New Canadian Media
Thursday, 02 November 2017 08:43

The Great Canadian Resumé

By: Joyeeta Dutta Ray in Toronto, ON

Toronto has always been a magnet for new immigrants. Some come here to escape bullets. Some come to fill up their wallets. Some are here to breathe in unpolluted air.

Over the last few years however, more and more skilled immigrants have traded their Permanent Resident garlands for a rosy life elsewhere.

The Toronto Star reports that every province and territory except for Ontario, saw immigration numbers rise drastically. Whereas in Ontario, the numbers dropped from 133,600 to 99,500.

The reason is almost always one of the two: Unemployment or underemployment!

This was seldom the case even a couple of decades back.

When Mila Lebuda fled to Toronto from communist Poland in 1991 at the age of 21, the country embraced her with open arms. It did not matter that she did not speak English or that she didn’t have much work experience. The grounds for adopting her were purely humanitarian.

“Canada gave me a new lease of life” she says. This is where she met her future husband, Vlad Lebuda another Polish immigrant like her. She made money as a caregiver. He drove a truck. As finances improved, their lifestyle did too. For Mila, the biggest barrier was language. Once that hurdle was crossed, life was sunshine and tulips.

However, not everyone finds the same success in Canada!

Mila’s tech-savvy Polish friend, Aron* (named changed for privacy) had higher ambitions. He went back to Poland as soon as conditions improved. “There are better opportunities there now. Despite living here for 10 years, he never got his due,” says Mila.

Not surprising! Statistics Canada reports that even after being in Canada for 15 years, immigrants with a university degree are more likely than the native-born to be in low-skilled jobs.

New Immigration Policies; New People

There’s a shift in trends. As new policies replace older ones, immigrants flying in to Canada now, are visibly different than those who came in earlier. They are better educated, better versed in English and better positioned professionally.

There’s a reason behind that. Earlier Canada took in more unskilled workers to meet economic needs. But recruitment efforts for skilled workers, entrepreneurs and investors are the need of the hour now. “Since 2006, the government has made dramatic changes to the federal skilled workers program by raising language requirements, restricting eligibility to specific professions and pre-screening applicants’ foreign credentials”, says the Toronto Star.

Yet, these very skilled immigrants are the ones who are having it rough.

For Roopa Rakshit who moved with her husband and 12 year old son to Thunder Bay (Ontario) from Thailand in 2012, migration was a decision based on being located closer to their daughter who was studying in UBC, Vancouver.

It was an intimidating prospect at a stage in their lives when they were well-settled professionally. But they were confident that their international resumes would open doors. They were in for a surprise!

It took Roopa 4 years to find a job suited to her skills. “I was an environmentalist in a United Nations affiliated organization in my previous life (Bangkok). While my International experience was appreciated, I was made to realize that I fell short of the “Canadian experience.“

In the race to build her “Canadianess”, Roopa sprinted on the volunteering path, networked along the way and picked up a scholarship for PHD at Lakehead University. That was the trophy that gave her the much needed break. “It was my research topic on energy planning with the First Nations people that led me to my current job in a First Nations Technical Services Organization.”

Malak Ahmed, who moved from Egypt in August 2016 with her husband and three daughters, has a similar story. She was a Business Unit Director in a leading advertising agency in Cairo. Despite her fancy title and a McGill Graduate Certificate, no employer was ready to lay out the red carpet for her.

“While I did expect to work my way up, I didn’t expect to stumble so many steps down the ladder in the process. I was surprised that a city that boasted of a high rate of immigration would put so much emphasis on 'Canadian experience'!”

To cross the barrier, her next step was to get an employment agency to rewrite her CV. That’s quite another story.

The Great Canadian Resume

Few countries have elevated the resume to such heights. It’s almost an art form here, based not on jotting down your skills but how strategically you phrase them. No matter how clipped your English, how impressive your name card or how many reference letters you come armed with, it’s hard for foreigners to master this skill.

Only Canadians know the trick! They have ingeniously made a business out of it, creating employment for themselves to help clueless newcomers like Malak.

When the planets finally aligned to bless her with a job, the pay didn’t match up to her qualifications. But despite it all, Malak chooses to stay on. “After the revolution in Cairo, the economy struggled and so did we. But it’s all been worthwhile. We like the cultural diversity here. The kids love their schools.”

Easy to see how soaring cost of living, rising crime and jobs with unscrupulous hours in Cairo make Canada seem like Disneyland.

For Alexa, who came from Honduras (Central America) to North York, the road was as rough.  She arrived armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, a Masters in Marketing, 5 years at an International Telecommunications company and dreams to make it big. None of these made things any easier!

“I was a Marketing and Sales Manager at Huawei Technologies in Honduras. The biggest challenge for me was to start my career from the bottom up.” But she wouldn’t head back either. “Honduras is a small country where 50% of people live in poverty. There is a high rate of homicides and corruption.” In contrast, Canada offers commuting safety, free education and healthcare. The choice is clear!

Escaping corruption was high on the list for Marcia to move from Brazil as well. She arrived with her husband in Toronto in 2016. “The social discrepancy of wealth makes for very dangerous streets, with thefts happening everywhere” she says. While it’s a dream to stroll around North America’s safest metropolitan “without fear of getting mugged”, the Marketing professional who worked for 9 years in a leading multinational company, found it hard to find a job. It took her 3 months to find full-time employment and when she did, the job was an entry level position in Customer Service that paid less than she expected because of her lack of “Canadian Experience”.

“You feel like your experience in a foreign country is devalued because you haven’t applied it in Canada. Recruiters tend to disqualify you too”, she says.

Canada: More dependent on new immigrants than ever

Canada thrives on new immigrants to bring in the bucks. Estimates from the Conference Board of Canada reveal that if Canadian employers recognized and rewarded immigrant skills, the country would earn an additional $10 million annually.

Instead, every year, Canada loses valuable doctors, engineers, accountants and marketing professionals to the USA, where “American Experience” is an unheard of criterion! While others take up blue collar jobs that don’t do justice to their skills.

Local employers argue that “Canadian Experience” assures understanding of the soft skills essential for success here.

However, it pays for them to remember that the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) has laid down a strict declaration that “Canadian Experience” is discrimination and can only be used in very limited circumstances.

Interestingly enough, smaller cities and rural areas in Canada have set a better example. In 2013, Moncton, New Brunswick ran career fairs that encouraged employers to hire immigrants. In Manitoba the tiny cities of Winkler and Morden have not just drawn newcomers in large numbers with their successful immigration programs, but also helped them settle in to a quality lifestyle.

How can Ontario follow suit?

Roopa suggests, “Employers should be encouraged to accept professional immigrants to maximize on their experience. The integration can include in-house orientation.” Marcia agrees. “There should be more incentives from the government to encourage companies to hire qualified foreigners in appropriate positions. The success of the immigration policy should be measured not by the number of people who come in but by the number of people who stay on successfully in the country.” 

For a country that prides itself on being humanitarian, learning from the smaller towns and listening to the less heard voices could be the key to turning things around before an ageing population and shrinking birth rate get the better of the nation. 

Published in Economy

by Sukaina Jaffer in Toronto

With schools back in full swing this week, many parents are breathing a sigh of relief as their children head back to learning. However, for new immigrants to Canada, adjusting to a new education system can bring about a myriad of unique challenges and worries.

For Zohra Mawji, a homemaker who emigrated from Mozambique about two years ago, this is the first year she is sending her two daughters – ages seven and 11 – to public school versus a private Islamic one.

“[Alisha and Nidah were] a little nervous about going to a new school,” explains Mawji, “but on the whole they were looking forward to it as they love Canada.”

Adapting to Canadian education

Mawji has mixed feelings about the new school. On one hand, she praises the principal and teachers at the Richmond Hill school as being very helpful, and states “the exposure will be good for my daughters as it is not good to live in a bubble.”

On the other, Mawji is concerned about Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum and that her kids will be exposed to particular subject matter too soon.

“Don’t put things into their mind that they don’t need to know,” she says. “Parents know when their kids need to know these things.”

Mawji is considering pulling her younger daughter out of the Grade 2 classes during these particular lessons.

“The only thing we considered was to protect our kid from the negativities of ‘English’ culture.”

She is not alone in her concerns.

Asgar Daya, who moved his family from France to Canada a year ago, says he would pull his seven-year-old daughter Misbah Fatema out of public school and send her to private Islamic school if it was financially feasible.

“[I am] highly concerned and worried about the impact on my daughter,” he explains, of the sex-ed curriculum.

The decision to switch from public school to faith-based school is one that Brampton resident Zaffar Bhayani and his wife also made.

Bhayani left Pakistan two years ago with his wife and son due to sectarian and religious violence. When his four-year-old son started public school here, he says the family did not face any difficulties and the teachers were very helpful.  

“The only thing we considered was to protect our kid from the negativities of ‘English’ culture,” he says. 

He recalls that his son would question his mother about why she covered herself with the veil while other children’s mothers who came to school did not and would be dressed in shorts.

To preserve the values of their Islamic faith, the Bhayanis decided to enroll their son in an Islamic school when he turned five years old.

English as a second language

Another main concern many newcomer parents have for their children heading back to school has to do with language.

While Daya’s daughter attends a French school and has been able to fit in well as French is her first language, he still worries that she is not fluent in English and, as such, is not able to converse well in it. His wife also only speaks basic English, while being fluent in French.

Bhayani, who speaks fluent English, says sometimes there is another issue. He finds that having a foreign accent is a big challenge and a lot of time and practice is needed to adopt a Canadian accent.

Fortunately several school boards have different programs in place to help students improve language skills and feel more comfortable in their new setting.

For instance, the York Region School Board offers LINC – Language Instruction For Newcomers to Canada programs and the Peel District School Board has set up a Welcome Centre for newcomer students and families.

The Canadian government also provides assistance through various services, one of which is the Welcome Centre Immigrant Services, which offers English language classes for newcomers as well as a host of different services.

“Get your kids involved in extracurricular activities so they can gain their language skills faster through interaction with other kids.”

Mary Fowley (who asked her name be changed for privacy) has been a public school teacher for over 20 years and teaches English as a Second Language (ESL). She says that when it comes to students new to Canada, “the younger kids aged four to seven years (old) are able to learn English faster and it is less of a challenge for them to fit in with their peers.”

According to Fowley, older children nine to 12 years old face more difficulty learning English and forming friendships because of cultural barriers. 

Sameena Bhimani, an elementary teacher with the York Region District School Board, says she partners up newcomer kids in her class with a buddy who helps them to get acquainted with things like class routines and where to go for recess.

From an academic perspective, Bhimani works one-on-one with newcomer kids and teaches them different concepts related to the subject at hand.

Bhimani advises new immigrant parents to, “Get your kids involved in extracurricular activities so they can gain their language skills faster through interaction with other kids.” 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education

by Joyeeta Dutta Ray (@joeyday20) in Etobicoke, Ontario

Diana Nayel immigrated to Toronto from Sweden with her sister in June 2012, leaving behind all things familiar. She started her first day of Grade 5 at Toronto’s Westway Junior School in the city’s west end feeling a bit lost. No one spoke Swedish in her class. She was unsure of her English skills. How long would it take to fit in, she wondered.

Muntasir Mohammed arrived from Dacca, Bangladesh in 2011. Although his English fluency helped him adapt faster to his Grade 5 classmates in Etobicoke, Ont., he was uncomfortable carrying homemade curries to school. His lunchbox always contained cookies or chicken nuggets, compromising nutrition for the need to fit in.

Salma Syed (whose has been name changed for privacy) wears her hijab with pride, like many of her Grade 7 classmates at Toronto’s Islington Junior Middle School, but is quick to take it off when she’s out with her friends in an effort to blend in with society at large. Her parents migrated from Dacca, Bangladesh in 1999.

For 12-year-old Aneeka Ray (full disclosure: she is my daughter), she arrived in Toronto in 2013 from Bangkok, Thailand and being a newcomer made her the easy target of a cyber bully. She was not the first one, either. According to her friend, other shy newcomers had faced similar experiences at school.

Finding ways to assimilate

Each year, over 50,000 children arrive in Canada, and like Nayel, Mohammed, Syed and Ray, they are unsure of how they will fit in. 

Some are war refugees; some are typhoon victims. Some have parents with low literacy levels. Others are financially challenged. And the education system itself is unfamiliar.

Their parents or guardians often get sucked into their new world of struggle, leaving children to fend for themselves. Kids are whisked off to a neighbourhood school, expected to take to it like fish to water, even though it is difficult to find their bearings.

“Once a new child sees a peer group of the same ethnicity, they are quicker to form a bond.”

Canadian schools offer free education and equal opportunities. But is the system doing enough to ensure newcomer children a chance at educational success?

“In many schools a sizeable number of students are naturalized Canadians from various ethnic backgrounds,” explains Manoshi Chatterjee, who teaches in an elementary school in York region. “Once a new child sees a peer group of the same ethnicity, they are quicker to form a bond. Group activities help them participate and assimilate.”

This was true for Nayel. Even though she isn’t of Somali descent herself, when she started a new school her second year of being in Canada where there were many Somali Canadians, the setting felt more familiar.

“My school in Sweden was in a Somali neighbourhood,” explains Nayel. “My new friends made me feel much more at home (in Canada).”

For Nayel, English as Second Language (ESL) classes helped polish her linguistic skills, which she initially felt insecure about. 

“ESL programs play a pivotal role for immigrant students who struggle with reading, writing or communicating in the language,” explains Chatterjee whose school (she didn't want to disclose the name for privacy), like most others, champions the program.

Supporting newcomer students

Jane Chandler, an elementary school teacher with the Peel Board District Board in Mississauga says that schools play a vital role in helping students adjust. She highlights the Peel board’s parenting centres, where adults are encouraged to participate with their children, as a prime example of this.

“This acts as a wonderful platform,” Chandler says. “The family gets to know the culture of Canadian schools. Parents get opportunities to share stories about their own culture and learn from others.  We encourage students to speak their own language at home. This may slow down the English learning process, but in the long run, it (multi-lingualism) has several benefits.”

“[Students] are taught to value the richness of their own culture and at the same time develop respect for others.”

Keya Ghosh, an elementary school supply teacher for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) hones in on diversity. 

“Our schools play a critical role in making students appreciate their differences,” Ghosh says. “[Students] are taught to value the richness of their own culture and at the same time develop respect for others.”

Ghosh points to special events celebrated across TDSB schools like African Heritage Month and ‘multicultural day’ as examples of this.

Outside of the Greater Toronto Area, initiatives like Newcomers’ Orientation Week, which was held by one Windsor, Ont. high school, help to put anxious newcomers at ease.

Canadian schools amongst top in the world

The efforts Canadian schools make to support newcomer and culturally diverse students is perhaps a reflection of an education system in fairly good shape.

“A quality and free education helps every new immigrant family get equal opportunity in one of the best school systems in the world.”

According to an international education survey reported by CBC, Canadian schools are among the top globally, right after China (Shanghai province), Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore. 

The report states, “Students in Canada tend to perform well regardless of their socio-economic background or the school they attend.” 

On a regional level, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia rank highest in reading skills.

“A quality and free education helps every new immigrant family get equal opportunity in one of the best school systems in the world,” says Chatterjee. “It is one of the major factors that have helped newcomers integrate into Canadian society.”

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Education

by Joyeeta Dutta Ray (@joeyday20) in Toronto 

They came, they saw, they conquered against all odds. Others went back, defeated.

Don’t be quick to cheer the former and sneer at the latter; more often than not, immigrants to Canada who head back end up making millions elsewhere.

So what’s to blame for their departure? Is it malfunctioning planets, miserable resumes, sub-zero Martian temperatures that take the fun out of job hunting or all of the above?

Statistics Canada says that one in three Canadians leave the country within 20 years of arrival. Yet, close to 50 per cent of the country’s millionaires are reportedly new immigrants or first-generation whiz kids with at least one parent born across the border. 

You have to raise your tuque to them. Only a fraction of this envious lot is partying on inherited wealth. Most of them are self-made successes. How did they do it?

New Canadian Media spoke to five immigrants to Canada to explore the differences between those who stayed, and those who chose to leave. 

Does Higher Education Pay Off Better?

Pranay Sen* says no. A microbiologist who studied at two premier Canadian universities, he followed his parents to Mississauga from South East in 2002. He started off as a junior scientist in a reputable firm. However, within two years he realized there was not much scope for growth.

“Canada could not offer my son better opportunities (in the pharmaceutical industry) whereas [a country in Europe] gave him the break he needed,” explains Pranay’s mother. “Most of his friends remained unemployed, which further discouraged him to linger on here.” Pranay moved to the European country where he continues to make major strides in his career.

They migrated to Canada from Jakarta in 2005 in search of 'clean air, structured society and affordable international education for our children.' Within a year and a half of puffing oxygen, they returned to Jakarta’s fumes.

Many disillusioned souls leave within the first year of arrival. Jay and Christina D’Souza have a similar story. They migrated to Canada from Jakarta in 2005 in search of “clean air, structured society and affordable international education for our children.” Within a year and a half of puffing oxygen, they returned to Jakarta’s fumes. 

The first few days in Canada were decisive. The security guard at their serviced apartment (fully furnished with hotel-like amenities) had more weight in his brains than biceps. He had a PhD in microbiology, but in his three years in Toronto, he never got a break that did justice to his degree. Jay got a job that paid his bills, but it could not give him the lifestyle he left behind.

“It did not appear that people who lived here longer were better off than me. There are exceptions, but our struggle was not worth the effort,” he explains.

When Mags Mano moved to Brampton from Indonesia, Asia was booming, while Canada was hit with the recession. She settled down with her Canadian husband, an immigrant from Iran.

They had every reason to stay on. Mags did well for herself working for the Canadian government, moving on to jointly own an automotive business with her husband. But, in 2014, they gave it all up and headed back to Jakarta.

“The Canadian economy was slowing down in 1990 to ’91, while the other side of the world was booming,” Mano reasons. “We thought it was time to look into more lucrative investment opportunities where the going was good.” For her, the harsh Canadian winter also played villain.

It took her no time to settle down as a senior manager in a relocation company back in her home country.

Can Better Timing Lead to Greater Wealth?

Those who arrived when labour market conditions were favourable seem to have the best reasons to celebrate now. Many own assets worth millions, gained through business enterprises and real estate investment.

For Neerav and Preeti Sharma who migrated from India in 2001, pre-planning did the trick. High levels of pollution wreaked havoc on their daughter’s health. It was time to look for greener pastures.

“You may not start at the top, but hard work rewards well with many opportunities.” - Neerav Sharma

Neerav was reluctant to leave his prestigious job in Delhi, so his wife went ahead first. Luckily for her, she found a job, home and enough greenery to have her husband join her soon after.  

“I tapped into the employment resource centres for new immigrants and found my first job in Seneca College (in Toronto),” she says. Preeti continued to build her skills and moved up rapidly. Today, she is Operations & Student Retention Manager in the School of Communications, Media & Design.

Neerav arrived in 2003 through a company transfer. He was the only non-white employee in his company then and says he believes it is imperative to have good interpersonal skills and networking abilities to succeed in Canada. “You may not start at the top, but hard work rewards well with many opportunities,” he promises.

Whatever their story, all achievers agree that there is no escaping the struggle in the initial years.

For Paul Yee, an executive producer of TV commercials from Hong Kong, investing in real estate was his key to success. He came to Canada for a family reunion and never went back. He worked hard, owned a company, built assets through real estate investment and encourages newcomers to do the same.

Whatever their story, all achievers agree that there is no escaping the struggle in the initial years.

Can We Enrich the Economy by Letting Skilled Immigrants Go?

Canada has the largest number of immigrants per capita in the world. But are they given equal career opportunities as those born here?  

Statistics Canada says that the first four years of the new millennium recorded more out-migrants from Canada than immigrants.

“For the United Kingdom, the emigrant-to-immigrant ratio was 1.6 Canadians leaving for every Briton entering Canada,” the study says. However, the largest ratio was between the United States and Canada, with Canada sending 11.3 emigrants for every U.S. immigrant.

According to a 2012 news report in The Globe and Mail, there is severe lack of skills in the secondary cities of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Atlantic Canada. “This shortage (of people power) is a drag on Canada’s potential to innovate and compete into the future,” says the article.

For a stronger economy and uniform development countrywide, can the federal government afford to lose skilled immigrants to other countries? That remains the million-dollar question.

* Publisher's note: some names in this reporting have been changed to respect the privacy and career prospects of the subjects.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Economy

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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