"I really enjoyed life in Canada but I also kept thinking about moving back to India," says Praveen Rao who has moved back to India permanently.
It is a perennial dilemma for newcomers. Should you stay on in Canada, a place where you’ve come after much struggle for a better life but find disappointing, or should you go back to your country of birth to be a dutiful son or daughter, or even just because, as it turns out, there are better job prospects outside Canada? Canadian Immigrant spoke to new and old immigrants, some who feel let down by the system here and are leaving to explore better options and some who acknowledge that there is no other country like this one and will come back one day.
Is discrimination real? Zain Mir (name changed for privacy) is at a senior position at a top educational institution in Saskatchewan. He is currently pursuing his PhD, is happily married and is a Canadian citizen. Yet, the 40-year-old Pakistani-born immigrant is all set to leave Canada for good in 2013. He’s not alone. According to Wendy Cukier, founder, Diversity Institute in Management and Technology at Ryerson University, a 2008 study spearheaded by her, shows that 40 per cent of immigrants who entered Canada in the skilled worker or business class left Canada within their first 10 years. A previous study by Statistics Canada indicated that one-third of male immigrants (aged 25 to 45 at the time of landing) left Canada within 20 years after arrival. More than half of those who left did so within the first year of arrival. “I feel like my career is going nowhere. I am overqualified for the position that I have currently,” says the marketing professional who has already networked with professional organizations in places like Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. He feels he will get a more deserving position there.
Mir, who studied in the United States and landed a plum position with one of the top financial management firms in the world, Merrill Lynch, was thrilled when he first applied for Canadian immigration, and it came through in six months. He quickly moved to Vancouver. “I was sure that with my education and work experience I would have no trouble finding a job,” he says. What happened next was a series of extended survival jobs in retail and no interview callbacks for months. Mir decided that it was time for a change and took some courses in computer programming. Eventually, he relocated to Regina. “I interviewed for the job and got it. It all happened in a month’s time and I thought that it was finally my time,” he says.
But it was the beginning of a nightmare. Mir claims that his work has been constantly nitpicked, he was stared at during meetings (which in his words comprised of all “white folks”) and on one occasion was completely sidelined when his boss was on leave. “I hold the second most senior position in my organization, but I don’t think I will ever be made director here. They [the management] completely ignored the fact that I was supposed to be made acting director,” he says.
Mir, who was on a committee of the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BCHRMA), says that what he heard at a committee hearing about hiring immigrants in Canada shocked him. “Major Canadian multinationals in B.C. are on record saying that immigrants cannot express themselves well in interviews and therefore it is difficult to consider them for senior positions. I found that ridiculous. There are plenty of well-educated professionals who come to Canada, even get themselves accredited to suit Canadian standards and yet fail to reach their full potential because of the discriminatory attitude of employers. I don’t think I can tolerate such behaviour anymore,” he says. Mir admits that he will miss the pristine beauty of Canada and the clean air, but it is a very small price to pay when it comes to being professionally satisfied.
Canadian experience matters There was no dearth of pristine beauty for Swiss-born immigrant Stephan Burckhardt who lived in scenic Washington State in the United States. But his daughter’s educational prospects prompted the successful marketing professional to move bag and baggage to Vancouver in 2004. Though he was employed immediately, something was missing. “The salaries in Canada are abysmal. I do not mean to compare, but the difference in compensation is just too much. In Switzerland I was being paid about $350 an hour, and in Canada I started at $20 an hour. It is not about the amount, but a huge blow to one’s self-confidence,” he says. This was due to his lack of Canadian experience. But Burckhardt did not give up and applied everywhere for a better position with better wages. He tried enlisting the support of a mentor through an immigration support program in Victoria and also applied for government positions. “I applied for quite a few jobs, and got a total of two interviews. Two! With both positions I came in second; in one position they clearly preferred a Canadian with more Canadian experience and they even told me to my face: ‘She [the winning candidate] knows someone at the Globe and Mail.’ I did not stand a chance, did I?” he says.
Besides his claim that the skilled worker program is misleading, the other form of bias that he feels is rampant is age discrimination. Burckhardt has been told that he was not in the preferred age group for a particular job, despite his experience. Add to that the constant rejections due to his educational credentials and Burckhardt had had enough. He is leaving Canada for good this spring, but he departs with a heavy heart. “My wife is American, and Swiss society is pretty conservative. I like the social life in Canada; the people are good and tolerant. I don’t think my native country will be very accepting of her and that is one thing that worries me,” he says. Burckhardt has two job offers; one in the United States as the executive director of a non-profit and the other in his native Switzerland as a partner in a consulting firm. “As a family, we spent close to $1,500,000 in the eight years we’ve been here. Once we sell our home, our leaving Canada will mean a net loss of close to $100,000 per year to the Canadian economy without counting any multiplier effects,” he says.
Swiss immigrant by way of the US, Stephan Burckhardt claims that he faced age discrimination in Canada.
Duty calls A college strike proved to be fateful for Indian-born Praveen Rao who moved to Canada for a better education. “I was enrolled in a college in Delhi to pursue a bachelor’s degree course in 2000. However due to frequent interruptions in my education due to various strikes, my father was concerned about the quality of education that was being imparted at that college, even though it was one of the better ones,” he says. Rao found himself the first in his family to ever step outside India to study and was enrolled in the economics program at the University of Windsor, in 2001. But getting a Canadian education proved far from useful in getting a job afterward. Predictably the issue of Canadian experience raised its head. After struggling in a door-to-door sales/marketing job in London, Ontario, Rao finally got his foot in the door by joining TD Canada Trust Bank as a teller. “It was disheartening to start with a job that did not really require an undergrad degree, but I knew I had to start somewhere and make my way up as I lacked Canadian work experience and lacked networking skills,” he says in a matter-of-fact manner. Meanwhile familial duties beckoned in India. His sister was getting married and he thought it was his duty to assist with the wedding. Perhaps the expiry of his work permit and his PR not coming through at that time further helped his decision and he went back. Rao came back eventually to land a good position with RBC bank, his permanent resident visa came through and he took additional courses at Ryerson, completing his MBA. But things were not about to fall in place for him. “The last three years in Canada, my family never made me forget that they would like me to settle down in India. There was a lot of pressure,” he says.
Running out of reasons to stay in Canada (having completed his education and gaining good work experience), Rao decided the sooner the move back to India was made, the better. “I felt that if I stayed in Canada for another year it would become extremely difficult for me to move back to India as I had started to enjoy my lifestyle in Canada. I used to tell my friends that life in Canada is very self-centred; whatever I do in a day is directly benefiting me, which was different from life in India where my time will be consumed helping my family with their issues, driving my mother to visit other relatives, etc. I really enjoyed life in Canada and made some great friends. But I also kept thinking about moving back to India — for family and because I am a bit patriotic as well,” he says. But Rao, like many who found their place in Canada, has his Canadian citizenship handy, in the event that he wants to come back if things do not go as planned in India. “Even though I haven’t travelled the world, from what I have read, people I have spoken to and places I have been to, I think Canada is definitely one of the best places, if not the best, in the world. And if I have to leave India, I will come back here,” he says. The same Statistics Canada study cited above, in fact, indicates that those immigrants who leave aren’t necessarily gone permanently. About one in 10 leavers return to Canada within 10 years of first arriving.
A brave new world Ke Huang doesn’t want to leave Canada because she is just too much in love with the country. Yet, the 27-year-old IT professional is all set to leave Toronto in April as a job in one of the largest personal technology companies in the world, Lenovo, awaits her in Beijing, China. “While I was looking for a job in Toronto, I happened to get a call from a Chinese recruiter in Toronto who tracked me down from the database at the University of Waterloo where I studied years ago. They had an opening in Beijing and he asked me if I wanted to go. And I thought, ‘Why not?’” she says while packing up her last few personal belongings.
Huang came to Canada as an international student to study computer science and right after university found employment, got her permanent residency and happily settled into Canadian life. She was happy, first as an IT support person and then as a web developer. Soon, she was out looking for a bigger profile in a bigger setup. That’s when the headhunter came calling. “The position in China is for an engineer. It is pretty challenging and a good position. I went through a rigorous process of three interviews before I finally got the offer,” she says.
Is she nervous, moving to a completely different place though it is essentially her home? “Well, Canada is home. I love it here. I don’t anticipate too many problems in China. My parents live there and it will be nice to be with them for a while,” she says. Huang acknowledges that the biggest change would be the change in lifestyle. “In Canada, there is a work-life balance. One is expected to make time for himself and there is scope for personal growth. In China, the work culture is very different. That will take time getting used to,” she says. There will be more social events to go to in Beijing, something not expected of her in Toronto. In addition, Beijing is one of the most populous and polluted places in the world and that will take some getting used to, too.
But she is looking forward to learning from her experiences in China, which she thinks will be an exciting new adventure. “I will be back in a couple of years. I think this experience will do me good both professionally and personally. These kind of experiences teach you how to work in every situation and become adaptable. One needs that skill in these times and this economy,” she says. Hopefully, any future Canadian employers will recognize that, too.