The Canadian Dream

By Joshua Tibaldi

Imagine. Moving to a foreign country, having to immerse yourself and adapt to a completely new way of life. Having to forget your everyday routines and implement new ones. Trying to make it in a new country you have never been to for a better life. Not being familiar with the language and struggling to communicate. What I have just described to you is the act of immigration.

Every year, 260,000 immigrants move to Canada from all around the globe. Immigration is not as simple as packing up and getting on a plane, this process can take a very long time to complete. Waiting is the easy part, the real work begins when they step foot into the country of their new home. Immigration itself is not simple either, it is much more complex than it appears to be. There are many organizations set in place to to help these newcomers make a smooth transition to Canadian society that are not common knowledge.

Costi Immigration Services is a community based non-profit government-funded organization stationed in Vaughan ran by passion-driven individuals who aim to make a difference in the lives they touch. Founded in 1952 and operating from 17 locations across York region, peel and the greater Toronto area, Costi offers a wide variety of programs, including educational, social and employment services, to help all immigrants from every part of the world; specializing in language and skills training taught by qualified and encouraging teachers.

In this episode titled The Canadian Dream, I will be exploring the unheard of reality of immigration, the factors that cause people to immigrate, why to Canada, and how Costi helps with this difficult transition.

I was able to interview Ms. Josie Di Zio of Costi’s Vaughan branch. Ms. Di Zio is Costi’s senior director of planning and program development. She has been employed in settlement services for over 30 years at various organizations.

With permission, Vera Suppa will be reading a transcription of the interview.

“My personal experience compels me to help others”

Ms. Di Zio was an immigrant herself.

“I am a second generation Italian, I was born about 6 months after my parents arrived in Canada- me, my older sister, and my parents. They were peasant immigrants from Barroul, Central Italy and so they arrived extremely disadvantaged which we can now look back and comment on. They had little to no formal education of their own, of course didn't speak english. They had a farming background. We arrived in the 50's when the sentiment towards different immigrant groups in Canada was not as accepting as it has evolved to be at this point. I  personally felt the day I started school that I was different from others. Through my entire life I absorbed that feeling of being an outsider and found my own ways of compensating and coping with that. I noticed my parents issue was their absolute inability to handle what most parents handle in terms of managing their lives, primarily due to the language barrier. So like many immigrant children I became the manager of the family and went to banks with them and went to the doctors with them and did all of the things one has to do day to do and so I have a very personal connection to the typical immigrant experience from that time.”

After having gone through the difficult process of immigration herself, Ms. Di Zio has made it her mission to help people go through what she went through. Costi is filled with passionate individuals who have, just like herself, immigrated to Canada from their previous homes.

“Personal experience is a motivator. A lot of people have a similar experience I’m sure.”

As previously mentioned, Costi offers a variety of programs from both new and long standing immigrants to Toronto.

“We have everything from family and mental health support, english language training, specialized professional specific language training, one on one settlement services, helping people adapt and deal with day to day living, women's programs, entitlements, paying rent, opening a bank account, and all that kind of stuff. We basically have everything in house the person needs available to them”.

Every year, Costi provides services to over 40 000 immigrants.

“Were a big team we're over 400 staff now and we represent about 65 different languages and the proportion of people that speak more than one of these languages is very high. We are a very diverse and linguistically encompassing team and we look for that”

People choose to immigrate for millions of different reasons and combining factors.

“There are two basic answers. One is wanting to be with their family, siblings and parents might want to all live in the same place. Family reunification or unification is one driver. I think the bigger driver is economic possibilities in canada and also freedoms in canada. I do think they leave their country for a better life, a better life and a different life.”

Ajay Sharma is a global immigration and visa services consultant. In his article “The Top Reasons Why People Immigrate”, (available here) he explains other major reasons in addition to family reunification and a better life. People usually immigrate for a “financially secured future, higher standards of living, education, political reasons, and in the hopes to start a family movement” (2009).

So why do people choose Canada over all other countries in the world?

“What we hear a lot is that they choose canada as opposed to other places because we are absolutely seen and are the most welcoming to diversity that people are familiar with, and so that does attract them to come to our country opposed to other countries.”

We are not just welcoming to diversity, our government offers many different means to help out immigrants while they get settled down and various rights and freedoms they could not have had in their previous areas.

Suma Rao Professional Corporation is a Canadian Immigration Law Firm based in Toronto. There is a page on their website entitled “Why Immigrate to Canada?” (available here). They explain this is because Canada offers “successful migration with full family, free education and medical services, career opportunities in various sectors, eligible citizenship after three years, dual citizenships, government welfare benefits, various types of insurance” (2010), and more.

The United Nations has voted Canada as one of the best places in the world to live in terms of living standards.

Just because Canada is the most welcoming to diversity and there are benefits for immigrants, doesn’t mean that the process does not have problems. From a governmental perspective, Canada ensures immigrant success from all angles, but from a social aspect, it is a completely different story.

Immigrants face a majority of difficulties upon initial arrival to Canada.

“It depends on many different factors. Immigration today depending on which streams of entry into Canada, the demographics are quite different from each other and from historical situations.”

There are various streams of entry into Canada. According to the Government of Canada’s 2017 Immigration level plans (available here), there are four major immigrant classifications, each with various streams. The classes are “the economic class, which includes skilled workers and immigrants on express entry and more, the family class, the refugee and protected persons class and the humanitarian or other class” (2016). How an immigrant is classified plays a large role in their integration and the benefits they get from the government. The government is also planning for an extra 60 000 immigrants to arrive in Canada in 2017.

After being classified and moving to Canada, economic integration is one of the greatest difficulties for immigrants to overcome and in a timely manner.

Derek Hum and colleagues comments on the major issues surround successful economic integration in their academic journal article “Economic Integration to Canada” (available here). “What sets apart the experience of immigrants are additional factors such as lack of proficiency in at least one of Canada’s official languages, unfamiliarity with cultural practices in the Canadian workplace, thin employment networks, or lack of recognition of foreign credentials and professional experience by employers and unions. The potential for discrimination [in the workplace] is also always present. The list of factors goes on. The adjustment difficulties of immigrants may be temporary, erode slowly, or last a lifetime" (2014).

Canada takes in tens of thousands of skilled immigrants every year. Almost all of them are unable to be employed in the field they went to school for and previously based a career in.

“Things like how do you become economically integrated into the labour market in Canada is huge. Despite having very high credentials and very high experience in a certain field, how you attain that kind of employment in India or China is very different from how you attain that kind of employment in Canada.”

Regardless of going to school for a degree, almost all of the degrees immigrants obtained in their home country are discredited. They have an option to take an equivalency exam that tests their proficiency in their subject of study.

According to the Government of Canada (available here), “there are two types of occupations in Canada: regulated and non-regulated" (2016). Regulated careers involves an immigrant getting their credential assessment and recognition, which can take a very long time. Non-regulated involves stating education solely on a resume and does not require credential assessment or recognition.

According to a Statistics Canada journal titled “Recognition of Newcomers’ Foreign Credentials and Work Experience" (available here), “the higher the level of education, the greater the probability of credential recognition in Canada” (2016).

“How do I get a job in my profession is another big one. There are structural barriers in that because of our regulatory new systems in Canada. The famous one is probably the foreign trained engineer or the foreign trained physician who can't get a license in Canada for 25 years because of structural barriers.”

There are many structural barriers that stop immigrants from becoming qualified in their field of expertise, even if their degrees are accredited.

At a 2011 annual conference regarding the social economy, Noor Din presented her essay “Immigrants’ Sustainable Economic Integration in Canada through Social Enterprises” (available here). “There are structural constraints in Canadian economic planning which influence the professional choices of landed immigrants by impelling them into underpaid jobs and have not systematically encouraged their self-employment. The combination of these factors lead to economic isolation of immigrants, impedes their social integration and Canadian economy also suffered from immigrants’ underutilization” (2010).

Immigrants are essentially unable to find steady work in their previous areas of study and employment, thus they are forced into working for less than minimum wage just to get by.

“The barrier of employers and their attitudes or perspectives towards how certain immigrant populations might "fit", and i use fit with air quotes, into the canadian workplace.”

Costi aims to help immigrants surpass these barriers and help immigrants flourish in Toronto. They offer multiple language services, including free english language courses to help immigrants learn the language to secure a job as soon as possible. They also offer a variety of employment services to help immigrants get career opportunities. This includes career planning and assessment services, a service centre, a mentoring partnership, and more. Costi even provides many skills training services, mostly in the fields of learning the basics of Microsoft office and accounting to familiarize immigrants with the usual softwares used in businesses.

With organizations like Costi in place, some of the issues surrounding economic integration and finding work can be rectified. However, there are various issues surrounding social integration into Canadian society that cannot be completely fixed despite all efforts.

Social integration into any society as an outsider can be extremely tedious and difficult. The reality of the immigrant experience is that they can be exposed to many issues that go unheard of or never mentioned.

Immigrant and journalist Pat Spracklin explains other prominent issues immigrants face transitioning in her article “The Top Ten Problems Faced by Immigrants” (available here). In addition to the language barrier and economic integration, “housing, access to services, transportation issues, cultural differences, immigrating with children, isolation, and prejudice and racism” (2015) are also issues.

Housing is a big issue for immigrants coming into Canada who are not familiar with understanding English or French. It is difficult to attain knowledge about the housing market or to inquire about apartments or a house without being able to communicate in the dominant language.

Costi offers Housing Help Services for newcomers to Ontario. Their Housing Help Centre works one on one with individuals and families to assist them in securing affordable and safe housing. This is offered in efforts to help immigrants become independent and remove them from the shelter systems and providing them with day to day guaranteed housing.

Every country has different services offered to citizens and visitors. The services offered in Canada can vary significantly to that of a newcomers native country. Immigrants can have difficulty attaining health care, legal advice, access to transportation, social services, and more. Immigration services can also vary from country to country. In Canada, there are places for immigrants to turn but they are not well known. Immigrants come into the country unaware of organizations such as Costi and how they can help.

This results in newcomers not knowing where to turn. It leaves them in a heartbreaking situation. According to the Statistics Canada (available here), 54% of all immigrants live in poverty in 2006, and since the number has only been climbing (2007). The majority of immigrants in poverty are women and children.

There are many cultural differences in every corner of a city, yet alone a country. Many immigrants struggle with maintaining their cultures and traditions in a foreign area where everything is different.

“There is one story about a seventeen year old south Asian girl who was experiencing a lot of difficulty reconciling her traditional family values to the Canadian context. She was becoming increasingly distraught because she wasn't finding an easy way out and had become depressed and was not performing well in school or elsewhere. We employ people from every culture possible in Canada and through discussions with them she was able to cope with her situation. She was a very bright and capable young woman and came as a volunteer to one of our centres. Through her experiences and interaction with the people that work at Costi as well as clients and seeing our counsellor she was able to overcome her setbacks.”

This is just one example of the hundreds of thousand individuals Costi has helped in Toronto. Costi helps youth just like this teen everyday. They offer various children and youth programs including art therapy, job connections, mentorship and settlement services to help all immigrant children equally despite any physical barriers.

Costi emphasized these youth programs and their women's programs.

“We've got specialized women's programs to help women adjust to the cultural and economic environment they are moving into, for it is quite different. We have youth programs that attract youth through youth friendly activities, such as sports recreation, to avoid isolation. Youth are especially vulnerable and aren't always easily integrated, sometimes they are, sometimes they are not, and there is a risk factor involved with that.”

Immigration has the largest impact on youth.

Zheng Wu and colleagues propose that “children of immigrants struggle more with discrimination than their parents do” and that “immigrants and their children face the challenge of fitting together different identities (available here) (2010).

It is very easy for immigrant youth to become isolated in a society that deems the unfamiliar and outsider. Immigrant youth are also extremely susceptible to losing their cultural values because they are young and can be easily assimilated by Canadian society.

Prejudice and racism are extremely important issues regarding immigration that continuously occurs every day. The Canadian government has put forth much effort to stop these events by implementing various laws and charges that grant jail time and a record to offenders. Traditional minded individuals who cannot get past their self-convinced culture's superiority exist everywhere. There will always be people who look at someone of a different race in a certain way and talks to them as if they are not accepted because of their skin colour.

“I finally entered university as a mature student at the age of 22 when I decided and realized I was smart enough to go to university. That can be  a part of the whole immigrant experience as well.”

Ms. Di Zio encountered issues like this when she first came to Canada and still does occasionally today. She felt that the society of her peers had deemed her inferior because of her origins and struggled internally to realize that she is just as worthy and intelligent as her Canadian born peers. The world is a cruel place and it is difficult enough for immigrants to successfully integrate into society, why try to make it harder?

These occurrences lead to very serious issues.

Frank Trovato’s academic journal article “Migration and Survival: The Mortality Experience of Immigrants in Canada”, he explains why and how there can be high immigrant suicide rates (available here). “There are high rates of Immigrant suicide because of the stresses associated with settlement in a new land. If immigration is a stressful experience, immigrant groups will have a higher suicide rates" (2003).

According to statistics Canada, every year about 3500 Canadians commit suicide, roughly 550 of which are immigrants (available here) (2003).

There will always be negative stigma towards immigrants. Some people wholeheartedly welcome immigrants and want them to succeed whereas other people can easily be racism or make rude remarks.

Newcomers are helped every day at Costi with issues just like these that vary in severity.

“We also do public policy input where we get various opportunities to provide information and advice to the government and policy makers.”

Costi regularly makes suggestions to the government as to how immigrant issues can be rectified. Despite their best efforts, there still are and will always be negative social stigma surrounding immigrants. There is only so much an organization can do. The rest is up to us.

There will always be people who are racist and prejudice towards others who are not the same race, whether they are immigrants or Canadian-born citizens.

 

References


Houle R. and Yssaad L. Recognition of Newcomers' Foreign Credentialsand Work Experiance. (September 2010). Statistics Canada. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2010109/article/11342-eng.htm#a2

Hum, D. and Simpson, W. Economic Integration of Immigrants to Canada: A Short Survey. (July 2014). Canadian Journal of Urban Research. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?id=ggAyL97SL6EC&pg=PA46&lpg=PA46&dq=hum+and+simpson+canadian+journal+of+urban+research+a+short+survey&source=bl&ots=Ejp8Z2o_BG&sig=5yBsIHS1CRLsv5Vs5-D4rtLgmGU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjLmdylhePQAhUYzGMKHb-uDawQ6AEIHjAA#v=onepage&q=hum%20and%20simpson%20canadian%20journal%20of%20urban%20research%20a%20short%20survey&f=false

Malenfent, E. Suicide in Canada's Immigrant Populations. (March 2004). Statistics Canada. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2003002/article/6807-eng.pdf

Noor Din. Immigrants' Sustainable Economic Integration in Canada through Social Enterprises. (June 2010). http://www.humanendeavour.org/knowledge/A5_Din_ANSER_paper_06012011_v1.2.pdf?lbisphpreq=1
 

Rao, S. Why Immigrate to Canada? (October 2010). Immigration Point. Retrieved from http://www.immigrationpoint.ca/why_canada.htm

Sharma, A. The Top Reasons Why People Immigrate. (July 2009). Immigration.net. Retrieved from http://www.immigration.net.in/2009/07/09/top-seven-reasons-why-people-immigrate/.
 

Spracklin, P. The Top Ten Problems Faced by Immigrants. (July 2015). Retrieved from http://www.immigroup.com/news/top-10-problems-immigrants


Trovato, F. Migration and Survival: The Mortality Experiance of Immigrants in Canada. (August 2003). Retrieved from https://sites.ualberta.ca/~pcerii/Virtual%20Library/FinalReports/Migration%20and%20Survival%20-%20Part%201.pdf

Unspecified. How do I get my Skills Recognized? (October 2016). Government of Canada Job Bank. Retrieved from https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/content_pieces-eng.do?cid=223

Unspecified. Key Highlights 2017 Immigration Levels Plan. (October 2016). Government of Canada. Retrieved from http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1145319

Unspecified. Snapshot of Racialized Poverty in Canada. (August 2013). Government of Canada. Retrieved from http://www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/communities/reports/poverty_profile/snapshot.shtml

Wu, Z. Schimmele C. and Hou, F. Social Integration of Immigrants and their Children. (September 2010). Canada's Urban Neighbourhoods. Retrieved from http://mbc.metropolis.net/assets/uploads/files/wp/2010/WP10-10.pdf

 

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Ms. Josie Di Zio for her support throughout this process and the entire Costi team. What you guys do greatly impacts Toronto and Canada as a whole. Thank you for dedicating your lives to positively impact others and the community. 

I would also like to thank Dunja Baos for her endless support and encouragement over the past several months, Dr. Stephanie Bell for introducing me to the realm of podcasting and Vera Suppa.