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Beck taxi cab on Yonge St. in downtown Toronto.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Thanks to the government of Canada, we now know that one urban myth is true. Overqualified immigrants do drive taxis – though not all of them are physicians. Many are in fact architects and engineers. This underscores the need for Canada to reform its immigration-selection system with the aim of helping newcomers work in their chosen professions and actually design buildings and highways, instead of having to ferry people across town.

Inventively titled Who Drives a Taxi in Canada, the study of 50,000 cab drivers concluded that half are immigrants. Two hundred are doctors or have PhDs, compared with just 55 of their Canadian-born counterparts. Twenty per cent have undergraduate university degrees or master's, compared with 4 per cent of Canadian-born drivers. One of every three taxi drivers is born in India or Pakistan. They may be well qualified to navigate chaotic traffic, understand the mechanics of a meter and deal with unruly customers. But only 6 per cent of immigrant drivers listed as their field of study "personal, protective and transportation services." Most had backgrounds in business, engineering and architecture and are clearly underemployed.

This is a dramatic loss of economic potential. The study found the occupation-education mismatch was replicated in other areas, and that it worsens for recent arrivals. Ottawa's efforts to overhaul the selection criteria with an increased emphasis on language ability and pre-arranged employment is long overdue. These newcomers can contribute much more to Canada's productivity if their education and job experience can be converted into the Canadian job market.

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The study also found there are discrepancies in how well immigrants fare – no pun intended – depending on their source country. Those with business degrees from China, India and the Philippines had difficulties finding skilled work, while those who had studied in the U.S., U.K. and France had low unemployment rates. Filipino immigrants are over-represented in the health-care sector – confirming another immigrant cliché.

While the study's conclusions may seem obvious, it is important to test popular folk belief. Newcomers' difficulties in the job market are not a reflection of their own lack of education, but of bureaucratic bottlenecks, discrimination, gatekeeping by professions, and language difficulty. Everyone benefits if overqualified immigrant drivers can get out of their cars.

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