Labour market shift creates 'window of opportunity' for immigrants with advanced degrees

The changing labour market in Waterloo region, Guelph and Wellington County over the pandemic has opened the door for new job opportunities for immigrants.

Recent survey found 71 percent of local immigrants have post-secondary degrees

Job hunters line up with resumes in hand. A new report led by the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin says the pandemic has created a 'window of opportunity' for economic immigrants who are often over-qualified for the jobs they land. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

When Maram Istaitieh first immigrated to Canada and settled in Guelph, Ont., in 2016, she was eager to find a job in her field.

"It was not that easy," said Istaitieh, who's originally from Jordan. That was despite having a Bachelor's degree in agricultural science and Master's degree in genetic and plant breeding and population genetics.

She eventually ended up working as a research assistant in her field while pursuing a medical assistant diploma ⁠— another passion of hers. She said she's recently noticed more job opportunities in both fields and has been submitting applications.

"You can't give up on what you like," she said.

Over the pandemic, the shifting labour market in Waterloo region, Guelph and Wellington County has opened the door for people like Istaitieh. New job opportunities for economic immigrants are opening up, a new report has found.

'A window of opportunity' 

The report, titled A Window of Opportunity was led by the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin, in partnership with Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership and Waterloo Region Immigration Partnership. It looked at the shifts in skills and workforce demands in the area.

Maram Istaitieh moved to Guelph from Jordan in 2016. She has a background in agricultural science and genetic and plant breeding. (Submitted by Maram Istaitieh)

"We often heard of the underemployment of immigrants not working in jobs that suit their talents," said Charlene Hofbauer, executive director of the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin.

"Most [economic immigrants] who come to Canada tend to have post-secondary education. The job postings prior to the pandemic tended to not need that post-secondary education. So the opportunities were often mismatched," she said.

A recent survey of immigrants in the region found that they're highly educated, with 71 percent of respondents stating they had a Bachelor's degree or higher. 

But prior to the pandemic, 57 per cent of job postings in Waterloo region, Guelph and Wellington County were jobs that required high school or job-specific training like truck drivers or personal support workers, said Hofbauer.

That left many struggling to find work in their field. However, the spectrum of in-demand jobs expanded during the pandemic, the report suggests.

Currently, 52 per cent of job postings in the area are for high skilled roles that often call for a degree from university. Hofbauer said this may be because sectors such as insurance, technology and finance are looking to grow and that immigration slowed during the pandemic.

Hofbauer said this shift has created a "window of opportunity" for economic immigrants to find work in their respective fields, which wasn't possible prior to the pandemic.

Next steps

Hofbauer said the challenge now is finding new ways to connect immigrants with the skills needed to fill jobs on offer. 

"How do we refer you to somewhere else, or how do we take the skills you have and build upon them with a little bit of reskilling, or how do we transfer those skills to another industry? So there's a lot of that conversation going on," she said.

The report made 11 recommendations to support this work including adding labour market data research to online job websites to help immigrants make informed decisions. 

Another recommendation suggests improving the process for credential recognition so that internationally-trained people can enter the labour market more quickly.

Hofbauer said the board and other economic and immigration groups are advocating to improve the immigration process so that labour trends are taken into account.


Hala Ghonaim

Community Engagement Producer

Hala Ghonaim is a community engagement producer for smaller markets in Ontario, including Windsor, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and London. She's a multimedia journalist focused on helping people tell their stories. You can reach her at or call/text at (226) 338-4244.