The Canadian Immigrant Struggle

By Mohammed El Chayeb

The migration of people has always been a topic of debate all across the world. While some governing powers oppose it, Canada has been a very welcoming nation, accepting around 300,000 immigrants per year over the past few years. While the objective of immigration for a nation is to properly prepare them to become citizens, the income gap between immigrants and Canadian-born citizens suggests there is still more work to be done.

There are stigmas around the intentions of immigrants and hateful rhetoric of immigrants being detrimental to society are just the start of the challenges. 

Abdullah Balal, a Canadian Immigration Consultant that immigrated from Pakistan eight years ago, stated that India, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Jamaica are among the top source countries where immigrants arrive from. 

“Some of these countries recently faced political instability,” Balal says. “The day-to-day life has become uncertain and dangerous, so people are seeking other options for their families.”  

Safety, job security, and job opportunities remain a priority for many immigrants. Balram Verma, coming from an Indian background, is an Immigration Consultant that arrived in Canada in 2018. He believes that Indians abroad think they can “change their destiny” through a “better and healthier lifestyle” in Canada.

“Some immigrants from India spend their life savings or take out loans to send their kids to Canada in hopes of getting better education and eventually settling down there,'' explains Verma. 

“Some of the biggest challenges [involve] finding relevant employment: anything in their field at par with what they were doing in their home countries,” says Balal. 

Verma adds that jobs within Canada require immigrants to gain Canadian experience. With the same level of education and experience, immigrant males receive 50 per cent less weekly income than Canadian-born males, and immigrant females receive 44 per cent less income, according to Statistics Canada.

There is an apparent discrepancy in Canadian experience between Immigrants who arrive in Canada compared to the domestically born-and-raised citizen that gets more exposure to local opportunities. At times, licenses must be obtained for jobs that understand the landscape of regulated markets within Canada, such as accounting and law. But once immigrants look for any other job, they still need local experience. Verma adds that it becomes a challenge for many immigrants who are not aware of this.

“You have to go through a process to almost getting a whole new identity,” says Balal.  

Since immigrants need to start at a lower level and re-establish themselves, some might have to take low-paying or multiple part-time jobs. Others might have to dedicate resources to receive post-secondary degrees within areas they already have experience in.

Although there are specialized programs in Canada that accommodate immigrants seeking better opportunities, some may not be aware they exist. Verma explains the availability of bridging programs such as ones focusing on filling the educational gap required in Canadian markets, and other systems for immigrants who just landed in Canada. 

“The good thing about these programs is that they are funded by the government,” he adds. “But many, if not most new immigrants, do not know about the resources available to them and they cannot match the access of opportunity to their needs.”

The problem goes beyond awareness, however. In the months to years required to get educational experience, many immigrant families do not have enough funds to sustain living in Canada when they first arrive. 

“What is a fact, and not an opinion, is that newcomers are struggling to put their foot in the door – it is usually a very long process for them to work their way up,” Balal says. 

Housing remains one of the biggest problems new immigrants face entering the country. With increasing rent prices and low savings, it gives immigrants very little time to adjust. “If you are new to the country you want to live in an area where there are jobs and offices, but [immigrants] cannot afford it.”

Verma’s experience when first arriving in Canada showcases these struggles. For the first few months after arriving in Canada, he became an Uber driver alongside working in a warehouse for a couple of weeks while working towards his immigration license.

There is also a huge discrepancy between the Canadian dream immigrants are promised and what they come to find when arriving in Canada. Balal describes this by saying: “on one hand, Canada is telling you that your occupation is in demand and that we want you. But on the other hand, when you land in Canada, the job market is telling you something completely different: we do not value your work experience or at least not the same as Canadian work experience.”

“It is very frustrating,” he says. 

Some jobs, like nursing, are in high demand within Canada – and immigrants come here in hopes of filling these positions. The immigration process involves promises of opportunities that are in reality far away from being achieved. There are many resources that help immigrants get settled in Canada, and many other services such as networking opportunities. But Balal states it's not enough to make sure newcomers are not facing unforeseen challenges, or at the very least preparing for it.

Canada’s targeting to let in 400,000 immigrants this year alone. Balal predicts that the numbers are “only going to increase.” Not all of these immigrants will succeed in entering the job market. Balal states there must be an initiative in place to showcase what value they can provide. 

Even if immigrants have to go through a new struggle of staying afloat in a new country, Verma states they can at least survive without depending on savings through minimum wage jobs. Despite having a master’s degree, however, Verma still feels signified taking these temporary jobs. Others show respect towards low-paying service jobs in Canada, where the foreign countries they come from may not.

Verma is one of the immigrants who could rely on the minimum wage systems – but many still lack that right. The Canadian Council for Refugees claims that Canada’s policy shift to “promoting temporary migration” exploits workers through access to fewer rights and lack of monitoring of those rights. Not many provinces enforce legislative protection to monitor migrant worker rights. This exposes them to exploitation through illegal recruitment fees and wage theft. Their housing conditions depend directly on employers, who are at times exploitative. Access to healthcare or basic information on their rights remains minimal. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program further has a reputation of inducing migrant workers to become victims of human trafficking.

So, what must be done? “That is a question with no easy answer,” says Balal. He believes some sort of effort is needed by the private and public sectors to take in a certain number of immigrants. Everything from internships to intensive training programs provides Canadian experience without having to hunt for it. All while providing immigrants an accelerated road to showcasing their value and benefiting the economy by working in the process. The screening process with a pre-set skill criteria still needs to be there, “but people entering the country need to have access to long-term opportunities by undergoing credential programs.” Verma vouches for the idea by mentioning “if the government is allowing immigrants to come to Canada, companies need an initiative or at least be ready to hire them.”

Some programs are in place to fill in the skills required for immigrants to integrate into the Canadian marketplace, but the quality of these programs needs to be reassessed.

“They may be useful in practice, but other programs are so radical that you won't learn anything,” Verma says. “Receiving nothing more than a piece of certificate, I am not sure it would help in getting a job.”

Otherwise, adaptive expectations are necessary during the immigration process through awareness programs to ensure immigrants know what they are signing up for prior to arriving in Canada. Furthermore, legislative action is needed in provinces where external monitoring of migrant hiring, and low-wage jobs, is established. The rights of migrant workers, especially temporary migrants, need to be developed by establishing access to settlement services they are currently being denied of. This extends to access to healthcare and social benefits. The Canadian Council for Refugees believes that “rights without enforcement are no rights at all.”

Canada is a country that prides its multiculturalism brand to the world, but it is on them to create the systematic changes that improve the lives of the immigrants that gave up everything to be Canadian. 

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