International students as "ideal" immigrants: Ontario employer's perspective

Investigator:

Funding Program:

Ontario Human Capital Research and Innovation Fund (OHCRIF)

Funding Amount:

$49,814

Ontario universities play an important role in enhancing international students’ employability; however, the employers’ role in realizing the return on their education and their transition into the Ontario labour market has become more crucial with changes to the Provincial Nominee Program and the new Express Entry program as of January 2015. This “more employer centered strategy” (Papademetriou & Sumption, 2011) can be highly problematic given that little is known about employers’ hiring practices and preferences concerning new immigrants and international students (Gredling, 2014; Rivera, 2010).

The human capital perspective frames the public policy discourse on international education and immigration (Alboim & Cohl, 2012; Papademetriou & Sumption, 2011; Picot and Sweetman, 2012). However, the transition for international student’s from universities to workplaces, and from temporary to permanent residents, is increasingly complex. Research on the accounting profession suggests that despite the rhetoric of global opportunity and respect for diversity, employers’ hiring practices implicitly compare international professionals to an “ideal” Canadian professional, subtly questioning their cultural “fit” in ways making it difficult to secure positions commensurate with their educational qualifications (Thomson & Jones, in press). As recently as 2014, researchers report that highly educated immigrants face more difficulties in accessing professional and management occupations than in the mid-1990s and the number of immigrants working in low-skill occupations has steadily increased since 1996. Statistics Canada studies have shown that the reasons given by employers for underemployment of skilled migrants are: lack of Canadian work experience, lack of recognition of foreign experience or credentials, and language. Studies have suggested that these stated reasons may actually reflect employers’ uncertainties about how well non-Canadian education and experience prepare foreign workers to perform in Canadian workplaces. It is in response to these implicit concerns that ISs have been targeted by Canadian federal and provincial policy as “ideal” immigrants since they "are well positioned to immigrate to Canada as they have typically obtained Canadian credentials, are proficient in at least one official language and often have relevant Canadian work experience" (DFATD, p.12). Attracting and retaining “top talent” is a recent government strategy to address skilled labour shortage that is becoming “desperate, threatening our ability to keep up in a global, knowledge-based economy” (DFATD, 2014, p.9). However, research suggests that employers’ lack of knowledge about immigration regulations pertaining to IS employment and permanent residence applications and the challenges faced by international students in overcoming employer perceptions that they are not “Canadian enough" persist.

Given the lacuna in research, we will examine employer perceptions and practices to gain insight into how they may facilitate/impede conversion of ISs’ educational credentials into secure employment and access to Canadian citizenship. For a country highly dependent on an immigrant labour force, expected to reach 100% (DFATD, 2014), research on employers' human resource practices is critical given its relevance to the underutilization of immigrants and potential disadvantaging of international students under the Express Entry Program.

Research Questions:
1) How knowledgeable are employers about immigration policies pertaining to IS and how do they expect these policies to influence their human resource policies and practices related to ISs (e.g. selection, retention and promotion)?
2) What is the “value proposition” for hiring ISs from employers’ perspectives? What are their expectations and experiences of hiring IS compared to experienced immigrants and non-immigrants?
3) What would motivate employers to play a more strategic role in the social and economic integration of IS as permanent residents? What tools, resources and best practices do they identify?
4) What collaborative partnerships do employers envision with the government and university sector in best preparing IS for employment and permanent residency?