CASE I: Perwez Alam, a Pakistani civil engineer with more than twenty years of experience, converted all his fixed assets into hard dollars, withdrew his lifetime savings from the bank, packed his belongings and flew to Toronto along with his family.
Before he would look for a job, he and his wife decided to buy a house for themselves, with a finished basement which they would rent out to pay for the mortgage. The bank made them cough up 25 percent as down payment and financed the rest. No income or employment verification were needed.
Once settled and ready to start a newer, "better" life, Perwez begun job hunting. Until he would find one, his friends advised him to take up a "nighttime security job" like the rest of them did. Here's where his rude awakening begun while an average Canadian peacefully slept.
While Perwez took up the security job to pay at least for his grocery and utility bills, no one offered him a suitable one in his field of experience nor did any one accept his foreign degree or experience. "You have no Canadian experience or degree so we cannot hire you, " was the standard response given to him by hiring officials both in the public and private sector.
He then attempted to have his degree and work experience evaluated. But he got another rude awakening!. There existed, according to him, no system in Canada to evaluate and validate his "foreign degree and experience" so that he and so many like him could be inducted into the existing job market, labor force - albeit the economic net.
Perwez still works nighttime as security guard. His employer has given him several raises because he always found him "awake" when ever he made surprise visits to his store, he told DesPardes.com
"The Canadian government gave me X number of points for my age, Y points for the money I had available to bring with me to Canada and Z points for my level of education and experience, notwithstanding other points. All these added up to cross the threshold requirement to migrate to Canada. But the utility value of these points was not the same once I got here. Z equaled Zero. And the X and Y points had depreciating value attached to it." Perwez added.
"So I decided to vote against the Liberals this time," said Aftab, a Civil Engineer turned self-employed real estate agent in Toronto. They have been in government for 13 years now and they could have corrected this problem faced by new Canadians if they wanted to but they, I guess did not want to do that at the cost of increasing job competition between the older and the newer Canadians, Aftab said.
"Look at the whole immigration model number wise. Every year around 250,000 (give and take) immigrants come to Canada. On the average, they bring with them approximately $50,000 (give and take). That is $125 million a year worth of lubrication to the economy. And in exchange, Canada gives them menial jobs. What an economic model," remarked Suresh, a Toronto based Indo-Canadian activist.
CASE II: Back in 1999, Mohamed Bhatti decided to leave his hometown in Pakistan to start a new life in Canada. He recalls being told that Canada is a land of opportunities where a hard-working man like himself could make more money than what he was earning in Islamabad.
Bhatti, an agricultural scientist with a PhD in plant biotechnology from the University of Bath in England, following an interview at the Canadian embassy, applied for landed- immigrant status under the "professional" category. Then, a principal scientific officer at the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Bhatti sold his property to raise money to bring his family to Canada.
He said that when he finally left for Canada in 2002, he did not know what was in store for him. He expected to get an equivalent job in British Columbia, but when he tried to find work in his field, he was told his qualifications and his work experience were not up to Canadian standards.
According to Bhatti, this was something the embassy did not sufficiently warn him about. At the time, he figured it was only a matter of time before he would work in his profession, but it never happened. He took a job as a security guard in Vancouver, and he continues at the company as a supervisor.
Bhatti now regrets his decision to come to Canada. "I am not in a position to go back, either," he said. "I had sold away my property and I have cut all my ties, only to hear in the end that I am not qualified enough to be accepted as an agricultural scientist here."
His and Perwez's stories are similar to other professional immigrants who apply to come to Canada to seek better futures but end up in menial jobs. Security work is often the most favored area these days for new immigrants because it is relatively easy and someone can get a license in a short period of time.
Many immigrants, including desis, have claimed that other jobs are difficult to find without networking. They said they felt conned by the Canadian immigration system, which to them seemed to be designed to attract a pool of educated labor to migrate to Canada with all their life savings in exchange for no value added benefits except a lot of places to go spend their savings and lubricate the economy - the consumer economy for the benefit of the older Canadians only.
Marina Wilson, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, told the Straight (Canada's Largest Urban Weekly) that the federal government is (now) creating a Web-based "Going to Canada Immigration Portal", which will include links to associations that regulate the professions. “The recognition of credentials is very much a provincial issue," she said.
Immigration by the way is a federal subject. Is there or has there been a massive disconnect, a gross oversight in this matter then?
Some say it is not so. The question is, such a scenario existed since the point based immigration system was introduced in the 70s. But only recently there has been a surge of immigration because of government's promotional activities overseas that may have worsened the situation.
There are apparently no federal or provincial studies on this subject which is available in the public domain that addresses this critical subject.
Provincial governments have turned over licensing to self-regulating professional organizations in medicine, engineering, teaching, nursing, dentistry, architecture, law, and many other areas. UBC economics professor David Green told the Straight that in Canada the credentials of professional immigrants from European countries are more acknowledged than those of immigrants from non-European countries, like South Asia and Asia even though they are outperforming others in USA and elsewhere.
Green, who has written papers on the economic impact of immigration, said that despite the end of racist immigration policy in 1962, professionals coming from countries where English or French is not the first language are not easily accommodated in the Canadian environment. This, he said, has led to growing economic alienation among professionals from non-European countries.
Bhatti, now in his 50s, noted that he may be too old to get hired in his old profession, even though he has published papers and books in his field. He pulled out a photograph of himself with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. "If a man with a PhD from England cannot get a job in Canada, what shall be the fate of the people who have degrees from Pakistan?" he asked.
Amarjeet Singh Cheema's story is very similar to Bhatti's and Perwaiz's. He came to Vancouver last year from India, where he was the senior section engineer at a railway coach factory in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab. Like Bhatti, he also now works in security.
Cheema and his wife have a teenage son and a five-year-old daughter. Cheema said they baby-sit alternately to avoid spending extra money on daycare. While Cheema works during nights, his wife works a daytime job in a laundry.
“It was suggested that I should go to the BCIT to do a railway conductor's course, but that is a full-time, 10-month course,” he said. "If I do that, where will the money come from? Who will look after the baby in the house?"
Both Cheema and Bhatti told the Straight they feel that Canada is far better for uneducated immigrants. They work hard only to become rich within years, whereas professionals find it far more difficult to adjust by working in jobs they are not accustomed to doing.
"For people like us, the only difference between our home country and here is the weather," Cheema said, referring to his relatively high standard of living in his home country.
Cheema and Bhatti claimed that it is even more difficult to go back and resettle because they have drained all of their resources back home to come to Canada. Cheema said the rail coach factory sacked him when he demanded an extension to his leave period.
Perwaiz told DesPardes.com all his friends like him who came to Canada had good jobs and lifestyle in the Middle East. "There, we had good money, good jobs, but no lifestyle or places to spend money. Here in Canada, there are no jobs for us, but enough places to spend our savings and make believe that here we have a good lifestyle. It's a big mega mall. We have drained all our savings."
Akil ur-Rehman, a Pakistani who worked in the Middle East as an electrical engineer for 18 years, told the Straight that he also came to Canada under the professional category. He added that his wife, who was a professional nurse back home, found a job in a seniors' home, where she can use some of her skills.
Akil said he has left his résumé at BC Hydro and other companies, only to receive replies that they're not hiring. He now drives a truck for a hot-sauce company in Surrey.
"How can I get Canadian experience without getting work anywhere in this country?" Rehman asked. "I am now stuck into the job jungle and do not have time or resources to get higher education to upgrade my skills, either."
He added that when he and his wife appeared for an interview at the Canadian embassy in Syria, nobody warned him about the challenges he would face looking for a job after immigrating.
Ravinder Punia was an accountant with multinational company Pepsi in the Patiala district of Punjab, India. Punia, a married father of two small children, told the Straight that he had also applied under the professional category and came here in 2002. He said his first job in Canada was at a small cardboard factory. Later, he voluntarily worked for an accounting firm for more than two months in the hope of getting a job.
However, that firm did not hire him and he joined a security company in Surrey. Punia is now attending school to upgrade his skills in accounting. "The embassy did not warn us about these challenges," Punia alleged. "It surprises me that our qualifications are only good to enter this country but they have no value in the Canadian labor market."
Ranjit Saini also works as a security guard. A former instructor at the Punjab Engineering College in India, he presently guards the Royal Bank of Canada building in Burnaby. Saini, a father of three, told the Straight that he came here in 2004 after working with the Indian air force for 15 years. He added that he also holds a master's degree in public administration and cleared an international English language test because the Canadian embassy waived this condition for an interview.
Initially, he said, he worked with a construction company. Saini's wife works in the packaging industry. "Going to school is not easy either," Saini said. "The universities here demand references for admission without any realization that we are new in this country."
Ashok Rattan Sharma and her husband live in Vancouver. She was a lecturer in Gandhian studies at Punjab University, India; the couple immigrated to Canada in 2002 with their three children. She was the principal applicant for immigration; her husband, Sudesh Sharma, was a doctor in alternative medicine in India. He now has a security job, and she is a translator.
Sharma said she previously worked at a Superstore and her husband worked at a 7-Eleven. He is now taking a course to become a mental-health worker.
"Coming here was a big shock," she said. "It was especially hard for me to do a cashier's job at the Superstore, where lesser-educated coworkers often yelled at me."
Jasjit Singh Samundri, a forest officer from Punjab, India, came here in 2003 with his family. He told the Straight that he did not find a job in his own professional field either. Samundri is particularly critical of the services provided to new immigrants by different community groups.
"They enroll you in job clubs, whereas a new immigrant needs immediate work to begin life in a new country," he claimed. "Both the Canadian immigration and these groups mislead people, who end up doing odd jobs."
Wilson, the spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, denied that there was any deception. "We definitely do not mislead people," she said. "We just encourage them to do their homework and to make sure their credentials will be recognized."
The question is what "homework" does a prospective immigrant to Canada need to do to make sure his credentials "will be recognized". And then, why is taking so long to come up with a system to recognize their credentials? Isn't this a bi-partisan issue? Has any one ever tabled it in Parliament? Has the media made concerted effort to raise this "national issue"?
No one seems to have the answers.
The Liberals made a belated attempt to float programs to mitigate this problem but it cost them the elections. The desi immigrants had made up their minds any way, not just because of this particular reason, but several.
At the end of the day, no matter which party is in power, it's a 125 million dollar question that every immigrant, specially a desi, asks every day. Whether he or she gets an answer or will get an answer soon may depend on how fast these immigrants themselves can make the economy grow so as to be inducted into the economic net. It's a Catch 22 scenario. Like an American would say - between a rock and a hard place!
In the beginning, Samundri worked for a security company. "I am still open to the idea of going back," he said, "but my daughters won't."
Since then, he has started a small dry-cleaning business in Burnaby.
Perwez has re-established his contacts overseas and plans to go back to the Middle East. Aftab is waiting to hit it big, an entrepreneur that he always has been.