December 5, 2023

Canada is a nation of immigrants. With over 20 per cent of its population born overseas, Canada is a mosaic of different cultures and ethnicities. The best and the brightest, most from the developing world, can come and put their talents to effective use in a country whose standard of living, adherence to laws, public safety and good governance are undisputed on the global stage. It is a win-win situation.

Canada has an aging population. In 2016 the number of people over the age of 65 exceeded the number of people aged 14 and under for the first time in Canadian history. The Conference Board of Canada that empowers and inspires leaders to build a stronger future for all Canadians released some startling statistics in the form of the info graphic below.

If the stats were broken down further it would show that regions like Atlantic Canada are the worst affected. This area, which includes New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, has seen its population dwindle.

New Brunswick is one of the worst affected areas. It has seen not only its population decline but the resultant decrease in economic activity has forced many young people to leave the area as well. In New Brunswick more people actually die than are being born.

The second challenge is that most of the Canadian population is concentrated in what is called the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor. The region spans close to 1150 kilometres. Almost half of Canada’s population lives in this corridor. This concentration means that a huge part of the country remains uninhabited, which hampers Canada’s economic growth.

Immigration, therefore, is vital to growing the Canadian economy. In a Global News story, the Conference Board of Canada reported that Canada’s population growth will be driven entirely by immigrants by 2040.

In an era of selfish self-centric populism, and anti-immigrant sentiments in many parts of the developed world, Canada is a shining example of tolerance and accommodation for the thousands of people who have decided to call Canada home.

Most Caucasian Canadians believe that immigrants are almost always better off both economically and socially in Canada as opposed to their home country. However, this commonly held assumption is not factually accurate for the majority of first-generation immigrants.

Most of the new immigrants who come to Canada are relatively well off in their home country, with many being in the top 2 per cent of the population. They can pay for private health care and have their own security. However, it’s the overall environment of political uncertainty and corruption that force them to move abroad. It is little surprise that the top three source countries for immigrants are India, China and the Philippines.

A popular misconception held by most Canadians is that all immigrants get government housing and handouts in the form of cash payments in addition to free medical and dental services. Nothing could be further from the truth. What is seldom reported is that immigrants contribute directly to the tune of some $1.5 billion annually to the Canadian economy.

Every skilled immigrant who is offered a chance to come to Canada must bring with them what the Government of Canada refers to as “Settlement Funds.” This is one of the preconditions listed on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website.

A 2015 report published in the Globe and Mail stated that immigrants on average brought  $47,000 Cdn with them in savings to Canada. This gives a tremendous boost to the local economy and creates thousands of jobs for the native-born population. However, immigrants, themselves do not benefit from this.

According to, a website that complies statistics, outside of youth unemployment, new immigrants had the highest unemployment in the Canadian workforce. Immigrants who had been in Canada for less than five years had an unemployment rate of 9.4 per cent compared to the national average of 5.8 per cent. also showed that on average new immigrants made almost half of what the native-born population was making. These figures held true even for those immigrants who had been in the country for over five years.

This has been the harsh and often undiscussed reality of life for many first-generation immigrants arriving in Canada. There have been several reports in local newspapers about the declining health of immigrants and their general well-being. A report on Global News stated that immigrant and refugee youths were more likely to end up in ER for mental health care.

There are success stories as well, but they are the minority. A vast majority of new immigrants who come to Canada are less fortunate. One such story is the life of Amjad Ghani who came to Canada with great hopes and expectations. Despite all the hard work he has put in trying to realize the Canadian dream, he still feels lost.

Amjad Ghani goes for a walk on Saturday, April 2 in Cambridge, Ont. Photo by Ahmad Khan

Ghani is a Cambridge resident. Standing almost 6 foot 3 and with a muscular frame, he is an imposing figure. He has a beard that shows signs of glittering grey hair, which does not do justice to his age, as he is only in his mid 30s.

Ghani arrived in Canada in 2007. Before coming to this country he went to school in Ireland, and did business studies there. Like many others, he was attracted to Canada’s reputation as a land of opportunity for the best and the brightest.

“I came here with a lot of enthusiasm. I was already in Ireland, and the standard of living there is comparable to Canada’s. But the size of this country and its amazing reputation convinced me.”

Ghani fits the profile of what a prototypical Canadian should be. Hard working with an uncompromising work ethic, he does all he can to make ends meet. He is a loving father of three beautiful children, two boys and one girl. He takes them swimming on the weekends and to Churchill Park during weekdays. He is very active in his community and volunteers at various community events.

Ghani initially went to Calgary. Alberta was still booming at the time and was considered the place to go. However, he could not secure any meaningful work in an office environment.

“It was beautiful, the city I mean, there was optimism in the air. Everyone there felt we were going to be successful, and make millions.”

 Most of the work involved driving trucks or going into the mines. He did not have the required documents to drive a truck, and he found the mining jobs depressing. Ghani eventually found a job at a local pizza outlet. He was both shocked and surprised at what he discovered there.

“I mean it was surprising, the workforce I mean. The person delivering the pizza was a doctor. The one making the pizza was an engineer. The one making the boxes was a PHD professor.”

Ghani did not lose heart and kept working. He knew that his big break would eventually come, but then the recession hit, and his hours even at the pizza place were drastically cut. His wife felt lonely as she struggled to make new friends.

“There was not a proper social structure there so we decided to move to Ontario.”

The family moved in 2010. Ghani once more found it difficult to secure permanent employment. He did what he could to make ends meet including working night shifts in factories, driving a cab on his off days and also helping people move furniture.
Then someone told him about a family sponsorship program in Saskatchewan

“We were struggling emotionally. My wife was lonely, and, I, too, used to get homesick.”

The family decided to move to Saskatchewan and sponsor some family members to come to Canada to join them and alleviate some of the social isolation that they were feeling.

Living in Saskatoon was quite an experience, one that he does not reflect upon with any positivity. The weather was extreme. Calgary was cold, but the city still had a certain energy. Saskatoon, on the other hand, was depressing.

“I had heard stories about this place, but I was here to see if I could sponsor my brother and sister, so they could join us here in Canada. In those days in order to sponsor someone, you just had to prove that you were a resident of the province and that you had enough resources to support yourself.”

Ghani found employment at a local Walmart and started filling all the requirements of becoming a resident of the province. However, tragedy struck, when from out of the blue the province amended its immigration laws and Ghani was no longer able to sponsor his siblings.

“I wondered to myself what kind of a democracy is this? I don’t think they fully thought through the impact these sudden policy changes have on people’s lives.”

Under the circumstances Ghani had little reason to stay in Saskatoon and decided to move back to southern Ontario. He moved to Cambridge because it was cheaper to rent there, and it was still fairly close to Milton and Mississauga, two cities that have a high concentration of immigrants.

Ghani enrolled at Conestoga College and decided to pursue a career in the trades. His finances were not great. This actually impeded his ability to properly integrate into the Canadian way of life, because, quite simply, he could not afford to spend $2 on a Tim Hortons coffee when he knew he could brew his own by buying raw coffee beans for $6.

Amjad Ghani often helps people around his Cambridge neighbourhood. Photo By Ahmad Khan

“I had tried for years to find employment where it was a more office environment, but to no avail. So I decided to go into the trades where I knew in the future, even if I am still self-employed, there will be stable and consistent work.”

“I do not want my children to grow up in poverty. As a parent, I have made a considerable sacrifice and I want my kids to enjoy all the great things that this country has to offer. But without proper employment, we are forced to retreat into our own little communities. Many people think we are closed off, while in reality, we have little choice.

“Most people here face similar challenges and are more sympathetic and understanding of our situation. I do not blame the native Canadian, because their reality is very different from ours. I hear them talking about doing three different jobs, while I can’t even get an interview for a single one.”

Conestoga’s two-year program gave him significant skills to launch a career specializing in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC). There was a lot of hard work involved, as he had to completely change his career trajectory and his attitude. 

“You almost feel like you are back to square one,” he said in a somber tone. It is the tone of a man who is still defiant yet now also discouraged by the amount of defeats and setbacks he has had to endure. He completed the program and was able to find part-time work in Brantford.

He worked for a couple of years till tragedy struck again. While attempting to install a heating unit, he slipped and lost his balance and as a result he badly injured his foot and back. Doctors told him it would take at least eight weeks to heal. Since he was working as an independent contractor, he lost his job.

The rehabilitation process was slow. The matter was further complicated when it was discovered that the injury was more severe than initially expected. It took almost four months to heal to a point where he felt confident that he could work again.

But once again it was difficult to re-enter the workforce. Employers would ask him why there was a gap in his employment history, and he was honest when answering. And even though Canadian law does not allow employers to discriminate against people who were laid off due to injuries, he would sense a certain amount of reservation in regards to hiring him

One avenue that immigrants can use to have a better chance at securing employment is through working with not-for-profit organizations such as Lutherwood and the YMCA. People at these organizations have been trained and possess unique skills that can help new immigrants who are looking for work.

Carlos Martins works as a marketing and outreach coordinator at Lutherwood, a not-for-profit organization that helps job seekers, including new immigrants. Martins immigrated to Canada in 2014 from his native Brazil, and is well aware of the challenges and opportunities for new immigrants.

Martins said barriers include not having a proper resume, not knowing how to conduct oneself when going for an interview, the lack of knowledge about Canadian standards and lack of Canadian experience.

He also said that, as far as lacking experience is concerned, it is not the immigrant’s fault. “How can they be expected to have Canadian experience if no one is willing to offer them a job?” he asked. He also cited the lack of preparedness and inflexibility of attitude present in some immigrants.

“It is very important to understand the job market. Many newcomers do not prepare themselves before immigrating to Canada, and create high expectations that, later, will get them frustrated professionally. LinkedIn is an example. Some of them have never heard of it and others think it is just a portal for dropping off their resumes. But LinkedIn is so much more than that. It is a tool that helps you build your brand and market yourself, by building relationships.”

Martins shared his own experience. He first visited Canada to get the feel of the country. He did extensive research online to see what type of skills and jobs were in demand in Canada. When he finally came here he located a call centre that required people to speak both English and his native Portuguese. It was not the greatest of starts but he adjusted to the situation. This is the advice he gives to migrants, both new and the ones who have been here for a number of years.

“It is very important that immigrants also manage their expectation. Many who come here have had extensive management experience, but it is in a different context. For example, someone had been a marketing manager back home. But now they expect to find the same level and type of job after immediately arriving in Canada. When this does not materlize, they become disappointed.”

Martins had one very important bit of advice for immigrants who have been in Canada for a longer period, and that is always to be confident. A lot of times after repeated failures, people tend to have little confidence. When they go for interviews this becomes apparent to the potential employer making them less appealing as a promising candidate for the job.

Meanwhile, Ghani continues to go for interviews and continuously keeps getting rejected. He is frustrated.

“The construction industry is supposed to be booming, and we are short on trained people. I read in the news that employers can’t fill vacant posts, but I can’t seem to find work. I am almost at the point of giving up.”

Ghani is uncertain about his future. He tries to weigh his options as coldly and calmly as he can. But the stress and anxiety he feels is obvious. He would sometimes rub his hands together, other times briefly clenching his fists just to relive the tension.

“Maybe I should go back to school and further diversify my education. That should make me potentially more attractive to employers. Or maybe I should just admit that this is all I will ever amount to, living from day-to-day, paycheck to paycheck, with no stable job or career.”

“What will my wife tell my children when they ask her what their father does? These are painful questions, but I will have to face these in the future.

“I want my kids to be proud of their father, but the way life is at the moment I don’t know how things will end up.”

However Ghani is not oblivious to all the benefits he also enjoys living in Canada.

“At least my kids can go to school and get a great education. I know if I am sick I still have access to a doctor and to the best health care available anywhere in the world. These things make this country so amazing, and I know I am luckier than a lot of other people by just being here.”

Syed Mohammad Irfan, a Pakistani citizen who spent over a decade working as a top banking executive in the United Arab Emirates, came to Canada in 2013. Irfan agrees with Martins’ assessment, but only up to a certain point.

“Canadian businesess are very particular and precise about what skill sets they require. If you develop the right skill set you will eventually be able to land stable employment.”

Irfan, however, also spoke of another stark reality.

“There is no getting over the disadvantage of not having a network. I had to start at the bottom again, and there is no way I can achieve my real potential. But this is the risk you take coming to a new country.”

Rukuia Bibi is another resident of Cambridge who came to Canada from India in 2006 after her brother sponsored her. Once she acquired her permanent residence her husband was able to join her.

The couple has been working in factories for the last 10 years. In 2017 her husband had a serious accident at work. Sultana broke down in tears.

“He had been working for 12 hours every day for the past six days. He fell and hurt his back. He is a good man, but now he can’t do anything.”

Her husband now has a permanent disability that means he cannot do hard labour. The factory could not find a replacement job for him that would be physically less demanding so he has been unemployed since. He has no benefits or any insurance coverage.

Bibi said she wakes up at 5 a.m. each morning.

“It is backbreaking work. I have three children and can barely make ends meet.

“We really don’t feel like a family. But I am still content. What if this had happened in India? At least in Canada people look after the sick and the disadvantaged.”

Immigrants represent Canada’s present and future. The country has benefited economically, socially, politically and demographically by the arrival of these people. They do all the jobs that most Canadians don’t want to do. They can be seen driving taxies, delivering pizzas, stocking shelves, pushing carts and flipping burgers, just to have a chance to live the Canadian dream.

Men like Ghani are perhaps this nation’s greatest asset. He is a proud Canadian who has never believed in making excuses, and every day he gives it his all. But as he looks outside his window towards the dying sun, he still hopes and prays that his resolve does not die with it.

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