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Migration and the Future of Work: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives in Pandemic Times

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Join the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration program for its second annual international conference. Our 2021 conference will investigate the impact of technological change on the future of work and how this is transforming labour migration around the world.

Due to COVID-19 health protocols, we will be holding our conference online. Our schedule is now complete, with sessions taking place over four days. Be sure to register early so that we can keep you informed of how you will be able to participate in Migration and the Future of Work.


During the first two decades of the 21st century, we have witnessed important socio-economic transformations largely driven by advances in information and communication technology. But before we even begin to project into the future, the global pandemic requires that we apply a new lens to our long-term views about migration. Nations have introduced new rules for who and how many people they admit into their country. Will these new priorities persist into the future? Almost a full year into the pandemic, highly skilled migration remains at a standstill, and low-skilled migration has been prioritized as essential, and yet work remains precarious.

This immediate refocus must be applied to the longer-term structural change that has been underway for some time. Global value chains have become increasingly important, and delocalization in the production of both goods and services has intensified. Competition for global talent has increased, while highly skilled migration and diversity in the workplace are now recognized as drivers of innovation. Artificial intelligence is expected to shape the future of work in ways that we cannot yet fully grasp, though we know emotional or communicative skills cannot be replaced by machines.

These many changes are affecting both the governance of international migration and the integration of migrants into the workforce. This conference offers an opportunity to discuss these challenges and to investigate the complex dynamics between technological changes, labour market transformation and international migration. The topics covered have both a Canadian and international perspective, with a special focus on member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).


 12 - 1:30 pm

Roundtable: Migration and the Future of the Canadian Economy: Insights after the Pandemic


Chair: Anna Triandafyllidou, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration, Ryerson University

Zabeen Hirji, Executive Advisor, Future of Work, Deloitte and Board Chair, CivicAction

Mohamad Fakih, Chief Executive Officer, Paramount Fine Foods

Douglas Porter, Chief Economist and Managing Director, BMO Financial Group

Jean-Christophe Dumont, Head, International Migration Division, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)


 9 - 10:30 am

Session 1: The Global Race for Talent 


Highly skilled migrants are known for their positive contributions to technological and social innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Some argue that there is a global race for talent underway and new destination countries are emerging as poles of attraction, notably China and India. What is the position of Canada, the United States or European countries in this landscape, particularly under the current pressures of the global pandemic? What role do migrant entrepreneurs play in this new environment?

Chair: Alexandra Cutean, Senior Director, Policy and Research, Information and Communications Technology Council

Changing governance in global talent competition: From attraction to selectivity and retention, Meng-Hsuan Chou, Associate Professor, Provost's Chair in Public Policy and Global Affairs, Nanyang Technological University PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

Early warning signals winners and losers in the global race for talent, William Boulding, J.B. Fuqua Professor and Dean, Duke University  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

The future of work and migration, Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development, University of Oxford PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window


 3 - 4:30 pm

Session 2: Skills, Competences and Migrant Talent: Is the Points System Fit for Purpose?


In a recent report, external link, the Future Skills Centre and the Conference Board of Canada wrote that the skills needed in the future are social and communicative rather than the hard skills documented by degrees and diplomas like those that the points system has typically used as benchmarks. There are now calls to experiment with the notion of competencies rather than skills creating competency passports. Can the current version of the points system adapt to these trends and what are the changes needed?

Chair: Naomi Alboim, Senior Policy Fellow, CERC Migration, Ryerson University

Does Canada’s express entry system rise to the challenges of the future labour market?  Rupa Banerjee, Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour, Ryerson University  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

Adapting the Australian points test to contemporary notions of skill  Anna K. Boucher, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Comparative Politics Politics, and Chris Wright, Associate Professor in Work and Organisational Studies, University of Sydney  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

“The points system is dead, long live the points system!” A review of points-based immigration systems in the U.K.  Madeleine Sumption, Director, and Peter Walsh, Fellow, Migration Observatory, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

 9 - 10:30 am

Session 3: The Platform Economy: Racialized and Gendered?


Migrants are disproportionately represented in the platform economy. While these workers were considered disposable, the global pandemic has shown how indispensable they are in front-line work like deliveries and odd service jobs (Task Rabbit and similar). Also, during the pandemic, and for the first time, platform economy workers were included in an unemployment benefit scheme. The question arises whether the pandemic can lead to some substantial positive change.

Chair: Jenna Hennebry, Associate Professor and Director, International Migration Research Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University

The gig economy: Constructing a platform-governed migrant division of labor?  Niels van Doorn, Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

Working in the pandemic: disparities in risks for migrant platform workers   Srujana Katta, Researcher, University of Oxford

An unlikely stepping stone? Exploring how platform work supports newcomer migrant integration  Anna Triandafyllidou, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration, and Laura Lam, Researcher, CERC Migration, Ryerson University  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

 12 - 1:30 pm

Session 4: Essential Migrant Workers and the Future of Work


Technological change is likely to have a stronger impact on migrant employment at the lower end of the labour market – among low-skill workers whose work can be replaced by machines. However, the impact differs along the sectors: while farm work may be more readily automated, care work cannot as it requires human skills that robots cannot replace. The pandemic has also shown that migrants who are considered ‘less skilled’ are in fact indispensable. What lessons can we draw from the pandemic going forward with a view to building a more equitable migration governance regime?

Chair: Ito Peng, Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy, University of Toronto

COVID-19 and international labor migration: Agriculture  Philip Martin, Professor Emeritus, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

Migrant healthcare workers in pandemic times: How to build back better  Margaret Walton-Roberts, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

When essential cannot do without presence: Risk and vulnerability for domestic workers around the world  Sabrina Marchetti, Associate Professor and Chair of the Sociology of Cultural Processes and Communication, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

 3 - 4:30 pm

Session 5: Migrant Decision-Making in Pandemic Times


Recent research has acknowledged the importance of migrant agency in mobilizing resources, engaging with networks and navigating policies. There has been extensive discussion on the relationship between migrant aspirations and migrant capability to migrate. The pandemic has further highlighted how volatile migrant decision-making can be and how new factors come into play like health risk concerns or public health policy. The reactions of migrants to a changing set of opportunities and challenges also need to take into account complex psychological mechanisms that can shape judgment. This panel discusses how past research can inform our understanding of migrant decision-making in pandemic times.

Chair: Hélène Syed Zwick, Executive Director, École Supérieure Libre des Sciences Commerciales Appliquées (ESLSCA) University

Wisdom and decision-making in the context of migration uncertainty: An overview  Igor Grossmann, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Waterloo  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

Are intentions to immigrate to Canada changing in the face of COVID-19?  Shamira Madhany, Managing Director, Canada and Deputy Executive Director, World Education Services  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

Delayed, disrupted or reconfigured? Aspirations and infrastructures for migration in pandemic times  Francis L. Collins, Professor of Geography, University of Waikato  PDF fileAbstract, opens in new window

9 - 10:30 am

Session 6: Closing Policy Roundtable: Economic Recovery, Migration and Innovation: Is Our Migration Governance Framework Future Ready?


Chair: Anna Triandafyllidou, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration, Ryerson University

Jean-Christophe Dumont, Head, International Migration Division, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Brenda Yeoh, Raffles Professor of Social Sciences, National University of Singapore

Kathleen Newland, Senior Fellow and Co-Founder, Migration Policy Institute

Peter Scholten, Professor of Migration and Diversity Policy, Erasmus University Rotterdam

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