has been a land of immigration for centuries, and most of these immigrants settle in large metropolitan areas (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver), as opposed to smaller ones. Job prospects, family reunification, standard of living, and escaping political or economic conditions are just a few of the reasons for immigration to Canada that have been examined (Alfred 2001; Clark, Hatton and Williamson 2002; Frank, Phythian, Walters and Anisef 2013). Some researchers argue that the choice of settlement area has very little to do with services offered and more to do with family and kin residing in a given area (Picot and Sweetman 2012). Several studies have explored the reasons why newcomers arrive in Ontario (Omidvar and Richmond 2003; Troper 2000), and, choose the City of Toronto (Lo, Wang, Wang and Yuan 2007; Reitz 2001b). Indeed, newly arrived immigrants have a higher likelihood of settling in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver (MTV), citing the attraction and support available from an already established immigrant community (Truelove 2000).

The challenges faced by immigrants in the process of installation in the new country also impact their settlement choices, with a clear advantage for larger cities. In the case of Southern Ontario, several of these challenges, have been outlined in the literature (Orme 2007; Picot and Sweetman 2012; Truelove 2000) and among the more prevalent of these barriers is access to settlement services (Lo et al. 2007; Truelove 2000) with better clusters of services available in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver (MTV). Transportation access issues are recognized as another barrier, and Truelove (2000) pointed out that many newly arrived immigrant women do not have driver’s licenses or access to cars and larger cities tend to be better equipped to offer a breadth of services in transportation. Finally, smaller communities lack existing ethnic communities that could facilitate the settlement of the newcomer (Cities of Migration, 2014). As a result, smaller and more remote communities appear to be considered a second tier (or worse) as settlement areas for new immigrants. This pattern has been changing in recent years (ElDakiky and Shields 2009), with more newcomers settling in smaller urban or rural areas due to new federal policies to attract and retain skilled immigrants in rural and remote regions (Harris, 2019). Hence, there is a need to understand current challenges in order to better address the needs of a growing number of newcomers in rural and remote regions.

Even a small established community of immigrants can act as a draw for further settlement, which has the potential to refocus services to new areas. As immigration shifts outside of major hubs, services will have to relocate or be developed accordingly (Picot and Sweetman, 2012). Moreover, the services to aid in settlement and promote integration among newly arrived immigrants are significantly strained in bigger cities where immigration numbers tend to be higher. If settlement patterns can be dispersed, and service delivery developed and maintained in smaller communities, then the services available to newcomers have the potential to be more substantive and alleviate the strain on urban areas. The Walton-Roberts (2011) study in Kitchener-Waterloo shows success in communities that can offer what newly arrived immigrants seek: job opportunities, smaller closer-knit communities, higher education, and a welcoming population. There is an opportunity to ensure that the proper supports are provided for the economic and social integration of newcomers beginning with an assessment of current standing.

Few studies have explored the nature of immigration and the settlement barriers to immigrants arriving in Northern Ontario. A report by Chris Southcott (2007) found that Northern Ontario tends to attract few immigrants, mostly students and contract workers rather than permanent residents. More recently, a report by Haan and Prokopenko (2015) found that the proportion of immigrants recruited to the region had declined, and the demographic profile of immigrants was the same across the region. This paper investigates the experiences and barriers faced by internationally trained immigrants (ITIs) in achieving their economic and labour market integration goals in Northern Ontario. In-depth face-to-face interviews were conducted with 74 ITIs who had immigrated to Canada within 10 years and had been living in a Northern Ontario community for a minimum of 6 months. We begin by identifying why current newcomers chose Northern Ontario and review the challenges that they have faced in their economic integration.


Researchers have established an active link between education, employment, and earning power (Frank, Phythian, Walters and Anisef 2013, Owen and Lo 2008; Reitz 2001b; Weiner 2008). Employment levels and earning power of immigrant workers compared to Canadian-born counterparts with similar levels of experience and education is not equal (Lo et al. 2007; Owen and Lo 2008; Reitz 2001b) and economic achievements are worse when these factors are unequal. Researchers have discussed the further impact of the “knowledge economy” (Abbott and Beach 2011; Ontario Ministry of Finance 2019; Reitz 2001a; Walton-Roberts 2011), the increased demand for higher education (Grawe, 2018), and credentials (Fong, Janzow and Peck 2016) on inequities and skills devaluation for internationally-trained individuals. These factors lead to persistent underemployment, unemployment, and lower levels of workforce integration for newcomers (Alboim, Finnie and Meng 2005; Reitz 2001b) associated with systemic discrimination. The literature suggests that recent immigrants to Canada are having an increasingly difficult time finding jobs that suit their educational and employment profiles (Alboim, Finnie and Meng 2005; Owen and Lo 2008; Preston et al. 2010).

Underemployment is defined as “Inadequately employed, especially employed at a low-paying job that requires less skill or training than one possesses” (Farlex 2012). Much of the literature is split between underemployment and unemployment as barriers to economic integration (Frank, Phythian, Walters and Anisef 2013; Lo et al. 2000; Orme 2007; Reitz 2001b; Truelove 2000). Underemployment among immigrants has many root causes with the top three reasons described as a devaluation of immigrant skills and related education (Lo et al. 2001; Reitz 2001b); racist or discriminatory attitudes in the workplace (Fong 2008); and/or job shortages that affect the population of both immigrant and Canadian-born as a whole (Federal Ministry of Finance 2012; Picot and Sweetman 2012). The emphasis placed on Canadian credentials is identified as a factor in the ability of immigrants with foreign gained credentials to compete in the workforce (Abbott and Beach 2011; Alboim, Finnie, and Meng 2005; Owen and Lo 2008; Reitz 2005; Weiner 2008). Also, those adopting a structural approach to the problem argue that government immigrant selection policies are the root cause of the failure of many immigrants to attain full economic integration (Alboim and McIsaac, 2007; Lo et al., 2000; Orme, 2007).

The Canadian government already prioritizes employable traits when selecting immigrants for entry into Canada (Abbott and Beach 2011; Alboim and McIsaac 2007; Picot and Sweetman 2012; Omidvar and Richmond 2003) by using a “point system”1. Education, proficiency in one of the national languages, experience, age, arranged employment, and adaptability are the factors that determine whether a candidate will be selected as a “skilled worker” for entry into Canada (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2010). The points awarded for education are without prejudice, unfortunately not always similarly recognized by employers, accreditation bodies, or by educational providers. This misalignment between admission and employment criteria results in frustrations and unrealistic expectations among newly admitted foreigners. The federal government has attempted to design policies to minimize barriers to workforce integration for skilled immigrants. However, the literature clearly demonstrates gaps in the policy design, practices by industry and educational institutions, and the consequences of not addressing these deficiencies (Frank, Phythian, Walters and Anisef 2013; Owen and Lo 2008; Picot and Sweetman 2012).

Some researchers suggest that immigration policy should be shaped to attract immigrants with skills that complement “gaps” in the labour force while others argue that recognizing the gaps is not helpful if immigration policies are not dynamic enough to respond, or have a lag time (Orme 2007; Picot and Sweetman 2012). Also, with rapidly changing economic environments in all industries stemming from digitalization and innovation, recruitment to fill current gaps become a short-term view and could exacerbate skills-match problems in the longer term. The market need/skills match concept could be a problem for many locations, a chicken or egg situation particularly for Northern Ontario.

Studies on the contribution of education as a barrier have shown the importance of formal education and skills training, as well as our opportunity to use educational institutions as a tool to attract and integrate immigrants (Reitz 2001a; Walton-Robert 2011). Part of this facet of economic integration is the recognition of prior learning and experiences of internationally trained immigrants, particularly in professions, and this continues to be a challenge (Albert, Takouda, Robichaud and Haq 2013; Grant and Nadin, 2007; Guo 2007; Hawthorne 2007; Ogilvie, Leung, Gushuliak, McGuire and Burgess-Pinto 2007).


Research on newcomers in Northern Ontario is sparse (Haan and Prokopenko, 2015). In a longitudinal survey of immigrants to Canada by Chui (2003), respondents cited the lack of Canadian work experience (26%), lack of recognition of foreign credentials (21%), and language barriers (15%) as the most severe labour market integration challenges. Many of these challenges are further accentuated in Northern Ontario. For example, transit systems are essential to many newcomers, and mobility in the North is not multimodal or convenient, potentially creating a more significant barrier for immigrants (Alboim and McIsaac 2007; Frank, Phythian, Walters and Anisef 2013; Lo et al. 2000). Also, four of the five major centers in Northern Ontario have universities, and all five have colleges. The ability of these institutions to attract international students, and to provide flexible and varied programs toward credentialing is a critical component and underused aspect in resolving integration challenges related to education and in breaking down discrimination, and fostering immigrant attraction, settlement, and integration (Reitz, 2007; Walton-Roberts, 2011).

The opportunity for employment in one’s field has proven to be a significant barrier to integration and choice of location. With fewer employers, the North offers less variety in the choice of occupation or employment. Local Integration Partnerships (LIP) initiatives are in place to attract and integrate newcomers (Burr 2011). A study by Khan and Labute (2015) for the Timmins LIP reported that most immigrants had moved to Timmins from Toronto for employment. Of the 70% who were employed, 30% were in the mining sector. Critical services identified were language (70%), housing (60%), and job search (60%). In a prior study by Ann Welsh (2007) for the North Bay Newcomer Network, reasons for moving to North Bay were 48% to study at a local college or university and 31% for employment. Respondents identified that many barriers still exist for immigrants trying to find employment, and 84% had to change their field of work.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio’s Sudbury “Morning North” reported, “Our Roots-Our Future: Fewer and fewer immigrants are choosing to come to Sudbury. In fact, Statistics Canada numbers show that this city is one of the least popular destinations for immigrants in the country. But there was a time when immigrants came to Sudbury in large waves. They came to escape war and poverty. They came to work in the mines. They came without much to lose. They came with everything they had. What was once a tide has turned into a trickle” (CBC, 2011). According to Statistics Canada, from 1999 to 2006, Toronto was the top city of choice for immigrants coming to Canada while Sudbury was the last. For example, between July 2008–2009, 92,000 immigrants came to Toronto while only 109 to Sudbury. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has urged Northern and rural communities in Ontario to promote themselves so that immigrants will choose them in higher numbers in the future:

“Northern and rural communities offer a quality of life and sense of community that is unique and unfortunately often unknown to newcomers. Many newcomers to Canada list ‘peace’ and ‘low crime rates’ as reasons for moving to Canada. Now is an ideal time for these communities to promote alternatives to city living” (AMO 2008, p. 12).

Although AMO provided a case study on the efforts expended by the city of North Bay to attract immigration to Northern Ontario (AMO 2008), it does not conclusively determine reasons for immigrants arriving in Northern Ontario. Without information on the factors that attract immigrants to Northern Ontario, any effort to increase immigration may be arduous.


This study focused on immigrants in the five main communities in Northern Ontario: Sudbury, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins. We collected data from 74 respondents: 27 from Sudbury, 12 from North Bay, 10 from Timmins, 10 from Thunder Bay, and 15 from Sault Ste. Marie, using paper questionnaires and ethnographic techniques (open-ended interviews) to profile immigrants settled in Northern Ontario. This type of interview, based on the typology of Boutin (1997), is inspired by the works of Grawitz (1986) and Mayer and Ouellet (1991) using in-depth and closed-ended questions. This paper reports on the first three of the following six themes explored in interviews from 74 immigrants to Northern Ontario in the last ten years:

  1. Their initial expectations while arriving in Canada and Northern Ontario as well as their ongoing experiences;

  2. Their reasons for settling in Northern Ontario and their particular community;

  3. Their job and economic outlook;

  4. Their social integration process within their adopted community and any possible problems encountered;

  5. The challenges they have overcome and the perceived challenges that are still ahead; and

  6. The likelihood of them remaining in Northern Ontario and what they believed could be done in the future to retain other immigrants in their community.

Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey defines ‘very recent immigrants’ as landed immigrants for less than five years; ‘recent immigrants’ as landed immigrants for between 5 and 10 years; and ‘established immigrants’ as landed immigrants for over ten years (Statistics Canada 2003). For this study, the focus is on a very recent or recent immigrant (first two definitions above) who had been living in a Northern Ontario community for a minimum of six months. The latter to ensure that participants had sufficient experience in Northern Ontario to answer the questionnaire and interview. The recruitment of participants was achieved through targeted multicultural, newcomers, and settlement organizations as well as other agencies that frequently deal with immigrants in each of the five communities.

An ethics approved survey instrument was administered face-to-face in private in-depth one-hour interviews on the premises of the multicultural/settlement organization and in the participant’s community. Each theme-related question was asked in a predetermined order. All interviews were audio-recorded with the consent of the participant and then transcribed. In addition, each participant filled out a paper questionnaire (see Appendix 1) in order to supplement information on the following topics: demographics (ethnic group, age, gender, principal language of communication), status in Canada (immigration status, immigration class, arrival in Canada alone or with family), education (highest level of education, field of study, country), career (main occupation in country of origin, main occupation in Canada, current work status in Canada) and community services and resources used in Canada. A detailed transcript was prepared based on the recordings and the interview notes. Each transcript summary was transposed into an evaluation grid which allowed for an in-depth analysis of tendencies, frequencies, categorization, and trends.


1. Profile of the participants

Table 1 provides various characteristics of the sample. It features 60% of male immigrants and 40% female immigrants. The average age of the participants is 35.1 years, with 46 % of the respondents being in the 31 to 40 years category. Over 76% of the sample spoke at least one of the two official languages of Canada: English (69%) and French (7%). The participants had different geographical backgrounds with a significant proportion of the sample coming from Asia (36%) and Africa (34%). Table 1 also shows that a significant proportion of the sample immigrated as professionals or skilled trades (60%) with international university education (51%) or from Canadian institutions (33%).

Table 1. Participant profiles (n=74)
Freq. Ratio(%)
Male 44 60
Female 30 40
Immigration Class
Profession/skilled trades 44 60
17 23
Family-Sponsored 2 3
Convention Refugee 2 3
Provincial Nominee 1 1
Canadian Experience 1 1
Independent 7 9
Principal Language
Official Language of Canada 56 76
Non-Official Language of Canada 16 22
Blank 2 2
Asia 27 36
Africa 25 34
North America 3 4
Europe 3 4
South America 2 3
Oceania 1 1
Unknown 13 18
20–30years 21 28
31–40 years 34 46
41–60 years 17 23
Blank 2 3
Current Canadian Work Status
Employed in the Same Occupation as Country of Origin 13 18
Employed in Different Occupation as Country of Origin 31 42
Unemployed 27 36
Blank 3 4
Highest Education
High School 4 5
College 11 15
University (Bachelor, Master or Doctorate) 59 80
Country of Education
Canada 24 33
International 38 51
Unknown 12 16
Download Excel Table
2. Newcomer expectations

Prior to coming to Canada and Northern Ontario, most newcomers did some research (89%). Their expectations are presented in Table 2 and include: easy to get a job (16%); cold weather (14%); better education (11%); and an opportunity to have a better life (11%). These expectations were similar for all Northern Ontario cities. Our interviews show that expectations before arrival were often overly optimistic and based on word-of-mouth referrals from friends, family, and other immigrants. Newcomers tended to underestimate the requirement for Canadian credentials and lacked preparedness. For example, a young woman from India who immigrated to Canada in 2004 described her expectations as follows:

Table 2. Initial expectations of Canada
Freq. Ratio(%)
Expected that it is easy to get a job 24 16
Expected cold weather 21 14
Expected to have better education 17 11
Expected to have a better life 16 11
Expected tough integration and challenges 13 9
Expected a developed economy (big cities) 9 6
Expected difficulties getting employment 9 6
Expected safe environment 8 5
Expected friendly people 8 5
Expected a peaceful environment 6 4
Expected to integrate into a liberal environment 3 2
No research before coming and Other 16 11
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“...[my initial expectations were] like money is growing on trees in Canada and you think ‘oh my god’ we are just going there and grabbing it but when I come to Canada it was kind of a shock for me like no, it’s not. You have to work really hard to get what you want but if you have potential then you can grab it.” [Respondent # 2]

3. Reasons for coming to Northern Ontario

The reasons given for coming to Northern Ontario are similar to the reasons for coming to Canada as presented by several other researchers (Alfred 2001; Clark, Hatton and Williamson 2002). There are however important differences in the importance given to work and education when choosing Northern Ontario (see Table 3).

Table 3. Ratio of reasons for coming
Reasons for coming Canada Northern Ontario
Work 19% 50%
Education 18% 38%
Family 35% 12%
Quality of life 5%
Other 15%
Download Excel Table

As illustrated in Figure 1, the reasons cited for choosing some cities in the North over others differ: 90% of immigrants to Timmins came for employment reasons, also cited as a primary reason for settlement in North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie. In Thunder Bay and Sudbury, education is listed as the main reason (60%, 56%). Sudbury and Thunder Bay have comprehensive universities, North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie have colleges and universities but are smaller and have fewer educational-related immigrants. Timmins has a college and is attempting to develop a university campus.

Figure 1. Reasons for coming to Northern Ontario
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There is a slight difference between immigrants who came directly to Northern Ontario (38%) and those who came to another centre and later emigrated to Northern Ontario (62%). Those who came directly to Northern Ontario cited their principal reasons as family, education, or were offered a job before immigrating. The immigrants who moved to Northern Ontario after some time elsewhere in Canada, did so to pursue their education or because they were offered a job or an opportunity in Northern Ontario. Family is, therefore, an important reason for direct immigration to the North; however, educational and work opportunities continue to be strong incentives to attract newcomers from elsewhere in Canada as demonstrated in these examples from the survey participants:

“Basically, I have a relative who is based here in North Bay. He is a lecturer; he is a lecturer at Nipissing University. So, I have come so that he will give the first few weeks assistant as I get to settle on my own. Yeah.” [Respondent #32]

“…I landed in Toronto and I stayed for a couple of years, then I moved on to Sudbury Here, and it happened by chance because I got admission in Laurentian University and that’s the reason I relocated to Northern Ontario.” [Respondent #5)]

“…I just got a job here and then moved here. Initially in Brandon [Manitoba] we had a friend who hosted us for maybe three weeks in his house our family. He just offered us accommodation and many other things, and we stayed with him for about three weeks and then moved into our house and then when I got a job here, we just moved to Thunder Bay.” [Respondent #53]

4. Economic integration

Although employment is a key incentive to locate to Northern Ontario, several of the survey participants expressed disappointment with underemployment and lack of employment opportunities in their field upon arrival in Northern Ontario. As shown in Figure 2, 42% of the respondents were employed in a different occupation than their country of origin; 18% had the same occupation, and 36% were unemployed.

Figure 2. Effects of a Canadian Education
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Survey participants described their frustration with being employed in a different field from their country of origin:

“I was a civil engineering technologist back home and after I come here, I did some office administration course... actually I sent a lot of resumes, but I didn’t get any reply. I don’t know why they didn’t call for me so then I thought ok, I will just do some office administration work like that type of course then maybe, I can apply some engineering firms so because for the engineering work, they need some recognition through the institute or somewhere right? So, I thought they couldn’t recognize my skills and my college diploma so then I did this course, and I thought this is going to help me to get into the field like to go the company related to engineering so then I can start from that. Then, when we were in Toronto, actually, my husband and I both participated in the professional development program that was for three months and I think around 25–30 people were there and they give some volunteer opportunities to 5 people among them so my husband got a chance and another 4 engineers got a chance and yeah he got a chance to the Toronto Transit Commission and that time, I didn’t get a chance to do the volunteering so then after 2 years, we moved to the Kitchener area and by that time, I go to a language training program, LINC and my husband and I sat for the exam and I think we got the level 6 that time. And they said we have the last level in level 6 so if we want to go beyond that, we had to go to the ESL so by the time we moved to Kitchener, I didn’t get chance to continue it and so after I came here, I did nothing.” [Respondent # 4]

“And for the newcomer at that time, I just come here, life is very hard. No job, I had to work like labour. It’s not what we expected because we came here like educated people and then we have to work for labour job.” [Respondent # 5]

“Actually, I worked with a Franchise company, ‘Café on the go’ which is at the Subway centre. It’s like a coffee and donut shop so I worked there for almost one and half years. Actually it is owned to a Sri Lankan woman so I knew her from one of my friend and she said that I am new and by the time she need another person and she hired me so and I actually it is just I came to Canada after one month. So I am totally new to Canada and the system and the food, everything and it was a very busy area too; for one week and I think after that, I adjusted so I worked there for one and half years and in Kitchener I worked with (inaudible) for 6 months and at that time I was pregnant for my second one and I had some problem with my health so then my doctor advised to stay at home because of the difficulty and I stopped that job but at that time, I worked with Tim Horton too and I stopped both jobs. Uhm honestly for me, to get into a job is a very big challenge. … I don’t know whether because I am a lady in engineering field, I don’t know if that is the problem or to enter into the engineering field and I don’t have a degree so I am in middle so I have a diploma and so I don’t know where maybe they can’t put me in some position. I don’t know whether these two are barriers for me to get into the field.” [Respondent # 21]

A young Kenyan woman moved to Northern Ontario in 2003 with her husband, and a doctorate in Engineering. They chose to immigrate to Canada as a last-minute decision, primarily due to the ease of entry for skilled immigrants. The woman described choosing Canada as “stumbling on to [Canada]”, and later the couple found much difficulty in finding employment despite being highly qualified:

“I really didn’t think it will take us a while before we got jobs within our field of expertise but that is not the reality. Because when we came here, there was so many roadblocks even for my husband who had a Ph.D. in engineering from a developed country. Because the first thing they asked him was, are you a registered engineer? Because in Germany once you graduate you are an engineer. You are not less of an engineer because you have not done the professional exams and all that. It is kind of it is automatic. You graduate, you going into that field, you getting a job in that field is that you move on (sic).” [Respondent # 15]

The Canadian system for accrediting professionals is often cited as a barrier for skilled professionals wishing to transition from their home country to Canada (Grant and Nadin 2007; Guo 2007; Ogilvie et al. 2007). The individuals are forced to choose between upgrading their professional standing or accepting a position outside of their area of expertise in order to pay household expenses. Neither scenario maximizes the economic participation of skilled immigrants. A third option is to move to regions that appear to offer a greater opportunity:

“Well my decision to migrate to Canada, I got the skilled worker permanent residence and I lived in the US for 10 years and I had problems with immigration. I couldn’t settle quite well so when this opportunity came, I had to grab it. I had a few friends who had lived here for six years and one of them is the one who helped me to settle down. There are only three firms and I worked part-time for one, the other one full time but now I can see even the position they offered me is Architectural Technician. I am not a Technician. I have a degree in Architecture and a Masters in Construction Management and even now to go do a job as a Technician is something I feel is not right so I have to really look for another place, go to Toronto or try to go to any other place at least to market myself better.” [Respondent # 51]

To analyse whether international education is proving to be a barrier to workforce integration, a comparison was made between immigrants with Canadian post-secondary education and immigrants with non-Canadian post-secondary education (see Figure 2). Of the 24 immigrants in our sample who have Canadian education, only 4 are employed in the same field as in the country of origin, 11 in a different occupation, and 7 are unemployed. Of the 38 immigrants in the sample who did not have Canadian education, 8 are employed in the same field as previous, 16 are employed in a different field, and 14 are unemployed. These results show that international education may not necessarily be a barrier to workforce integration, however there may be perception problems that would need to be corrected. However, occupations and career changes would need to be considered in a larger sample size.

Respondents indicated that they face challenges in obtaining recognition for education or experience even when they are integrated into the workforce. A significant proportion of respondents outlined their inability to translate international education and work experience to work opportunities in Canada. Figure 3 illustrates the extent of the gap in various cities across the north: Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay show the highest levels of unrecognized education, while Thunder Bay respondents felt that unrecognized work experience was a key problem. Sudbury participants equally identified that their education and work experience were not being recognized.

Figure 3. Problems finding a job
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A report by Trulove (2000) had identified the importance of Canadian credentials in finding a job, the respondents of this study felt that Northern Ontario employers place equal value on having Canadian experience. This results in a “Catch-22” for immigrant applicants who cannot get a Canadian job without already having Canadian experience. Consequently, immigrants who secured some form of immediate employment seemed to have the most positive experience, and fewer complaints. This is aptly demonstrated in the description offered above by respondent #15 and the following:

A young woman from Bangladesh, with a degree in computer science and experience working as a system administrator in Saudi Arabia, explained that despite having the education and experience, she was unable to find employment in her field without Canadian education and Canadian experience. The woman was currently finishing her Canadian education and had high hopes for improved employment opportunities after graduation.

“Since like I can see that mostly here, they expect mostly Canadian experience, so as you know for immigrants it’s really hard because you can’t bring Canadian experience from somewhere else. You have to give the chance so that we can have the Canadian experience and I don’t know why they have to get really stubborn on that, that it has to be Canadian experience.” [Respondent # 44]

Immigrants who can afford to volunteer to gain experience have had some success overcoming this obstacle, but many cite the need for a job immediately to cover the cost of living. A young man from the Democratic Republic of Congo articulates this point with his experiences:

“...to work here in Canada, they will ask you for Canadian experience which is another issue because when you come in a country, you don’t have an experience, you have to start to build it. If you don’t have Canadian experience, they won’t hire you. Means what? You have to go for a basic work to have at least Canadian experience. If not that, you do volunteer work just to get your Canadian experience because they won’t hire you if you don’t have it right?” [Respondent # 35]

A young Iranian female, who had been living in Northern Ontario for three years and in Canada for ten years, had experience as a project manager in her home country yet obtained Canadian education to complement her international education and experience. However, she remains unemployed and cites Canadian experience as her main obstacle to gaining employment in her field:

“The main challenge is Canadian experience... I think right now I am overqualified because I have good experience, I have good education, I have a Master degree, I have a Diploma from Canadian university and college so I’m wondering that what’s wrong with me that I couldn’t find work but I think that maybe it’s because of competition; and I can’t do anything with that.” [Respondent # 47]

5. Other issues

Some participants also indicated their frustration with Canadian society as “not open to immigrants”. An ethnic name, for example, could lead to discriminatory behavior, and the absence of an established network made it difficult to find a job. This points to a real need to continue to educate and celebrate differences as well as the economic and sociocultural wealth brought by immigrants in Northern Ontario. Twenty percent of the survey participants indicated that they had encountered some form of discrimination both in society and at the workplace. Sault Ste. Marie’s respondents were highest in this description, with over 53% of respondents who indicated encountering discrimination. Sudbury was at 21% and Timmins at 10%. North Bay and Thunder Bay respondents reported the least discrimination. Understanding the reasons for better results from one community to another may lead to possible solutions as illustrated here:

“…It’s a small community, the economy is not strong it is not growing that fast, and they are still systematic discrimination among many employers [specifically] when it comes to who you are giving jobs to. So those are some things that really make life here quite different because many of them are looking at it from a point of view as if newcomers are intruders and they still have right to what is supposed to be their own.” [Respondent #66]


Much focus is being placed on the role immigration plays in the Ontario labour landscape. It has been estimated that net migration to the province of Ontario will account for 82 percent of all population growth in the next 25 years (Ontario Ministry of Finance 2019). Labour force dynamics in the province of Ontario and especially in the north is affected by baby boom exits, significant changes in the production levels of Ontario’s leading industries, emigration to economically booming provinces, trade relationships with the US, and more general global economic forces. Future workforce growth is expected to come from immigrating professionals to Canada (Reitz 2005, p. 413), yet Northern Ontario has experienced ongoing out-migration of skilled workers. The 2012 Canadian Federal Budget, “Jobs, Growth, and Long-Term Prosperity” (Federal Ministry of Finance 2012) and the 2012 Ontario Budget, “Strong Action for Ontario” (Ontario Ministry of Finance 2012) had both referred to the North’s natural resources and its ability to create jobs and attract skilled immigrants valued by Canadian employers. The five major cities in Northern Ontario are collaborating under “One North” to develop an economic development and immigration attraction strategy, but it is clear that more must be done.

Compared to other Ontario immigration destinations, Northern Ontario faces particular challenges due to its economic, geographic, and demographic situation. The vast territory with a small population density and long distances between communities complicate the provision and the access to services, and immigrants are no exception. In this respect, immigrants might not always be able to access the services that would help them integrate and flourish in their northern communities. This study revealed several key themes about immigrant experiences in Northern Ontario that may differ from larger urban centres.

  • Newcomers wanting to come to Northern Ontario for employment without a previous job offer had difficulty finding jobs and lacked important networks that could lead to jobs. In some cases, work discrimination was encountered as immigrants indicated that their exotic name was a problem or that employers automatically passed judgment. If the newcomers did not have support from contacts, getting employment was a big challenge in part caused by the closed mentality of employers and communities toward immigrants.

  • The lack of Canadian experience was seen as an important issue when it came to find a job, causing immigrants to take ad hoc low-paying jobs and volunteer positions.

  • Respondents felt that Northern Ontario placed a greater emphasis on Canadian credentials as compared to Southern Ontario. The comparatives (see Figure 2 and 3) between the impact of the source of education and the perception of its relative importance are perhaps contradictory. Whereas the findings did not show a significant difference between those with or without a Canadian degree who are working in the same occupation as their home country, it is in direct opposition to the perception that a country-of-origin education is standing in the way of finding a job in one’s field. The root cause(s) of this problem needs further investigation and a larger sample size.

  • Survey respondents verbalized the discrepancy on economic integration between Northern Ontario and Toronto, and some survey respondents reported their intent to relocate to Toronto or other locations due to the degree of foreign earned credential devaluation in Northern Ontario. In order to gain Canadian experience, some immigrants turned to volunteering, but opportunities are limited and hard to come by. If new solutions are not explored by all levels of government, Northern Ontario will continue to suffer outmigration while larger and overcrowded centres will continue to grow and experience significantly greater growth-related problems—the recent Covid-19 pandemic is an example in the healthcare sector.

  • It would appear that immigrants who come to Northern Ontario for a Canadian education tend to be better prepared to manage the integration process, this is a positive opportunity perhaps worthy of further exploration.

The findings from the Northern Ontario sample were not dissimilar to other Canadian research on immigration, but we found a higher frequency of responses on the importance of employment and education as a precursor to settling in Northern Ontario.

Immigrants are looking for equal opportunities from local employers, and there is a need to increase efforts to educate employers and communities in general to accept multiculturalism in Northern Ontario. The typical challenges defined in the literature are applicable to Northern Ontario but in some cases may be more significant and more challenging to solve. It is clear that the challenge of attracting newcomers to Northern Ontario needs a more structured and perhaps differentiated approach (for example, transportation due to further distances and a harsher climate). Future solutions must be multifaceted, to solve the infrastructural deficit in the North while also meeting the need for better social and economic integration practices. Findings have policy relevance at the federal, provincial, and community levels extendible to other remote communities across Canada.


1 The Federal Skilled Worker Program Express Entry scoring is available from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/skilled/apply-factors.asp



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APPENDIX 1 Written Survey

Ethnic group: Faith/Religious affiliation:
Age : Principal language of communication:
Gender: □ Male □ Female
Country of origin: Date of immigration to Canada (approximate):
Immigration status:
□ Canadian citizen
□ Permanent resident
□ Convention refugee
□ Other:_____________
Immigration class:
□ Independent—Professions/skilled trades class
□ Family sponsored
□ Independent business class (Investors, entrepreneurs and self-employed persons)
□ Convention refugee
□ Canadian experience class
□ Provincial nominee
□ Other:_________________________
Did you arrive to Canada
□ Alone?
□ With your family?
Highest level of education:
□ High school □ College □ University-Bachelor □ University—Master □ University—Doctorate
Field of study: Country:
Main occupation in country of origin: Current work status in Canada:
□ Unemployed
□ Employed (in same Occupation as in country of origin)
□ Employed (NOT in same Occupation as in country of origin)
Main occupation in Canada:
Have you ever used any of the following community services and resources available to you (check all that apply):
□ Settlement agency
□ Multicultural organisation
□ Employment and/or career counselling agency
□ Language training
□ Other:___________
□ I have never used any of these services.
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