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!

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Mind your language!

The past few days have seen such a flurry of articles on the front pages of dailies and other news media about English not being spoken in immigrant homes. Well duh! Seriously? Is this something new?

We did know at least a year ago that almost 20 per cent of the population was born outside Canada. We also knew for the last decade that immigrants are coming from countries where English is NOT the first language. Why then are we SO surprised that they would speak their own language or “mother tongue” (as it is appropriately called) at home? I am surprised people (or should I say the 80 per cent) are surprised!

I speak English fluently and it is my first language. I also speak Hindi (and broken Gujarati occasionally with my mother in law). My new granddaughter has people speaking English, Hindi, Gujarati and Fijian Hindi to her! By having more languages spoken, I believe my granddaughter will be well equipped for a rapidly evolving world.

According to an article in the Telegraph researchers at the University of San Diego revealed that those with higher levels of bilingualism are more resistant to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

A few weeks before the Census results were announced John Manley, the former finance minister who heads the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said it is time for a national debate over how to encourage new language skills as part of the country’s trade efforts.

Manley goes on to say that the global opportunities for Canadians who speak Asian languages are huge and by not teaching these languages to our children we may deprive them of global opportunities. The are obvious advantages of a different kind of bilingualism and growing economies of China, India and many Latin American countries would offer much opportunities to Canadians in the next decade.

The article says that “in Brampton and Mississauga, the Peel District School Board has elementary-level courses available in more than a dozen languages, including Arabic, Bulgarian, Cantonese, Gujarati, Hindi, Mandarin, Punjabi, Sinhalese, Spanish, Tamil, Urdu and Vietnamese.”

Perhaps it is time for us to embrace Canada’s multilingualism and see it as something that is an asset rather than always feeling threatened by it. After all, having sushi, Kung pao chicken and butter chicken hasn’t weakened our culinary habits, why would our neighbor’s language make us feel threatened?

I have met Canadians in several parts of the world. Parts where English is not the first language. Think Korea, Japan and China.  And they speak English. Hmmm wonder if those countries have headlines reading ‘Canadians speak English in Korea!’ Insert big laugh smiley here!

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

How political correctness harms immigrants.

Seems like yesterday, but it was 2006 when Judge Cohen from Ontario decreed that the Christmas tree must be removed from the courthouse because it represented a religion. I always thought that the tree was not just a symbol of faith, but a coming together of families to spend much deserved time together after a year of hard work. It represented to me good spirit, joy and giving. As a Muslim, these are not alien thoughts to my religion and are not certainly the prerogative of one faith! Many people believe that the origins of the decorated tree likely dates to pre-Christian pagan cultures in Europe.

Cut to 2011 and the announcement from Service Canada in Quebec that decorations should not be displayed in places that the public would see or have access to. So I guess fireworks on Canada Day and Flags are next?

Read the online comments and it would seem like Canadians feel all immigrants object to having the holidays called Christmas or even celebrating it!

Here’s a correction: NOT TRUE! I know many immigrant families across Canada and I know that the shopping at Christmas and New Year is not the only thing we like about this time of year. It is how our cities are magically transformed into a spectacle of lights and good cheer. We love how Canadians invite us to share this holiday with them.

I lived in Mumbai, India, Muscat, Oman, Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and now in Vancouver, Canada. I cannot remember a time growing up without a Christmas celebration. In fact in the last two residencies, both of which were Islamic countries, there were no restrictions on celebrating religious holidays, be they Holi and Diwali from India, Christmas or Easter or Eid. Yes, the official holidays were Eid and were celebrated with great gusto by all faiths.

The person at Service Canada responsible for this decision made the entire non-Christian population of Canada responsible for this act. And unfortunately fingers are being pointed at immigrants! We immigrants bring in traditions to this country and encourage our newly found friends to celebrate these religions along with us. In one fell swoop, we have now been made the “grinches” who stole Christmas cheer!

In its march towards embracing diversity, Canadians takes pleasure in joining immigrants in celebrating Chinese New Year, Baisakhi, Caribbean days and many more such festivals. So why can’t we join in on the Christmas celebrations that are so intrinsic to Canada’s history and culture?

Canada it seems struggles at times with its political correctness, sometimes it does trip and fall. And then it seems we take four steps back for every two steps forward.

My next step is to pull that tree out of the shed and inspect lights – yes, it is time for family and celebrations!

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

5 suggestions to get Canada’s immigration system back on track

Toronto, Oct. 3, 2011 — Here we go again. The backlog of immigrant applicants to Canada has again ballooned to one million. It now seems like bringing the numbers down is an impossible task. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney has made several valiant efforts over the years to adjust the entrance criteria, but the applications are still several hundred thousand more than can be processed. And, those who are approved, are still finding unexpected career and settlement challenges once they land.

So what’s the solution? In the past year I have travelled across Canada speaking to almost a thousand immigrants one on one in the GTA, Southwest Ontario and Metro Vancouver and I have heard from them firsthand their stories and challenges. The system needs correction and Minister Kenney has undertaken a democratic consultation process of meeting stakeholders to find out what is needed. I was at a roundtable meeting with him on July 20 in Toronto, where I shared some ideas.

As someone who has been closely watching this situation for over a decade as an immigration activist, here are five suggestions. None of them are easy. This is the bitter pill we must swallow in order to make Canada a country of choice for immigrants as well as allow us to select the cream of international talent.

1. Throw out all applications prior to one year ago and start afresh. Yes, refund the application fees to those on the waiting list. Immigrants have been waiting for their visas and are now coming in their late 50s. It is hard enough for a Canadian-born person to compete for a job in that age bracket, let alone a newcomer with additional language and credential recognition challenges. They are being set up to fail. New applications should be allowed under new specific rules, as follows.

2. Increase points for language and drop moderate, basic or no proficiency. Research reports coming in year after year show one thing. Immigrants with low level language skills are not making the cut. They are doomed to a lower than qualified subsistence level. Australia’s experiment with raising the language bar resulted in a 70% positive outcome for immigrants. This is NOT a popular move and will have several special interest groups protesting, but it is good for Canada. As things stand today, if you have a PhD and the requisite work experience with “moderate“ language skills in just one official language, you can still get in. In my experience, that will NOT translate into employment! We are creating a nation of literate illiterates — literate by virtue of their degrees, but illiterate on language skills. Fact is, we are not helping these immigrants by letting them into Canada when they are not going to be part of our economic growth. This will also reduce the flood of applications to only those with the right language tools to succeed.

3. Change the age range. At present, the age range for maximum points to enter Canada is 21-49. That range is too wide. Given the average five years it takes to come in, I see far too many immigrants who are in their mid-50s struggling to find suitable employment. Points for age should instead be broken into blocks of 10 years: applicants aged 21-31 receive 10 points. 32-42 get eight points, and so on. Younger immigrants learn the soft skills that they need in order to succeed faster.

4. Enhance the entrepreneurship category. What do Intel, Google, Sun Microsystems and eBay have in common? All were started by immigrants! The U.S. is finally getting it. Immigrant entrepreneurs have fuelled their economy for decades. At one time, 60% of patents registered in Silicon Valley came from immigrants! Even now, one-third of tech start-ups in Michigan are owned by immigrants. They have realized that post-911, with lower numbers of immigrants due to security reasons, their innovations dropped. They now have a think tank that reports to President Obama on building this back up.

A University of British Columbia professor gave Canada a failing grade when it came to encouraging immigrant entrepreneurs. As things stand today, entrepreneurship for immigrants is a default position when they are unable to find suitable employment commensurate with their education and experience. Open this up by allowing these entrepreneurs to access capital and loans from organizations like BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada) and EDC (Export Development Canada).

Also, let’s create a specific program that allows Canadian small business owners set to retire to specifically bring in immigrant entrepreneurs as part of a succession plan.

5. Improve provincial nominee programs to meet language requirements. This program has worked well in Manitoba and other Western provinces, but in a report from the Toronto Immigrant Employment Data Initiative (TIEDI) almost 16% of principal applicants spoke neither French nor English! Again, as mentioned, high language proficiency should be emphasized. Minister Kenney has said himself that immigrants aren’t making enough use of ESL instruction once in Canada. Having a country without a strong common language bond can have substantial social repercussions leading to proliferation of ethnic silos. Bringing in people through PNPs who can speak the language and hit the ground running is what provinces need.

As I said before, these are hard decisions, but we need to do what is best for the future of Canada. We also need to treat applicants with fairness and not waste their time as they wait years to come to Canada, only to face many challenges they are not prepared to deal with once they finally land. Most importantly, we need skilled immigrants in Canada who can speak the language, hit the ground running, bring innovation, create jobs and pay taxes! Period!

See speech delivered in Parliament on this topic.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter