I wake up to a friend’s ping from India. The text reads, “Lucky you. Canada is in the top 10 countries on United Nation’s Human Development Index.”
“Fantastic,” I reply. “Does that also mean great jobs for the immigrants?” My friend brings out his positive side, “Canada is full of friendly people willing to embrace outsiders.”
Outsiders. The word resonates.
He’s right. The country overflows with socially predisposed people. Combine this with vocabulary delights like “awesome”, fantastic” and “excellent”, and it makes for a perfect welcome for any new immigrant to Canada.
A few months and many job interviews later, however, a new reality emerges.
The truth that unravels is that the country is acutely deficit of risk-taking individuals willing to experiment with novices. For most Canadians, risk-aversion is a norm. The trait is quickly taking hold of collective judgment and shaping the country’s political, economic and democratic identity.
The principal victim of this risk-aversive Canadian constitution is the job market. The workforce, raring to explode, is also wrestling a gravitational pull by leery employers who are unwilling to bring qualified immigrants on-board.
The net result is that highly qualified immigrants, capable of contributing skills and ideas to the nation’s economy in various roles, are busy queuing-up with resumes at retail stores, coffee shops and warehouses to sell and serve products for hourly wages. Some do it willingly, others out of the need to survive.
Incidentally, The National Household Survey of 2011 reflects this undercurrent. This survey analyzes the highest post-secondary degree held by immigrants and relates it to their current labour status in Canada. It reports that out of the 6,398,850-person labour force in the country, approximately 57 per cent are employed.
Does that mean the unemployed lot lacks merit? Not necessarily. Immigrants are highly educated. According to a 2010 statistics study, 66 per cent of recent immigrants to Canada (aged 25-64 years) earned post-credential certificates, diplomas or degrees.
This implies that immigrants who come to Canada with multiple degrees are unable to find the right jobs in the world’s 11th largest economy.
Alberta is a case in point. A 2007 study by International Qualification Assessment Services (IQAS) reported that almost 45 per cent of immigrants in Alberta did not have employment related to their previous education. Around 49 per cent said they were over-qualified for their current jobs, and 64 per cent stated that the education and work experience received in their home countries was not recognized.
Just as these numbers describe stories of trial, the narratives of those who have lived through the realities of being immigrants bring out the grey shades of employment-related hardship in Canada.
Alexander, a Canadian immigrant, was a successful cardiovascular perfusionist in India. Canada did not recognize his Indian education or his exemplary career. He was asked to re-start from Grade 11. Fighting depression, Alexander decided to resume his education as recommended.
Shailaja Garad is another example of a practicing professional who was denied a career in Canada. An Indian dentist who landed in Toronto, she was unable to spend time and funds on the mandatory entrance examination for dentistry in Canada. She chose to work at Walmart. Today, she sells insurance for TD Canada Trust. Though Garad has accepted the transition positively, the rapid promotions she has mustered in her current company makes one wonder whether the country has just lost out on a talented medico.
Begumpura, meaning “colony of wives”, in Mississauga, is an infamous tale of English-speaking immigrants from the Gulf and Asian regions invited to Canada by the government. The men, unable to find work here, returned to their home countries to earn their livings. Their wives and children remain in Canada, dealing with the perils of a divided family: loneliness, anxiety, depression and living everyday with the fear of infidelity.