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Immigrants in Toronto: Social and Economic Challenges


The frequency with which people are moving from one country to another has been on the rise in the recent past. People are moving to change lifestyles, seek job opportunities, education, or refuge in times of conflicts. However, many immigrants have targeted Toronto thus resulting in a number of challenges. The current states of multiculturalism and integration have sparked debates on the influence to the socio-economic assimilation of immigrants into Toronto. This paper will examine the social and economic integrating challenges that immigrants face whilst trying to settle in Toronto. In the analysis, the paper will elaborate how and why immigrants settling in Toronto face socio-economic challenges. The study examines perceptions of the immigrants as well as realities that they meet in the new neighbourhoods of Toronto.

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Theoretical framework

One of the theoretical frameworks applied in this work includes the structural functionalism model. This model views the society, as a unit comprising of interdependent parts, and thus for it to function consistently, these units have to coordinate. Therefore, a turn in one point in the system will have an influence elsewhere by creating a domino effect on other units. In developing this theory, Talcott Parsons held that society was moving toward stability, and thus a major dysfunction would jeopardise the efforts by others elements.

The minority immigrants in relating with the majority residents in Toronto have the potential to disrupt the society, thus causing disequilibrium. The functionalists believe that if immigrants experience social economic problems, then they lack the qualities to enable smooth integration. For instance, if immigrants do not secure employment, it is because they lack the requisite skills. However, this model fails to address why issues of race and ethnic discrimination arise in the labour market and how they can be addressed.

Social challenges

Culture creates habits, styles, as well as constraints in the way humans interact socially. These constraints involve shared group attachments of life expectations. However, different aspects of culture effect vary with regions, races, or ethnic affiliations (Tepperman, Albanese & Curtis, 2009). Unlike the past decades, people today migrate from every part of the word and settle in their preferred destinations, thus creating a multitude of linguistic and cultural traditions in a single area.

Toronto is the bedrock of integration with a wide cultural diversity coupled with challenges of staying together as a community. However, the level of social integration and economic dynamism is subject to a number of factors in the receiving community as well as the perceptions of the immigrants. Most immigrants seek to adopt fast to the norms and values of their new society and at the same time preserve their culture and practices. In a bid to address these challenges, effective social and economic policies are necessary.

The view that Toronto is a multicultural society poses many challenges to the immigrants. Immigrants have to struggle with issues of ethnic and racial inequality. In addition, lawmakers come up with unfavourable rules for the immigrants. For instance, in 2013, lawmakers redefined “dependent child” to cover anyone younger than 19 years from the initial 22 years. This means that most parents cannot be with their children if they are over 19 years. Such a law is a challenge facing the immigrants’ integration, as they cannot socialise freely with a presumably discriminative society.


Multiculturalism as an ideology develops social practices coupled with governing ethnic and racial group interactions that manage social order and change. Converging of diverse cultures has negatively promoted various social problems that face immigrants in Toronto such as social isolation. The majority of immigrants barely know anybody at the time of moving into the country. People live individualistic lifestyles, and thus they do not often interact easily. Life becomes very difficult when one realises that people around him/her do not speak a common language or practice one’s culture. A lot of stereotyping is evident, which leads to racial and ethnic discrimination (Good, 2009).

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Language barrier is a common problem with immigrants, as they encounter desperation in many occasions when they cannot express themselves for they do not know English. For instance, a Chinese immigrant involved in an accident in Toronto may lack words to explain his or her role to the police; however, the residents will have the advantage to talk their way out of the problem. Most schools run their programs in English, thus making it mandatory for the immigrants seeking education to learn the language, which takes time. There are limited bilingual teachers who are willing to help immigrants to learn English.

Multiculturalism does not encourage unity and co-existence; on the contrary, it amplifies division by discriminating the minority immigrants. However, racist ideas and discrimination are not just a construct of the mind when dealing with immigrants. Challenges arise from the basis of real material possession, which manifest in the class struggle and competition for the limited resources. The locals dominate the economy and seek to exploit the immigrants so that they can maintain their dominance in both socio-economic and political sectors (Good, 2009).

Education integration is a nightmare for most immigrants. Parents as well as children do not know English, which is the common language used in most learning institutions. Parents cannot help their children with the homework or even get involved with the school matters. This aspect creates a feeling of discrimination. As Deaux, Esses, Lalonde, and Brown (2010) indicate, Toronto high school students report a big number of black and Aboriginal dropouts as well as others coming from different nationalities. The continued unequal experiences and discrimination in classrooms force such students to quit school. In most cases, the majority of Asian students do not attend colleges and universities to avoid discrimination.

The cultural support theory holds that people exhibit behaviours reflecting cultures in which they are raised. Extra-familial aspects, such as experience at work, neighbourhood, and social class in the new environment, might differ. Immigrants are forced to change their lifestyles and adopt new ones (Tepperman et al., 2009). Children adopt and embrace foreign cultures as opposed to their parents who stick to their original values and beliefs.

Mostly, parents think that their children are being influenced to run away from their culture. In addition, issues of drug abuse and teen pregnancy arise. For Muslim immigrants, these vices are an assault to their tradition. This scenario creates conflict in parenting, thus developing a culture clash. Due to financial difficulties, most children are forced to get into drug business and prostitution in a bid to earn a living. The locals take advantage and influence these young immigrants to accomplish their illegal deals.

Additionally, communication methods and channels do not favour immigrants especially who do not understand English. New immigrants are almost invisible in Toronto, as they are barely willing to reach out for help in fear of discrimination. There is no appropriate communication system for different populations in Toronto. Most immigrants rely on friends to get information. Those who do not have friends and family stay in the dark and they rarely understand what happens around them.

Social amenities

Finding suitable housing at affordable cost is a nightmare in Toronto. Most immigrants resort to living in unsafe shanties and sharing rooms in a bid to afford the high rates. For instance, in 2013, the plan to put up 333 townhouses in Brampton degenerated into cultural divisions, with Indian immigrants claiming that the houses were too small to accommodate their families. Such differences derail the integration process both socially and economically. Moreover, finding a well-paying job is a challenge. Immigrants end up settling for low-level employments, which do not offer opportunities for advancement.

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Due to the lack of sufficient communication skills, low levels of education, and minimal experience, immigrants are barred from advancing in their careers. Skilled immigrants end up working as security guards as they allegedly lack soft skills and experience to be competitive in Toronto. Cases of harassment, discrimination, and poor working conditions are the norms for the immigrants who are perhaps desperate in the eyes of the locals who double as the bosses. Even though legal procedures to address these issues exist, immigrants do not report for fear that they will be discriminated in the process of seeking justice (Brown, 2009).

Accessing health and use of healthcare services are part of the many challenges facing the immigrants. Lack of medical covers such as insurance creates a challenge of accessing medical services of one’s choice. Due to cultural and racial discrimination, immigrants seek health providers from their culture and it might be very hard to find one. Transport means is another challenge for the immigrants. At times, immigrants are forced to walk long distances to work and take children to school.

Some rely on friends and neighbours for transportation. Using the public means is mostly inconvenient since the majority of immigrants report to work very early and come out at late hours. Some are not even aware of the surrounding, and thus do not know where to find the available means of transport. Getting a personal car or even a driver’s license is complicated for the immigrants.

Gender as a social construct

The feminist theory addresses the issue of social construction on the concept of gender rather than focusing on individual aspects of men and women. Researchers focus on the adaptation challenges on women immigrants with the assumption that men are competitive and ready to assimilate changes. Female immigrants are usually segregated to take the traditionally perceived roles like domestic chores, childcare, or receptionist duties. If women get access to the labour market, they are given the less significant roles and they are not involved in decision-making. Working late hours might as well pull them out of their employment due to insecurity or family burdens (Tepperman et. al., 2013).

Economic inequalities

The social capital model is used to study the socio economic integration of immigrants. The model indicates that the immigrants’ perceptions create differences in the way they integrate into the labour market (Bowen, 2013). Some immigrants find it easy to integrate, but others may take long. The social capital model looks at how immigrants are flexible in bonding to the society and their ability to interact at group, organisational, and community level.

The ability to link determines how fast an immigrant secures a job and its nature. However, the model discourages very strong bonding. Strong racial ties can restrict immigrants to common linguistic and welfare associations that hinder access to resources and opportunities to livelihood outside a given society. For instance, strong links with poor communities can lead to integrating difficulties due to limited economic opportunities. This model emphasises the role that social aspects of relation play in the job market, thus ignoring other aspects of education levels and technical skills.

The Marxist theory argues that the concept of inequality is based on class owners who control the means of production. Racial inequality keeps immigrants, who are the working class, from realising their own interests. The bourgeoisie, who own the production sectors, is interested in acquiring competent workers from the immigrants to pay them low wages (White & Tadesse, 2011).

Most immigrants believe in a system based on achievements and meritocracy. There has been increasing demand of immigrants to the Toronto’s labour market, but the integration policies are poor. However, with the current competition in the global market, Toronto needs a higher population to provide cheap labour, reduce costs, and improve tax collected. In a bid to achieve this goal, immigrants are targeted since the locals are not willing to provide cheap labour. When trying to integrate into the economy in Toronto, some will look for jobs and others will venture into business.

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This class of immigrants is labelled as economic immigrants, as the majority are job seekers. Unfortunately, these job seekers find that not all positions in the hierarchy are based on merit. The skilled immigrants will have to take jobs that the locals reject. The immigrants end up being exploited by taking risky and tiresome jobs. Despite the interest by immigrants to provide a skilled workforce in Toronto, their foreign education credentials and work experience are not recognised.

Perceptions are subjective and they may not always result in the challenges that immigrants may perceive. Some immigrants come to Toronto with the perception that they are a minority, hence subjective to socio economic discriminations (Deaux et al., 2011). As much as service providers and employers may want to integrate them, inferiority complex holds back the immigrants (White & Tadesse, 2011).

If at any chance these immigrants feel discriminated in certain situations, they live with the experience for long, thus posing challenges whilst living in Toronto. In addition, studies indicate that immigrants are not discriminated in any way, but they lack relevant education and skills to take competitive jobs. Another group of immigrants is over ambitious of the opportunities awaiting them in Toronto.

For instance, the educated and skilled immigrants come in expecting to get absorbed into the job market in a short while, but to their surprise, the job market gives a little recognition to their foreign education credentials, and thus they end up getting jobs below their expectations. Therefore, they feel discouraged and less competitive. The aspect of perceptions, whether real or not, undermines efforts of further research and the willingness of the Toronto community to help immigrants to adopt socially and economically.


Immigrants in Toronto go through many antagonising moments despite their willingness to adopt. Experiences ranging from long working hours with little pay, crowded and insecure residences, daily communication barriers, limited opportunities for immigrants, as well as financial pressures are some of the challenges facing immigrants in Toronto. Many studies have shown the existence of racial inequality; however, there is no consensus why this inequality persists and how the problem can be addressed. Therefore, it remains a controversial issue reflecting on perceptions, but also empirical evidence has shown that socio-economic discrimination is prevalent in Toronto.


Bowen, P., & Wu, J. (2013). Immigrant Specificity and the Relationship between Trade and Immigration: Theory and Evidence. Southern Economic Journal, 80(2), 366-384.

Deaux, K., Esses, M., Lalonde, N., & Brown, R. (2011). Immigrants and hosts: Perceptions, interactions, and transformations. Toronto, ON: Wiley-Blackwell.

Good, K. (2009). Municipalities and multiculturalism: The politics of immigration in Toronto and Vancouver. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Tepperman, L., Albanese, P., & Curtis, J. (2013). Principles of sociology: Canadian perspectives. Don Mills, ON: OUP Canada.

White, R., & Tadesse, B. (2011). International migration and economic integration: Understanding the Immigrant-trade link. Journal of Regional Science, 53(1), 211-214.

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