‘There is no life for us’ in city, newcomers say
Professional couple ponders return to India
By Sonia Verma
Part 1: Faith and fear (June 29)
Part 2: Beyond their imagination (July 6)
Part 3: Long day’s journey into new life (July 13)
Part 4: First day dizzy with culture shock (July 14)
Part 5: Crumpled with doubt (Aug. 11)
Part 6: ‘There is no life for us’ (Sept. 22)
Gulraj Rijhwani knows he had reasons for packing his bags and moving his family to Canada, but these days he has trouble remembering them.
The promises that drew his family here from their home in New Delhi bubble up occasionally in his mind: a bright future for his kids, the best health care system in the world, clean air and social security.
Now that his family has been here for more than two months, what’s most in his mind is packing his bags and going home.
“It would be difficult for us to go back, but here we feel there is no life for us,” his wife Geeta has been saying for weeks.
“We still have patience, we still have hope and people are still telling us that we will find something. We would still really like to stay,” Gulraj said yesterday.
The federal government, which issues about 250,000 immigrant visas a year, has no mechanism for tracking how many newcomers return home. If the Rijhwanis decide to go back to India, nobody at Citizenship and Immigration Canada would likely notice or understand why.
“At this point we feel it’s best to cut our losses and go back to our old life. The more time we waste, the more money we waste,” Geeta said last week.
When the Rijhwanis decided to immigrate to Canada, they knew it was a bit of a gamble. The visa application process took nearly three years and cost more than $4,500.
They had no family connections in Canada, no firm job offers and came with most of their life’s savings, about $90,000. They believed they would struggle at first, but were confident that with hard work, they could find decent jobs and provide a good life for their two sons, Karan, 16, and Arjun, 10.
The boys have started classes at local public schools where many of their classmates are also new immigrants. Karan and Arjun are at the top of their classes and have started to make friends.
“If mom and dad decide to leave, I would really like to stay,” says Karan who is in the eleventh grade at Lincoln M. Alexander high school. He would work part-time to support himself, find a room somewhere, he thinks. At school he’s met other students who have an easier time finding jobs than their parents.
If he went back to India now, he reasons, everything his parents sacrificed would be in vain.
The Rijhwanis were issued visas under an old point system that matched immigrants’ skills to the needs of Canada’s labour market. As his family’s principle applicant, Gulraj listed his intended occupation as a business development officer, a position he believed needed to be filled in Canada.
“(Canada) is a land of opportunity, be it in the professions or in business and industry. Demographic dictates require that Canada bring in people to replace and replenish its workforce, thus its need for immigration,” reads the glossy brochure he received from his immigration consultant.
But so far, neither Gulraj nor Geeta has been able to find meaningful work.
“Skilled worker” — what the federal government calls the 150,000 people who immigrate to Canada every year — has become an ironic title.
The work they have managed to find has been part-time, low-paying, temporary and tiring. They live off their settlement funds, and have begun to worry about running out of money.
Their initial sense of optimism about life in Canada has been replaced by a creeping sense of humiliation and betrayal.
“We did not come to Canada to work as general labourers,” he says. “We came here believing there would be jobs for us in our field of expertise.”
In India, Gulraj was a senior logistics manager at one of New Delhi’s well-known pharmaceutical companies. He had 25 years of experience, a secretary, a cellphone and an expense account.
Gulraj would socialize with his managers after work. On his last day, his colleagues threw him a party and his boss referred to him as “a pillar” of the company.
Geeta worked as a teller at the State bank, earning enough to supplement her family’s income. The hours were flexible. She was able to see her children off to school and greet them when they came home.
Together, the Rijhwanis earned the equivalent of about $2,250 a month — a comfortable salary by Indian standards. They could afford to send their sons to private school, pay for hired help, buy a car and a personal computer.
In Canada, Gulraj landed his first job after just a week of looking. Flush with excitement, he called from an orientation session at a downtown hotel to say that he had been hired for “a marketing position for Ontario’s newly expanded energy market.”
He came home after his first day of work exhausted and dejected. It turned out his job was to sell hydro connections door to door. He would be only paid commission — $20 for an electrical connection and $40 for a gas hook-up.
So far, he had sold just half a dozen connections. His commission didn’t even cover the cost of transportation to get from home to his assigned neighbourhood.
But he did learn one valuable lesson: He was not alone. Behind dozens of doors, he found immigrants like himself, frustrated by false promises and a lack of opportunities.
He also heard alarming stories of people who had become hooked on antidepressants to cope with their problems. There were even rumours of suicide.
“There are people from China, Korea, from Pakistan and Indians like myself. All of us are in the same position. We left our lucrative jobs and good relations back home and are treated like second-class citizens here,” Gulraj says.
A couple of weeks later he took a minimum wage job packaging shampoo, conditioner and deodorant at a factory in Mississauga. At the end of his shift, his boss told him someone had called in sick and asked him to fill in for another eight hours.
Tired and sore, Gulraj said he couldn’t. His boss told him not to bother coming back.
The same day, Geeta applied for a job as a cashier at a local jewellery store. At her interview, she was told she would have to train for two months without pay because she didn’t have any Canadian experience.
“How are we supposed to get Canadian experience if nobody will give us a job?” she asks.
At home, they feel their family life beginning to fray.
In India, their days were bracketed by hot breakfasts and late-night dinners.
These days, all they have time for is frozen food. Sometimes, they don’t even speak to each other because of their busy schedules.
“In India the most important thing is your family. You should be together first thing in the morning and last thing at night,” Geeta had explained in an earlier interview while still living in the family’s New Delhi flat.
“We came here for our children, but what kind of a life can we provide them if we are not happy,” Geeta says now.
The Rijhwanis have attended workshops to help them find work and sent out more than 1,000 résumés. They have learned to tailor them to the job they apply for, trimming down their experience and cutting out their college degrees.
Gulraj and those he has met have developed their own theory on why the Canadian government continues to accept increasing numbers of immigrants when there are no jobs: “This way there is a steady stream of general labourers who do the jobs Canadians don’t want to do,” he explains. “Nobody here recognizes our qualifications.”
Last June, just before the Rijhwanis boarded a plane for Canada, Ottawa announced new rules to its immigration system. The changes in the point system gives preference to applicants with transferable skills and existing connections in Canada, but critics say it will be a barrier to many of the blue-collar workers who would have qualified under the old system and are needed in Canada’s work force.
The other day, Gulraj called his former boss in New Delhi and asked if he could have his old job back. His boss agreed.
They will wait for a few more months to see what happens. The school year in India begins in April and if they go back, Karan and Arjun will have lost a year in school.
“Why waste more time?” Geeta asks, but her husband disagrees.
“I am still very hopeful, looking for opportunity to find jobs in my field. I am trying my best.”