...The Grass Isn't Greener

It's a dream gone sour. Thousands of Indian immigrants who land up in Canada are, more often than not, greeted with unemployment, racism, culture shocks...
...The Grass Isn't Greener
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
I didn't come here to be a chowkidar. I came here believing it to be a land of opportunity; a country that has never known the nepotism, the corruption, the shortages of India. I find I have only substituted one country for another... certainly not one set of values for another, as I hoped. For Dr Gurdial Singh Dhillon, who was made to believe his qualifications would land him a good job fast, Canada was a real disappointment. When he did find work, it was that of a security guard. This, when the United Nations has declared Canada the best country to live in.

Some 200,000 people migrate to Canada every yeara majority from Asia. Hong Kong heads the list, followed by India, China, Taiwan and the Philippines. According to the Citizenship & Immigration Canada report, 21,249 Indians migrated to Canada in 1996 alone. (The high commission in Delhi, however, put the figure at 17,682). For many of them, especially those who are qualified professionals, dreams die fast. The life they face is never quite as rosy as made out by money-raking immigration lawyers.

Is the UN report the only reason for the increase in Indian applications for immigration? That, and the fact that it is easier to get entry into Canada than any other western country, says a Delhi-based immigration lawyer. Also, the fastest way of getting immigration to the US is through Canada.

Dhillon's disappointment is echoed by others. I should have done my own homework before I applied, rues Aparna Shirodhkar, an architect from Mumbai, working as a saleswoman in a department store. My husband is unemployed. I am the sole earner for a family of four. Sometimes I feel like running back. For Raheela Wasim, who's gone from being a schoolteacher in India to a telemarketer here, the experience was very discouraging, very disheartening. I started losing confidence in myself. I felt I was not capable of the job market here.

Jobsthe sore point with Indian immigrants. The irony is, they are often more qualified than their Canadian peers, yet they end up with either no work, or with entry-level jobs that have no future. I was not told that you require a Canadian degree to get a job here, says Paramjeet Parmar, a post-graduate in biochemistry from Bombay University. Parmar works as a telemarketer, which has turned her from an elite professional to an unskilled, daily wage labourer.

Ditto Opinder Khosla, a mechanical engineer from India, who has ended up as a salesman. I found it difficult to even get an interview call, he says. The Canadian authorities are non-committal about the social and economic devaluation that the country imposes on immigrants. You can't come thinking you can just walk in and get a job in your profession, says Isabel Basset, minister of citizenship, culture and recreation, responsible for handling immigrants' woes in Canada's largest province, Ontario. But she admits that the licensing bodies regulating the professions need to be more accepting of people trained elsewhere.

That effort could only come from the government, argues Demetrius Oriopolis, co-author of Access, a government-commissioned report on assessing qualifications of newcomersa 10-year-old report whose recommendations have still to be implemented. The report suggests certain rules of equivalence should be made binding on the regulatory bodies, which are exclusionist by nature.

But Basset won't even hear of making the regulatory bodies accountable: We believe in private enterprise with a minimum of government checks. Besides, she argues, the exercise would cost millions of dollars.

Needless to say, the organisations are gleeful. Only professional bodies have the ability to determine what constitutes competence in a particular profession, was the cold response of the spokesperson for the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, an institution that's responsible for the unemployment as well as under-employment of hundreds of qualified chartered accountants from India. They do not grant licences for professional practice, because Indian qualifications are not acceptable.

What kind of society are we creating? Is it a new form of slavery? asks an irate Bhausaheb Ubale, Canada's former human rights commissioner. Qualified immigrants work as drivers, guards. If this isn't job discrimination, what is? Dr Ubale lobbied intensely before Indians were accepted in the media. They now hold jobs as reporters and anchors, he says, but a lot more has to be done.

While skilled men may not be able to find jobs, their less qualified wives find it easierbecause they accept whatever comes their way. In several cases, the wives earn and support their husbands who are busy upgrading themselves, by studying for a Canadian degree. The working wife sometimes slogs away at three jobs. Sumitra starts at 7 am at her first job, teaching immigrants English; her second job as telemarketer starts at 4 pm. She gets back home around 8 pm, after which she begins selling cosmetics and household goods door to door. Till midnight. Sumitra supports three studentsher husband and two school-going children.

The other problems Indians face here are the high taxes, high mortgage payments for new homes and the sort of hidebound laws that the benign anarchy back home hardly prepares them for. You can't run a red light, you can't escape from a hit-and-run site even if you are just the witness, you can't smoke in public. Too many rules, so different from home, says Harminder Singh.

Two 'Indian' practices that do exist here, however, cause immigrants the maximum trouble. They are sifarish baazi (nepotism) and mufat ka kaam (free work). The Canadians, of course, have given them sophisticated terminologiesthe former is referred to as 'networking' and the latter, 'volunteerism'. In a country where you are never encouraged to 'drop in' to meet someone, where the fax, the computer or the phone is used to complete most transactions, a job-seeking immigrant often has the phone put down on him. Polite but firm secretaries block access, unless the caller can drop a magic name that can help him gain entry. It takes at least a year for even the most enterprising immigrant to get to know somebody who can help him, before he can get a job at all.

'Networking' goes hand in hand with 'volunteerism'. Many immigrants put in a year of free service before they are given the job. Most writers and anchors of Asian origin are given only part-time jobs, paid by assignment and with no fringe benefits. The company insists on the word 'freelance' on their business cards, to make it clear they have not been hired by the company, and hence can't demand higher pay or any benefits. They can, and often are, fired at will.

Perhaps the greatest problem in Canada is the one that is least articulatedracism. According to a diversity report on Toronto (said to be the most ethnically diverse city in the world), the year 2000 will see its minority becoming its majoritythat is, 54 per cent of Toronto's population by the end of the millennium will be non-Whites. Keeping that in mind, it warned, if the discrimination against them in education, employment, income and housing, or incidents of hate are not addressed, it will lead to a growing sense of frustration.

All our problems exist because of racism, sums up Anita Ferrao, who works in a firm. Anita has worked for them for three years and has got neither promotion nor raise. As an Indian immigrant, you can never reach the top. They'll see to that. It's better to bring in some money here and start a business. It's the only way you'll do well here and be respected.

But then if life is so tough here, why do people give up everything back home and come? The answer is the rosy picture of North America, inculcated right from childhood. Everything 'American' is considered superior. Better food, better homes, better life.

Each potential immigrant pays at least Rs 2 lakh chasing that dream. Multiply that by the thousands of Indians admitted each year, and further, by the number of immigrants accepted from all over the world, and you hit upon the most lucrative business today in Canada. According to a leading White immigration lawyer here, who prefers to remain anonymous, his own fee is 8,000 Canadian dollars, which comes to Rs 2,38,000. The government levies extra charges.

What do immigration lawyers advice potential immigrants? Do your homework, before deciding to go ahead with your application. Arm yourself with facts about Canada. And when you do apply, stick to the truth yourself. You won't be in for unpleasant surprises, then. The rest is up to one's initiative and optimism. Indians need that, says one lawyer, as many of them fall into depressionthe changes are just too much. But, he clarifies, Canada is the best. Where else will you find a land of opportunity, that still cares about its people? That's what the Indians come looking for. And haven't discovered yet.

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