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Discrimination and health of immigrants in Canada

Gurkirat Batth

March 16, 2014

Visible minorities and immigrant groups who have migrated to Canada are discriminated against. This leads to physiological and mental health issues caused by a deterioration of social determinants of health; specifically factors such as housing, employment and the lack of social support. 
Discrimination in employment
There is a positive correlation between the level, the type and income of employment and the health of an individual. The unemployment rate for immigrants is about 17 per cent while it is around 10 per cent for non-immigrant groups. For those immigrants that do hold a job, they are earning about 63 cents for every dollar a Canadian born resident earns. As a direct result of that 46 per cent of new comers live in low-income households, compared to 20 per cent Canadian born residents living in low-income households.
These discrepancies are not due to education: Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services report that about 43 per cent of all newcomers to Canada have university degrees compared to only 32.5 per cent of Canadian born residents. One factor that explains these discrepancies is discrimination of these groups when it comes to employment. The primary problem is the system itself that discriminates against immigrants to Canada: a strict immigration system bars many from migrating, but even those with qualification, degrees, accolades and work experience are rejected. A prime example is the 2012 death of Jayesh Prajapati, a gas station attendant in Toronto who was killed when he tried to stop a gas thief from driving off without paying. Prajapati was a Chemist who immigrated to Canada in 2006 and worked at a gas station because he failed to find a job in his profession; his qualifications were not being recognized.
This employment inequality leads to income inequality, which has a direct impact on the health of immigrants. New immigrants often have to work for minimum wave jobs in order to feed their families, since their credentials are not recognized, and these jobs are usually not the safest or the healthiest. These groups end up working in factories where they are exposed to dangerous chemicals and rigorous working conditions. This strains workers physically, where consistent exposure to such hazardous conditions leads to chronic health problems. Some workplaces even require you to buy your own personal protective equipment, and the low paid workers often buy the cheapest equipment available due to lack of funds, which puts them at a higher risk in comparison to their co-workers.
Also such work limits their ability to participate in the society and access basic needs. They get tied to work because of the need of money to feed the family; hence they neglect accessing the health care system when they need it. Being occupied with work also takes away time from family and the opportunity to re-qualify themselves in Canada, putting tremendous amounts of stress and pressure on these immigrants and their families. These low paying jobs often tend to be temporary, creating insecurities about future employment and income. Employers often harass and discriminate against workers on the basis of race, gender and ethnicity, and workers without unions cannot protect themselves.
Housing inequality
Housing inequality is another consequence of income inequality due to discrimination that adversely affects the health of immigrants. Immigrants often cannot afford similar type of housing and amenities that non-immigrants enjoy. Immigrants tend to live in congested industrial areas where housing is cheap. In such areas, the air is usually polluted and public transportation and other services are not readily available. According to Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services, “Newcomers who arrived between 2001 and 2006 were four times more likely to live in neighborhoods with declining incomes as opposed to rising incomes.” Poverty leads to violence, and the physiological effects of living in a polluted area coupled with the mental stress of living in an unsafe area are detrimental to the health of immigrants.
In addition there is minimal help from the government to help with housing for immigrants, and the poor in general. The TCHC (Toronto Community Housing Corporation) has not put up a new building to house the poor in almost three decades. With the influx of immigrants in such a time, who are forced to work at low wages, the demand for community housing has increased substantially. Instead of building more community houses to fulfill the demand, the city of Toronto is selling these houses. In late 2012, the city of Toronto sold 55 of 619 community houses. This is not what the city should be doing; in fact they should be doing the exact opposite to provide affordable housing to the poor and immigrants, which would have a positive impact on their health.
Furthermore, the government usually does not do any favours for the immigrants in poor neighborhoods when it comes to planning and placement of facilities that can impact the neighboring residents health. Factories are usually placed around poor and racialized neighbourhoods.
Mental health
Lastly, the effects of discrimination go well beyond income, employment and housing inequality. The mental strain of discrimination has a long lasting detrimental effect on the mental health of immigrants. Immigrants move to Canada leaving behind their entire social support structure in hopes for a better new life. It requires a lot of time and energy to build a new network in a new country and in a culture that may be foreign or unfamiliar to them. As a result, new immigrants struggle to settle in Canada, and often feel isolated in their new environments.
According to Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), isolation is considered a major determinant of mental health problems for the immigrants. A study by Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences concluded that the rates of stress from lack of social structures as well as employment insecurities are the highest among immigrants. The stress of employment tied in with strain of discrimination mounts, which incapacitates these immigrants’ health mentally. Frustration and anger can often be expressed on to the family, which in turn ruins relationships that are often the main line of support for such people.
Immigrants in Canada endure bad health because of discrimination. Discrimination leads to inequality in relation to both income and employment. This forces these immigrants to work and live in unsafe environment and under less than ideal conditions, which in turn causes their quality of life to decrease significantly. The insecurities and struggle to survive paired with lack of social and structural support is detrimental.
In addition to the ongoing colonial policies against First Nations, Canada uses racism to lower wages for immigrants, increase corporate profits to divide the working class—like the Temporary Foreign Workers Program that pays migrant workers less in order to benefit Canadian corporations, and that has also been used to stoke anti-migrant racism. We need to oppose this racism and support working class unity. As the UFCW, the union with the highest membership of migrant workers said, “Unionization and permanent residency remain the only viable solutions that begin to address the crisis of the deplorable and mean hearted working and living conditions that migrant workers are subjected to.”

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