Starting the job search discussion

The first year for newcomers in Canada is most likely to be full of challenges. Many, if not most, newcomer refugees have very basic knowledge of English, which sets a barrier against their attempts to integrate and set-up their new lives. Finding work is one of the hardest challenges, considering the many differences in culture and background, the lack of familiarity with the Canadian work market and its requirements, and adjusting to a new work culture.

The topic of work will in all likelihood be addressed in very early conversations with the newcomer. In preparation, sponsor groups should ideally set up an “employment sub-committee” of two to three individuals and develop an outline of a general plan for how to approach the subject of employment with the newcomer.

Starting a job search as a new immigrant to Canada

The early conversations with newcomers should tackle the main topics regarding employment. It is important to set a proper employment strategy in coordination between the sponsors and newcomers. It is also important to understand the work background of the newcomers, how they view success, and what are their employment expectations. Some newcomers may never have considered multiple employment options or choices and hence it can all feel quite overwhelming.

Employment of newcomers, therefore, needs to be discussed on an ongoing basis, taking into account the evolution of newcomers’ settlement integration, English language proficiency, training, outlook, aspirations, and trust.

Time is needed to reflect on new information between conversations before moving forward.

Balancing the needs to study English and begin work

There are differing points of view on when ongoing discussions about work should begin —  no hard and fast rules exist. Timing can be decided based on what works best for each newcomer and those supporting them. It will also vary depending on the English proficiency level of the newcomer and the need and desire to attend English classes. An assessment of English proficiency should be conducted as soon as possible, after arrival, to determine the newcomer’s CLB level, based upon the Canadian Language Benchmark standards. (The assessment is done by the YMCA in Toronto and by the Centre for Education & Training in the rest of the GTA).

In employment discussions, the need or desire to work should be considered in relation to the importance of studying English. For newcomers with low English proficiency, it is important to explain early on why focusing on English should be a priority in the first year, both in terms of overall settlement and to ensure better, long-term employment options.

With a newcomer possessing a level of CLB 7 or higher, studying English can be less of a priority and the individual could begin looking for work immediately. Sector-specific English could be improved as part of a bridging program and general English courses could be undertaken as an evening study program. In the case of these newcomers, the discussion about finding employment will likely start in the very first weeks after arrival.

For newcomers with lower English proficiency, who need English instruction, a suggested approach might be to initiate discussions and planning around employment once initial settlement priorities have been addressed. These priorities include housing, clothing, government paperwork/applications, school/ESL, and immediate health concerns. Such priorities could typically consume the first three months. This process should be clarified to the newcomers who should understand clearly who, among the sponsoring group, is tasked to help them with their employment search, and all the steps of the plan toward their employment.

Newcomers with lower English proficiency who want to start working as soon as possible can also be assisted with their employment search, right from the beginning. Ideally, this would be part-time work which could accommodate simultaneous ESL participation.  Part of the discussion with newcomers should include the long term impact of good English skills on their employment future.

There are different types of employment and work sectors that may or may not be suitable for newcomers in this early stage of English proficiency. Our section on Work to Consider provides some perspective on opportunities with limited English in some of the employment sectors most often considered by newcomers.

Use of an employment service

A newcomer may be lucky enough to easily find work through word of mouth. However, it is rarely so easy. For private sponsors and other volunteers, consideration should be given to the use of an employment service and this is explored further in our article on Employment Services.

Considering re-entry into a regulated trade or profession through an unregulated job

A refugee newcomer may have international training and experience in a trade or profession, but because entry into the same or a similar role is regulated in Ontario, may not be able to qualify for such a position. This may be due, for example, to insufficient English language proficiency, foreign credentials that cannot be obtained or verified, or to additional training, education, or Canadian experience requirements that must be met. (Note that, legally in Ontario, under the Human Rights Code, prospective employers can only ask for Canadian work experience if it is directly relevant to the job.)

A newcomer might consider re-entry into his or her field of expertise through an unregulated position. See, for example, options that are presented on the website in an article entitled, Alternative jobs – working in a non-regulated job in your field, for various professions (accountant, architect, dentist, doctor, engineer, lawyer, nurse, pharmacist, social worker, teacher.)  Someone trained and previously working as a pharmacist overseas, might be encouraged to look for a first job as a medical research associate, or a pharmacy assistant.

Working for a temp agency as a newcomer

For those considering the option of working for a temp agency, see our article on this subject.

Women and youth

Newcomer couples may prefer for only the male partner to work. This matter should be approached with sensitivity and in conjunction with on-going discussions around financial realities, budgeting and cultural differences regarding female employment in Canada. There could be several ways for female newcomers to engage in employment, depending on their situation and preference.

Some newcomer families may have more than one adult who is looking for work.

There also should be a discussion regarding the possible employment of older children in the family and the proper timing of that (the term “youth” is commonly defined as being up to and including the age of 29 and may start at age 16.)

While the immediate priority for newcomer youth should ideally be learning English, financial realities may dictate that younger members begin working soon after arrival, on a part-time, if not on a full-time, basis. Of course, it is the newcomers’ decision as to who in the family will work and when.

There are many programs especially targeting the youth segment. In addition to searches for full-time work, there might be consideration of summer jobs, part-time jobs during the school year, apprenticeship and other programs to start a career. See the Programs and Events section of this website and filter for “women” or “youth” under “Type”.

Obtaining a driver’s licence

Having a valid driver’s license can be a valuable asset for some types of work. The reason for obtaining a G1 or G2 licence as soon as possible is that, in Ontario, without a still-valid foreign licence, one may have to wait twelve months after the G1 or G2 is issued, before being eligible for a G2 or full G. G2 is the level that permits driving without another G2 or higher licenced driver in the vehicle. Especially if the newcomer already knows how to drive, the sooner this clock starts ticking, the better. You can find more in-depth information about obtaining a driver’s license in our article, Getting a Driver’s License in Ontario.

The concept of working as an “employee” vs an “independent contractor”

Newcomers should understand that if they are considering offering their services on a freelance basis, or by starting a business, there are important business number registration, income tax, HST, employment insurance, health benefits and other issues to consider.

Discussion timeline

Pre-arrival, within a sponsorship group:
  • Assignment of responsibility within the group to assist with employment
  • What the sponsors initially believe that success should look like
  • Research what needs, or will need, to be done by the sponsors
Soon after the newcomer’s arrival
  • The need for an employment plan
  • How sponsors can help develop an employment plan, search for a job, and maybe even find a suitable job
  • The availability of an employment service to help, how an employment service can help, and how sponsors can collaborate with such services
  • Whether and when to apply for a driver’s license
  • The implications of “Month 13”
  • Initial expectations of the newcomer and the sponsor group
When formulating a plan with the newcomer:


  • What success should look like
  • Timing and the importance of improving English proficiency vs starting work
  • Narrowing in on options to pursue
  • Value and need for a mentor in a particular sector
  • Past experience/Likes and dislikes
  • Skills and training
  • Credentials and translations
  • Expectations and income requirements
  • Physical and health limitations and endurance (e.g. illnesses, lifting, standing, being out in the cold)
  • Cultural differences and work protocols
  • Any needs for religious accommodation
  • The importance of the first job and how long it should last
  • Explaining the risks of “working under the table”
  • Women in the workforce
  • Daycare options
  • For any skilled trades of interest, mandatory certification or the value of voluntary certification
  • Opportunities for post-secondary education
  • Apprenticeships
  • Training and bridge programs
  • Volunteering as a stepping stone to employment
  • Scheduling the search preparation and the job search
  • Learning specialized English vocabulary for a work sector of interest
  • Part-time work
  • Long term employment plans and expectations when moving on to a second job
When preparation for a job search begins:
  • Use of an employment service
  • Selection of an employment service
  • Collaboration between the sponsor group and an employment service
  • Employee rights and responsibilities
  • Willingness to work for, or under the supervision of, a female business owner, manager, or supervisor
  • Cultural differences in seeking work
  • Resume writing
  • Completing a job application
  • Preparing for an interview
  • Follow up after making an application or an interview
  • Practice interviews
  • Use of the sponsor network to find work
  • Networking by the newcomer among other newcomers and within sectors of interest
  • Job fairs
  • Job websites
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Union membership
  • Taxation
  • Agreement with a prospective employer on objectives and performance reviews
After the newcomer’s first hire:
  • Expectations of a good employer
  • Employer expectations of a good employee
  • Issues related to termination by an employer
  • Day-to-day issues arising in the workplace
  • Periodic reviews of how the newcomer is doing in the job and what is good and needs improvement
  • Issues related to quitting
  • Ongoing mentorship