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We know immigration is key to our economic and population growth. Attracting newcomers seems easy enough, but getting them to stay appears more complicated. Finding employment — jobs to create a life here — is a big factor. What are their barriers in finding work? What are the obstacles in hiring them? Over the next four weeks our Deep Dives lens focuses on hiring immigrants.
More than 700 people got jobs after completing programs at the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) in Halifax last year.
— Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia
WHY NEWCOMERS LEAVE
“The literature is clear on why immigrants leave Atlantic Canada: they seek better job opportunities and higher compensation, better educational opportunities for themselves and their children, better social services and cultural amenities, and ties to ethnic community and extended family.”
— The People Imperative, a 2018 report by Public Policy Forum, an Ottawa-based think tank
"They (refugees) come here to contribute, they come here to give back to the community, and as a family that lost everything in the world, we know how they feel.”
— Tareq Hadhad, CEO of Peace by Chocolate in Antigonish, N.S., in a recent Canadian Press interview
IMMIGRANTS FACE A NUMBER OF BARRIERS IN FINDING WORK
Gagandeep Sehgal hit a wall.
Not one made of bricks or wood, but an invisible barrier faced by many newcomers to Canada.
He had a computer science degree and an MBA, plus years of experience as a software engineer.
Still, to work in his field, he needed one more thing on his resume — Canadian work experience.
“But you can’t get that Canadian experience until you start working,” says Sehgal, who immigrated from India in 2010.
His master’s degree was completed at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, but that still wasn’t enough.
The predicament was frustrating.
“Definitely, because I was in the country for so long,” the 30-something Sehgal says. “I did my MBA over here and already knew the culture and everything.”
After months of looking, he finally found work in his field on Prince Edward Island.
He still lives there and, after a couple of different jobs, is now a programmer analyst with the federal government.
"I don't think it's overly dramatic to say the future of Atlantic Canada is at stake." — former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna
Lack of Canadian experience is among the barriers newcomers face in finding work in Atlantic Canada. Many immigrants arrive with education and skills in fields such as health, science and engineering.
Solutions to overcome such hurdles are key to the success of the Atlantic Growth Strategy, a federal-provincial economic plan for the region that counts attracting immigrants and skilled workers as a main plank.
In the minds of many, enticing more newcomers to settle on the East Coast is critical.
"I don't think it's overly dramatic to say the future of Atlantic Canada is at stake," former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna told a public policy forum in Fredericton last March.
He was optimistic though, noting the region seems to have finally acknowledged it has an aging population and an exodus of young people seeking employment.
McKenna called the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, which is connected to the growth strategy, a “huge step forward.”
There have been some advances ahead of those plans hitting full stride. Between 2012 and 2018, a record 19,300 immigrants entered the region’s workforce, according to the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.
Still, that wasn't enough to stem a 2.4 per cent decline — 30,700 people — in the labour market, primarily due to retiring baby boomers.
Added to that, the region’s immigrant retention rate is low, ranging from 72 per cent in N.S. to 18 per cent in P.E.I., according to a 2018 report.
So, if Atlantic Canada is going to attract and retain immigrants, a few issues need to be addressed to help them find meaningful work.
One is the lack of Canadian experience Sehgal, and countless others, have endured.
Another is language, according to Mohja Alia, manager of employment and bridging at Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS).
“A lot of times, the worker will say, ‘Yes. Yes. Yes,' even if they don’t understand what is being said to them." — Mohja Alia, manager of employment and bridging at Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia
She suggests that’s actually the greatest barrier facing immigrant refugees with basic language levels.
“A lot of times, the worker will say, ‘Yes. Yes. Yes,’ even if they don’t understand what is being said to them," Alia says.
“This creates problems when the task is not completed or not completed properly because of the language gap.”
ISANS, and other organizations focused on helping immigrants live and work on the East Coast, offers English as a second language courses and employment readiness programs to help bridge the verbal divide.
Cultural differences are another barrier for newcomers entering, or trying to enter, the Atlantic Canadian workforce.
That’s according to Sheri Abbott, employment development manager with AXIS Career Services, a program run by the Association of New Canadians in St. John’s.
“As an example, time management needs to be discussed,” she says, adding there needs to be a clear understanding of the standards and expectations between both the immigrant and the employer.
That requires training in areas like workplace cultural preparation.
“We’ve made a lot of headway in working on barriers,” Abbott says.
To help knock down some of the walls for other newcomers, Sehgal put his tech skills to use.
He and a group of fellow P.E.I. immigrants decided to show the obstacles and highlight the successes through namasteworld.co.
The website went live in 2017, following a period when Sehgal noticed growing misinformation and controversy surrounding U.S. immigration.
He says the goal was showing the value of immigrants to wherever they choose to call home.
“We wanted to do our part so the negative things wouldn’t affect the way people in P.E.I. perceive immigrants.”
NOTE - This article was updated on March 7.
Four key organizations helping newcomers settle and find work in Atlantic Canada include:
• Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia
• Association for New Canadians, St. John’s
• The Prince Edward Island Association of Newcomers to Canada
• The New Brunswick Multicultural Council.
These agencies, or their member organizations, offer various programs and supports to newcomers and the community.
The Atlantic Immigration Pilot is federal-provincial partnership. It helps Atlantic Canadian employers hire candidates who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents. The candidates fill jobs the business had trouble filling locally. If the candidate and employer meet the requirements, the candidate gets permanent resident status in Canada.
— Governmment of Canada
According to Nova Scotia Immigration, the province approved a total of 2,272 people to come to the province through various immigration programs during 2018.
“That’s huge, we broke the record last year with 1,651,” provincial Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab told The Chronicle Herald in December.
“When I came into this position in 2013 ... we had 620.”
Here are some experiences and perspectives with immigrants. The newcomers in these vignettes want to stay, and the politician featured realizes the value of immigrants bring to the Atlantic region.
GEORGINA PÉREZ VERA,
ARRIVED SIX MONTHS AGO, WANTS TO STAY
REASON: “BETTER OPPORTUNITIES”
The long work days were tiring and Georgina Pérez Vera sought something else.
She had a degree in gastronomy (cooking) and was working in that field, but she wasn’t satisfied.
“I was looking for experience, and I was looking for the best salary,” says the 33-year-old from Chiapas, Mexico.
She started searching beyond her home country.
Through Protalent, which links people with opportunities in other places, she arrived in Corner Brook, N.L., six months ago.
She’s working at Louis Gees, a popular pizza restaurant.
It’s a one-year contract, but she wants to stay and has applied for permanent residency.
"I have better opportunities for work here — that's my main reason to stay … It's a beautiful place and the people are really friendly. It's a small city and I feel secure here — safe."
— Diane Crocker
RUBY DE LOYOLA,
CONTENT, BUT WANTS TO BE A NURSE — LIKE SHE WAS AT HOME
REASON: “WHATEVER IT TAKES”
Ask Ruby de Loyola about being in Canada, and the 39-year-old Filipino beams.
“This is what everybody in Philippines wants — a better life,” she says.
“My boys can have a much better life here — my oldest son now earns more as part-time employee at a fast food restaurant than most people make in Philippines, and he’s already bought himself a laptop computer. He’s very proud of that.”
Nursing in Manila didn’t pay enough to raise her boys, so de Loyola pursued a life abroad.
After being in Hong Kong, she moved to Edmonton where she met her Cape Breton-raised husband. They relocated to Sydney, where the now-permanent resident works for the health authority.
But she’s not working as a nurse.
Her Philippine credentials aren’t accepted here. Instead, she cleans and sterilizes medical equipment.
Some might consider her an underemployed immigrant and de Loyola hopes to return to her profession. But she’s content just to be living in Canada.
“I still want to be a nurse and am trying to upgrade. But to live here with my boys is enough, and I’ll do whatever it takes.”
— David Jala
HUSSEIN AL MAJID
BUILDING A BETTER LIFE, BUT SAYING GOODBYE TO PROFESSION HE LOVED
REASON: “I NEED A GOOD JOB”
Hussein Al Majid loved being a teacher, but this days in front of a classroom are likely over.
“I need to get a job,” the immigrant from Iraq says. “I loved to teach, but I would have to go back to school for four more years here to be able to teach again, so I am working part time right now as a cleaner trying to make something good for my family.”
Al Majid was shot while working as a driver in Iraq, he survived, passed through several countries illegally, and lived as a refugee for six years.
He was eventually able to get his wife, their two children and the aunt who raised him safely to Canada.
He serves at their major caregiver.
“I need a good job with a good salary and benefits,” he says. “I have four children and, if one of them is sick, it costs a lot of money.”
Al Majid is taking a basic education course at the Rabbittown Learner’s Centre in St. John’s.
He hopes to become fluent in English and become a drywall installer.
— Sam McNeish
NICK WHELAN, POLITICIAN,
IMMIGRANTS HELP MAKE ECONOMY VIBRANT
REASON: “TO REMAIN VIBRANT”
Nick Whelan says attracting newcomers is particularly important to the Atlantic Region.
He’s the member of Parliament for St. John’s East and a member of the House of Commons immigration committee.
“Canada, like most of the developed world, wouldn't have an increase in population at all if it wasn’t for immigration and that situation is exacerbated in Atlantic Canada, where, for various reasons, many of our young people move away to start families … in other parts of the world,” he recently told SaltWire Network.
“In order for our economies to remain vibrant, we need people to come in and do the jobs and buy the homes and create the societies that creates our prosperity.”
— Andrea Gunn
"But the kind of fear-mongering, the kind of intolerance, the kind of misinformation going on across the country and around the world is something all of us have a responsibility to engage with a positive and a thoughtful way."
— Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking about immigration and intolerance during a January town hall in Miramichi, N.B.
The Study and Stay program aims to recruit and retain international students to Atlantic Canada. It’s currently being piloted in Nova Scotia, and will be expanding across the region.
— Government of Canada
A long-term goal of 2016’s Atlantic Growth Strategy is to attract 7,000 newcomers to the region by 2020.
— Atlantic Growth Strategy
TIMELINE: SaltWire Network journalists have chronicled the quest to attract and hire immigrants in Atlantic Canada extensively this decade. Here is a sample of those stories …
The Cape Breton Post, April 20, 2010
The Telegram, April 17, 2012
The Western Star, September 10, 2015
The Guardian, Dec. 30, 2015
Province approves new immigration agents, pushes for investment and settlement outside Charlottetown
The Journal-Pioneer, Nov. 4, 2017
The Northern Pen, Aug. 31, 2016
The Chronicle- Herald, Jan. 29, 2019