Employment catch-22 awaits many immigrants

Canadian job experience is often a prerequisite for obtaining Canadian job experience

Drastant Mehta, who immigrated to Canada from India and sits on the Surrey Immigrant Advisory Board, outside the Telus building where he works | Rob Kruyt
Part 3 of a series

For Drastant Mehta, moving to Canada from Kenya with his family was an issue of personal safety.

“When you go out, you don’t know whether you will come back, or come back alive,” said Mehta of living in the African nation. Mehta, who is originally from Gujarat, India, moved to Kenya because he has extended family there, and was hoping to further his career in computer science.

He worked as a retail sales analyst for Kenyan supermarket company Nakumatt Holdings from 2007 until 2013, when he decided it was no longer safe for his family. His first child was born in 2011.

“When we had kids we decided that we didn’t want our kids to be in this environment,” he said. “So we were looking for a safe, secure place for our kids where they would have a future.”

Mehta, who has a degree in computer engineering from Saurashtra University in Gujarat, said Kenya was no place to raise a family.

“You couldn’t go out, you couldn’t go out at night, and you couldn’t go to certain places.”

Mehta had many options to consider. He has relatives in Australia and also considered emigrating to England, but he decided on Canada, where he had no personal or professional connections, with the idea of making a fresh start.

“The reason for choosing Canada was we had no ties to Canada – no family, no friends. So we took it as a bit of a challenge.”

In 2013 Mehta immigrated to Surrey. Although he has substantial experience in the field of computer science, finding work was anything but easy.

“The biggest problem was convincing people of my abilities,” he said. “The organizations here stressed Canadian experience, and I know it is important, but people are skillful or talented even if they don’t have Canadian experience. If someone who is coming here has a lot of knowledge or experience or skills, if you make him or her wait four or five years until they have Canadian experience, that time of four or five years is totally wasted.”

After some effort, Mehta landed a job with Telus (TSX:T), where he now works as a performance analysis consultant. But that first job was an entry-level contract position. Not only did he have to navigate the unpredictable world of contract work, but he also had to quickly educate himself about various things like invoicing and incorporating as a personal corporation in Canada. He turned over a small portion of his paycheque to the headhunting company that aided him in his initial job search as a way to jump through the employment requirements.

“Canada has been awesome,” explained Mehta, who now sits on the Surrey Immigrant Advisory Roundtable along with Iraqi immigrant Wafa Aljabiri. “I have no regrets making the move to Canada.”

Still, it could have been easier.

“It took a little while to settle in. And [because of] the employment challenges and the problems I faced, all in all, now, three years later, I am at a stage where I should have been two or three months in.

“Long story short, Canada is good, Canada has treated me well. It’s just the procedures and the way we integrated and the opportunities, it took a lot of time.”

Judy Villeneuve, a City of Surrey councillor for the past 22 years and co-chair for the Local Immigration Partnership (LIP), said she understands why many Canadian companies and government agencies are hesitant to recognize foreign qualifications, but she doesn’t agree with all their policies regarding credentials. The LIP labour market integration research project found most immigrants struggle with finding work upon arriving in Canada regardless of their skill level, training or accreditation acquired in their native country.

The report also notes that many end up taking jobs they consider “survival work” – employment that’s not in their field, is low-paying and is simply a way to “make ends meet.” Villeneuve acknowledged the counter-argument is that it’s difficult to properly validate foreign credentials or work experience. Many developing countries such as India (the country of origin for an estimated 40% of Surrey’s new arrivals) are beset by widespread corruption, workplace nepotism and fabrication of resumés.

“That is the argument, and there probably is some validity to it,” said Villeneuve. “But I think there should be a process that is able to evaluate properly where people are at and … to offer the courses that they need.”

Regardless, Mehta said he’s more than happy in his new homeland, and he has taken up a hobby he couldn’t have in the other countries he’s lived in.

“I have become an outdoor person,” he said with a chuckle. “At home in India we mostly stayed inside, but now I can go for long walks and exercise outside. It’s quite a change and I like it.”