Invisible minorities?

I see them everywhere. The huddled masses. Staying close to their own ethnic groups. Speaking in their own languages and staying away from “others.” They hover outside schools twisting their fingers, nervous that someone might talk to them! I hear so many stories of Canadians who reach out to these immigrants, inviting their children over for a party or a play date and their friendliness is looked on with such suspicion that could almost be considered rude!

I understand that many newcomers feel some uncertainty and fear when it comes to connecting with people outside their culture. But I truly believe that there is no way you are going to achieve your dreams if you stay in an ethnic silo. Desis have their own form of provincial segregation. You are Punjabi, Bengali, Tamilian, Maharashtrian etc. And then we have religion based segregation. Hindu, Brahmin, Sikh, Christian, Muslim etc.

A dear friend was telling me his own experience over lunch. He lives in an upscale neighborhood in Vancouver and an Asian family lived opposite his house. For several years, they never spoke avoiding eye contact until his daughter, who was studying Mandarin in school started a conversation with the girl opposite as the two families headed out. And suddenly, it was like a switch had been flipped! Smiles and gestures with broken English and Mandarin. Barriers broken, bridges made! As immigrants, we share so much irrespective of where we come from. Why limit ourselves from learning so much about other cultures?  I don’t make friends based on where you come from – I make friends based on where you are going!

I meet immigrants with medical degrees, engineering degrees, PhDs, the works. Most of them are in jobs far below their qualifications. Stories of dreams that came crashing down abound. How they cannot get the job of their dreams. I empathize with them, but I am frustrated at how they have given up. Why have you allowed your dreams to die? I know you have challenges, but almost every immigrant has them! You are not alone!

I also meet many immigrants who have been here for a couple of months or years and am amazed at how they have adopted a “victim” mentality. That will not help you! Recognize that you came here of your own free will and you alone are responsible for what you can make of yourself! Your negativity will only drag you down deeper into the pit of self-pity and unhappiness, from where you will find it hard to extract yourself.

Look at the immigrants who have succeeded and learn from them. They have made a conscious effort to work and mingle with people from all cultures including native-born Canadians. The fact is that your qualifications can only take you so far. You need to develop skills far beyond just what’s listed on a piece of paper!

For instance, so many immigrants do not recognize that their language skills are far below Canadian standards. Understand this — if there are two candidates with identical qualifications, but one has poor language skills, he will not get the job! There is no point moaning about racism — you have to look at yourself critically in order to improve your chances of employment.
The fact is that an “invisible” attitude will prevent you from succeeding and making your dreams a reality. Start making the change now!

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Why more is not better!

Almost every month for the past six years, I have been in Toronto taking cabs to meetings. And in every immigrant cab driver, I meet the death of the Canadian immigrant dream. Doctors, engineers, accountants and many more. All professionals.

Of late I have been meeting more engineers and I am puzzled. With a demand for engineers in Western Canada, why go to Toronto? In May this year, I did a five-city speaking tour in India speaking to visa ready immigrants and learnt that to most immigrants Toronto is Canada!

That has been changing rapidly. Whilst Ontario is still the no. 1 province for immigration, actual numbers have gone down by 21 per cent from 148,640 in 2001 to 118,114 in 2010. In the skilled immigrant category the numbers are more alarming, dropping from 89,079 in 2001 to 36,939 in 2011.

As a direct result of this, the last two years saw a decline in funding for Ontario, mainly as the support services to Western Canada increased. For the past month, several politicians, educationalists and experts have weighed in on the new Ontario immigration plan with a much publicized media push talking about raising immigration numbers. Ottawa, the report says, wants to raise immigration to 1 per cent of population, which is substantially higher than the Canadian national average of .8 per cent.

In addition to the obvious skilled labour force advantage, immigrants also bring cash. While no figures exist, it is estimated to be $2 -3 billion a year! No wonder the Ontario government wants a chunk of this!

Wanting to increase immigration numbers in itself is not bad. Until one looks at immigrant outcomes. Less than 25 per cent of immigrants who came to Ontario are working in their field and Ontario’s newcomers earned 23.2 per cent less than their Canadian counterparts in 2011 and had a jobless rate of 15.7 per cent. Why? What does the province intend to do about improving these outcomes? More is NOT better!

When an immigrant to Canada fails, three things happen:

  1. Canada loses a potential earner.
  2. The professional ends up as a security guard or drives a cab. Imagine for a minute the loss of self-esteem for that person and his family.
  3. The source country loses a productive member of society!

While one can talk about hiring barriers being a contributory factor to immigrant unemployment, one cannot assume all immigrants have equal skills!

Research points to language skills and age being contributory factors for successful immigrant outcomes. The proposed changes by the federal government are in complete alignment with this and should help us have an immigration system that factors outcomes on the same level as skills!

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How new Canadians can make friends in a new country!

Are Vancouverites not welcoming to immigrants?

A recent study commissioned by HSBC on new Canadians, found us to be the least welcoming city out of four metros and complements an earlier report from Vancouver Foundation that found a third of Metro residents find it difficult to make friends, most of us don’t know our neighbours or participate in community activities and over a third of us have no close friends outside our ethnic group!

According to the survey, Vancouver was found to be the least welcoming Canadian city with Toronto (79 per cent) a close third, Calgary and Edmonton (84 per cent) at second place and Montreal (89 per cent) being designated most friendly.

And one of the top three challenges immigrants face is making friends (34 per cent) with finding employment at the top (62 per cent). Having worked with immigrants for a long time, I understand the isolation that occurs in the migration process. And we are not alone in this, it happens with seniors as well as other groups. Speaking to thousands of immigrants across Canada I often get asked, “How do I make friends?”

To me, volunteering is the best way to tackle this problem.

When Anita (not her real name) first landed in Canada from India, the marketing professional didn’t know quite what to expect, but she never imagined finding a job in her field would be so difficult. She was repeatedly told she had “No Canadian experience.” To seek some advice, she approached a settlement counselor, who suggested Anita volunteer to get some Canadian experience.

Her initial reaction? “What? Work for free? That’s not why I came to Canada!”

But she decided to give it a chance, and began volunteering at the YMCA, working with new Canadians like her. Now, three years later, smiling at the memory of her original response, Anita tells me she is still an active volunteer with the YMCA, even though she now heads up a leading-edge social media company.

Today, she tells me of how her experiences in those initial days changed her life for the better: Through volunteering, she quickly started making new friends in her adopted country. She also discovered she enjoyed helping other newcomers and learned a great deal from the mentors who trained her.

Only three months later, through a mentor she met, she was offered a part-time job with a non-profit to help it submit a bid for funding a marketing plan. The part-time job turned into a full-time one when the bid was accepted! From then on, no one ever asked her about “Canadian experience!” Anita had arrived!

In case you think volunteering won’t be considered much by potential employers, think again. According to a LinkedIn survey, 46 per cent of Canadian professionals polled stated that they consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience.

Immigrants to Canada come from countries where volunteering is not as big as it is in Western countries, but, once here, volunteering is an important tool that can help immigrants settle in faster. In my 7 Success Secrets for Canadian Immigrants seminar, volunteering is a key step.

Here are nine benefits of volunteering for new Canadians:

1)     Gives you that elusive Canadian experience

2)     Often turns into your first job in Canada

3)     Creates a network and opportunities for mentorship

4)     Allows you to practice the official language

5)     Gives you a chance to learn Canadian idioms and phrases

6)     Gives you exposure to the Canadian work environment

7)     Helps you build a connection with Canada

8)     Allows you to meet people outside your own ethnic group

9)     Gives you Canadian references

Hopefully new immigrants out there can start on this path to success in Canada!

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