Is Canada failing immigrants?

In 2002, Sepideh, an Iranian-trained physician, immigrated to Canada with her family. They settled in Toronto and within no time at all, found themselves trapped in low wage employment.

Things began to change when Sepideh visited a doctor to discuss her deteriorating health. The doctor, himself an immigrant, encouraged her to enrol in the University of Torontos licensing program. Sepideh gained entrance into U of T in 2003 and completed the program in four years. Thereafter she and her family moved to St. Johns where Sepideh is practicing medicine to this day. Meanwhile, her husband, who holds a chemistry graduate degree, is working on his PhD at Memorial University. Sepideh and her family became Canadian citizens in 2007.

Many stories similar to Sepidehs can be found at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website. The hard work of these citizens is definitely commendable, and everyone considering moving to Canada should know of it. But is the picture of Canadian immigration always that rosy?

Jennifer Wasike from Kenya had no choice but to enter the Live-In Caregivers Program, sponsored by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, to attain permanent residence in Canada, even though she had worked as a high school teacher in the past. According to a story in The Epoch Times, Jennifer was paid for an eight-hour workday even though she was putting in fourteenhour shifts. This happened not with one employer, but with several. One of them even limited the amount of food served at mealtime, and so Jennifer was constantly hungry. In another instance, her employer, ironically a taxation lawyer, neglected to deduct enough taxes from her pay, resulting in Jennifer receiving a bill from Revenue Canada for $2,758. Both the CIC and her employer refused to pay it, so she had to scramble to take out a bank loan.

Jennifers story does have a happy ending however. She eventually attained permanent residence in Canada, flew her family up here, and found reasonable employment. Other stories, however, are not so sweet-ending.

The Elmvale 11, a group of eleven Filipino men who arrived in Canada on the promise that they were to receive a job building two icebreakers for the Canadian Arctic, have one such story. Their job was supposed to pay $23 an hour including overtime pay, housing, and meals. Instead, they were forced to pick up garbage, dig ditches, and work at a water bottling plant. They had their passports taken away and were forced to live in a small, dirty farmhouse. They were fed scarcely and slept in cramped quarters. Eventually one of the men, Eric Martinez, decided to contact the Philippine embassy, whose staff rescued the men days later.

Further evidence shows that many immigrants in Canada are particularly vulnerable to poverty. According to a 2007 report released by Campaign 2000, an anti-poverty organization, children of immigrants in Ontario are twice as likely to be poor. And a 2007 report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that in the previous year immigrants who had been in the country for five years or less struggled the most to find employment, despite being university- educated.

Stories and data like these show that immigrant exploitation is an issue that needs to be taken seriously by the Canadian government. They also show that many immigrants are actively working to improve their lives, and make important contributions to our society — contributions that many Canadians often take for granted.

As in the case of Jennifer Wasike, how can we possibly ask immigrants to work hard, be well-educated, and build a good life in Canada when many of them often find their skills and education unrecognized by the government, and that they must put up with any low wage, dead-end employment they can get? If made for Canadian citizens, we would likely consider these demands unfair and reasonable. Shouldnt we expect the same of immigrants?

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