Monday, July 27, 2015

Harper Immigration Policies destroy talents...

Canada is gripping with election fever but none of the parties seem to address or even acknowledge the misplaced immigration policies of Mr. Harper. This, while Canada's Global Competitive Index (GCI) ranking, a measure by World Economic Forum (WEF) on the ability of a country to bring prosperity to its population, has slipped to 15th in 2015. GCI takes over 110 variables into account for the estimation. However, by comparing with US, I think the flawed immigration policies and the system skewed against immigrants could be one of the reasons along with spending cuts to R&D.

It seems there is a lot of groups lobbying to restrict immigration. To an extent, it is true that some tend to import cheap labor but skilled-immigrant population actually helps Canadian economy more than it hurts. For example, African doctors who migrated to Canada saved over 400 million dollars while costing their home countries billions. Assuming an average citizen of Canada makes a million dollars during his productive period, the savings mean 400 more jobs or possibilities to invest in opportunities that could produce even more jobs and consequently more income to the Govt. However, in an attempt to fix this problem the immigration policies enacted, actually seem to aggravate this problem and in some cases, pushing of skilled immigrants out of the country or derogate them to lower jobs. Thanks to improvement of conditions in Asia and the flawed immigration policies, Canada is now seeing reverse immigration.

Prof. McNiven, in an interview to CBC in 2012 said that PhDs from developing countries were lured to Canada with high hopes only to find that their qualifications were not enough making them to drive taxis and work in restaurants. He also mentioned that it is due to the Canadian Government's intention to keep the higher paying "good jobs" among Canada-born young people.  He was also correct in saying that Canada needs immigrants with minimal skill and a lot of drive. From my experience, if I'm to recruit some one to my team or company, more than the skill they have I would look for their ability to acquire the skill. Hence, I agree with McNiven on accepting immigrants with minimal skill and lot of drive. However, the same conditions ("good jobs" for Canadians) still exist and the flaws in the system still helps the industries bring cheap labor instead of attracting and retaining talents - resulting in brain drain.

As case in point is the situation of postdocs and scientists, visiting Canada to work in Federal  and other laboratories across Canada. These immigrants add to skilled workforce involved in the development of technologies and science which ultimately benefit Canada. However, when these postdocs want to find an academic position in an University after their tenure as a postdoc or move to industries, they hit a "glass wall". Since companies are not much inclined to spend time and money (a requirement by CIC), a residency becomes a requirement for a job offer. However, according to the current system, one needs a "valid" job offer to get invited to apply for residency. The end result is either under-utilization or drain of talents. If I'm not wrong, I guess the labs and government perceive these postdocs as expendable cogs. In other words, they are doing the same thing that they want others not to do - exploit immigrants and import cheap labor. What they fail to realize is that these young minds, while they do bring new ideas on their arrival also leave with more ideas on their departure. In addition to attributing to the attrition of talents, the scenario could very well play against Canadian interests in geo-politics.

On the other hand, according to the current point system, the people who would enter Canada are IT and similar professionals, under paid by their company back at home. When these companies bring these professionals, usually they are brought on deputation and instead of a full payment, they would receive allowances. However, after a year these professionals would be eligible for Experience Class immigration and since they already have a "valid" job offer with LMO (Labor Market opinion), they would be successful in immigrating to Canada. I leave it to the readers to determine which one is good for the country in short and long term.

The start-up visa program, is also a bit tricky and may not be effective in retaining talents. First, most of the postdocs prefer a scientific career. After all, they chose to do PhD when they could have very well proceeded to become an MBA, right? Also, it might be difficult for the postdocs in the Federal labs to bring together a team to form a start-up. At the most, some one in some universities could apply for the Start-Up visa program. From what I understand, there had not been many success stories. A person with right business mind, also may not be interested to create a startup/company here because of the cost of labor and raw materials, as well as the size of markets. For example, India and China are bigger markets than Canada.

The federal and provincial labs that host visiting fellows and scientists also provide next to nothing opportunities to build their skill-sets or acquire new skills, to help them move to industry or to improve their employability. This actually aggravates the postdoc crisis. I had attended a few interviews from data science start-ups. Though I have a good understanding on time series data and have been dealing with extremely discontinuous data, and, as any postdoc, acquire the programming skills along the way to complete my tasks, these start-ups invariably rejected opportunities as I was lacking skills in Hadoop or Scala. I was hoping to have an opportunity to acquire those skill sets. However, if I have to acquire them myself I need over 24hrs (I already sleep only for 4 hrs) and more money to set-up my own infrastructure to acquire the experience that these companies, apparently seek. Further, the regulations in effect, prohibits postdocs from attending International conferences (even when they have results to present. The same is the case for Federal Scientists as well.), which are vital to their career development. In short, the policies of the Canadian Government effectively destroys young scientific minds.

I guess these are what some call as invisible racism and Harpers Govt. is not just helping brain drain but effectively destroying them. I think it would do more good to Canada if the underlying problems that hinders the realization of the full potential of immigrant talents are addressed instead of directing racial slurs. However, both the opposition and the public seem to be oblivious to the issue... I guess, immigrant postdocs should be warned against coming to Canada... Would you agree?!

Note to Readers: I have been off for a couple of weeks, as I have been attending interviews. I greatly appreciate your patience and your continued support.  

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