Immigrant talent meets its demise in Canada

By Sabrina Almeida

That Canada is a land of opportunity is a hard sell for most immigrants who have had to bite and claw their way up. This is not just an expression of my bitterness at being told I’m not good enough, but the stark reality that almost all newcomers have had to face. While the Canadian experience card has shoved most out the employment door (the few who have made it are too insignificant number compared to the many who have not) or down the ladder that is not the only department in which the newcomers have been forced to eat humble pie. Talent is another one.

Does talent need to be qualified by Canadian experience too? Judging from the many who have had to give up any their dreams, I’d say YES! Irrespective of whether you were a rocking musician, respected artist, talented actor or fashion designer (to name a few) expect to be treated in the same fashion as the humble job seeker. If the likes of Russell Peters went south for fame and fortune, let alone you.
As I cross paths with the many who made their mark on their home soil and received international acknowledgement while they were there, I am saddened to see the throttling of their talent and confidence here.
It looks like the only headway many immigrants have made in their professional career or the arts and music is in reference to their ethnic origins. And by this I mean in their own communities or when catering to a specific audience type. Think about the most common places in which you are likely to see immigrants in the forefront and you will admit that it is mostly when they have to deal with their own. As in banks, retail and politics!
Is it a form of racism? Even those with seemingly good jobs and positions will agree that they have faced veiled discrimination at some point in their career and chosen to swallow it along with their pride. Secretly hoping that one day they will be in a position to return the favour.
Does accent determine your skills or abilities?
I believe soft skills is an excuse that many employers and executives like to hide behind.
Considering almost all international companies have a strong presence in India (for example), and employ natives, it is ironic that immigrants with this kind of experience should be forced to start at the bottom, if given an opportunity at all.
Perhaps we have been approaching this the wrong way all the while. It is not immigrants who need to be schooled in Canadian ways but Canadians who have to open their minds to the rest of the world.
Considering that hundreds of services and jobs are being shipped out to countries these immigrants come from is another slap in the face. Apparently it is okay to get things done there, just not when ‘those people’ come here.
“Don’t look in the rear-view mirror” is a common piece of advice immigrants might receive. “Think out of the box” is another. “Reinvent yourself” is equally popular. Meaning take whatever you get… earlier it was driving taxis or in the retail and the hospitality industry. Today with Uber and high school students entering the fray even that is shrinking possibility.
At a social gathering a couple of weeks back, it came to light that virtually everyone there was on a second career. That’s a shame considering most were professionals in their home country who had spent a fortune on their education and training. Only to have the slate wiped clean.
When will this change? Only when immigrants who have made it decide to give back!
Unfortunately the philosophy that most carry around is, “I struggled and so will you”. If only we realized that it only serves to perpetuate discrimination. It’s time to stand up for and with newcomers to help them truly integrate and contribute to the progress of the country. Perhaps the government ought to insist (or provide incentives for) companies and employers hire a certain number of immigrants each year. Starting with government services. We’re more than just a vote bank!

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