Immigrants make significant contributions to innovation in Canada

Immigrants can help boost Canada’s innovation performance, which has been lagging behind many other developed countries, according to a Conference Board of Canada recent report.

“Immigrants tend to be motivated individuals willing to take risks in search of greater opportunities, which should predispose them to be innovative,” says Diana MacKay, director, Education and Health. “At every level we examined – individual, organizational, national and global – immigrants were associated with increased innovation in Canada.”

Canada is a consistent below-average performer in its capacity to innovate. Canada ranks 14th out of 17 industrialized countries in the Conference Board’s How Canada Performs innovation report card.

The report, Immigrants as Innovators: Boosting Canada’s Global Competitiveness, uses a number of measures to show that countries benefit from welcoming immigrants. For example, in Canada:

  • At least 35 per cent of Canada Research Chairs are foreign-born, even though immigrants are just one-fifth of the Canadian population;
  • Immigrants to Canada win proportionally more prestigious literary and performing arts awards (immigrants comprise 23 per cent of Giller Prize finalists and 29 per cent of winners; 23 per cent of Governor Generals Performing Arts Award recipients are immigrants);
  • Immigration rates affect trade levels between Canada and immigrants’ countries of origin. Based on the Conference Board’s model of known factors influencing trade, a one percentage point increase in the number of immigrants to Canada can increase the value of imports into Canada by 0.21 per cent, and raise the value of exports by 0.11 per cent;
  • Immigrants are a source of diverse knowledge and experience that can increase innovation in Canadian businesses, based on a survey undertaken for this study and a literature review; and,
  • Foreign direct investment into Canada is greater from countries that are well represented in Canada through immigration, based on data from the census and from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

Despite the innovation skills that immigrants bring to Canada, they face obstacles that limit their ability to maximize their contribution as innovators.  These include inadequate recognition of international experience and qualifications, failure of employers to tap foreign language skills which could be employed in international markets, and lack of opportunities for newcomers to fully utilize their skills.

Employers can make hiring, integrating, and retaining immigrants effective innovation strategies. Policies and practices available to employers to help immigrants contribute in the labour market include:

  • Hiring immigrants at every level of the organization, including in leadership roles-Employees tend to be more dedicated to an organization and motivated in their work if they see that the organization is committed to their advancement.
  • Matching the organization’s workforce to its clientele-Employers who match the diversity of their staff to that of their markets may be better positioned to meet their client’s needs.
  • Providing encouragement for immigrants to share their views-Managers who actively invite feedback from immigrant employees reap the benefits of hearing diverse points of view, which is essential for innovation.

The research was jointly conducted as part of the CanCompete project and the Leaders’ Roundtable on Immigration. CanCompete is a three-year Conference Board program of research and dialogue is designed to help leading decision makers advance Canada on a path of national competitiveness. The Leaders’ Roundtable on Immigration brings together key stakeholder groups to address common issues relating to immigration.