The Canadian Immigration Taboo: Those Who Go Back Home

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Gatineau, February 2012

Each year, about 250,000 immigrants from all around the world are granted permanent residence in Canada. For most of these newcomers, it’s the beginning of a new life after a several month-long or even several year-long wait.

And each year, an undisclosed number of permanent residents decide to go back home. Each immigrant has its own reason for kissing the “Canadian dream” goodbye, and these reasons are sometimes hard to express. Some immigrants are ashamed of going home, some are bullied into thinking that they didn’t try hard enough, and other are so resentful that nothing constructive comes out of their comments.

All immigrants go through a phase in which they hate Canada. Sometimes it happens during the lengthy immigration process: it’s hard to keep faith when you have to deal with so many administrative requirements, and when your life is pretty much put on hold waiting for someone to take a decision about your future. When I was into the process, I clearly remembered thinking that if my application was sent back to me again, I was heading back to France because I was sick and tired of that nonsense.

The rejection stage can also occur after the “honeymoon period”, when reality kicks in. Yes, Canada is fucking cold (or fucking humid, depending on the season). Yes, some Canadians don’t like immigrants. Yes, some employers are narrow-minded. Yes, the food may have been better back home. But most people eventually overcome this phase and settle down into a routine in their new country, as they become more familiar with it.

But for some immigrants, life Canada doesn’t turn out as good as expected. Life happens.

As a French, I was lucky to be able to spend almost two years in Canada before deciding to apply for permanent residence. During these two years, I “tested out” the country, started working, made friends, etc. But a lot of people from the so-called “developing countries” aren’t that lucky and can’t even get a tourist visa to visit the country they plan to immigrate to.

This can lead to a lot of issues because no matter how much you read about Canada and how prepared you are, you won’t know if the country is right for you until you actually experience it yourself.

So what can you do if you don’t see any other solution but going back home?

  • Take a deep breath and talk to other immigrants. Most will have experienced what you are going through. Try to see whether you are simply going through a “rejection phase” or whether the issues are deeper.
  • Consider moving to another province, or another city. Provinces each have their own culture and “vibe”, and as a permanent resident, you can live anywhere in Canada. Even if you apply for permanent residence through the Quebec program, you do not have to stay in Quebec if it doesn’t work out for you.
  • Remember that you can lose your permanent residence if you do not meet the residency requirements, i.e. being physically present in Canada for at least two years in every five-year period. You may not think much of it if you are sure you don’t want to live in Canada anymore, but I do know immigrants who regretted losing their permanent residence status. And if you do lose it, you have to start the immigration process from scratch.
  • Consider how long you have to wait until being eligible for citizenship. Of course, becoming a Canadian citizen may not be your goal if you do not want to live in Canada anymore. But it’s still a major milestone and can offer you new opportunities. If you are a few months’ short of meeting the requirements, keep that in mind before heading home.
  • Talk about your experience. It may be hard to be objective at first but sharing the “lessons learned” will help other immigrants deciding whether Canada is right for them.

Have you ever considered going back home? Did you go through a “rejection phase” in your new country?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

66 Comments

  1. I immigrated exactly 3 years ago and in the beginning, it was hard. The cold weather, different culture. I was lonely and in a big city that overwhelmed me. People from my (ethnic) community who had struggled for years warned me that I should lower my expectation and wouldn’t amount to much. I did the opposite. I embraced my fears, made new friends from different races/ethnicities as long as our values matched. I volunteered even when feeling sorry for myself. I asked for help. I made mistakes (lots).I forced myself out of my comfort zone. I chose to be grateful for small victories. I was under utilized in my first job changed jobs after 2 years(went back to school). My first boss sucked but I am now blessed with a wonderful boss. I like my colleagues and what I do. I have hard to push myself really hard these 3 years but it has paid off. I just recently bought a small town home and have hosted a new comer. Canada is becoming home. When I visited my home country recently, I got homesick for Canada. Its been a journey and still is. I miss my extended family that’s the challenge of being a first generation immigrant. I still hate the crazy winters but so do most Canadians. When I stopped complaining (or to be more accurate, significantly cut back on complaining), I found opportunities. And not just me. I have immigrant friends who have been here about 5 years that are doing ok. But I also know some who have been here for 10 years and are convinced you can’t make it

    • Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m glad to hear that, despite struggles, you are making it here. Out of curiosity, where are you from? Is there anything you would have done differently looking back?

  2. I been here for 5 years, did well in my professional field by getting job within few month after arrival. Financially we are doing well. However, I am one of those who really is not enjoying living in Canada. It is not about the country itself. Its just we have no ‘fit”. I call it no chemistry 🙂 I lived in few countries before and never had such a difficulty. Although i tried really hard to like my life here, to wait and see, to socialize, travelled around, etc. I feel that I do not fit and do not belong here. And, honestly, i do not really like it that much, to stay here regardless of personal discomfort. The further it is – the worse it becomes. So i think we are going to move home soon. Again, Canada is good place, decently managed country but I think there are certain personalities that chock on overly regulated, sterile, and predictable life. I am one of those 🙂

        • To pick up on further questions, it seems that motivation for immigration is important too. For us it was rather displacement due to instability in the region. On the other hand, we lived in Europe for work, and we liked it. I would be able to live and blend in there because i it corresponds to my needs, my preferred life style, and my subjective “love it” state of mind.

          • I completely understand and I agree with you, motivation matters. When you are forced to leave your country because of political conditions, you may hope to return one day when things get better (I’m just assuming based on discussions I had with people here from Lebanon, Iraq, etc.). You leave… because you have too.

            Many immigrants report that they feel excluded in Europe, though. Many EU countries aren’t as inclusive as North America. Did you feel it in Europe?

  3. I think that perception of North America as “immigrant” society is a myth, at least in Canada. Yes there are lots of immigrants but society is predominantly (80%) of anglo saxon descend. People live in mostly in segregations based on ethnicity/nationality. Rarely, or never I met immigrants who can say that they are real friends with locals. In addition, At work there is discrimination (another taboo) and its difficult to progress on career ladder (just like everywhere else). In Quebec I heard many stories on how rude locals can be toward non-francophone yet I never encountered any issues. I tend to approach people with smile and respect – so never run into a problem. Moreover, I realized that we always are going to be excluded so we prefer to live in milder climate, surrounded by richer culture, beautiful architecture, have more opportunities to travel and explore lucrative locations. We like compact diversity of Europe. i do not expect establishing deep relationship or lifelong friendship there.

    • I can’t speak for Quebec where there is a strong sense of identity… and I’m not sure I qualify to speak as an immigrant because even though I am one, I’m technically closer to a WASP than someone from Middle-East or Africa and I’m probably less likely to be discriminated against. Case in point, when Feng and I are together, people often assume he is the newcomer even though he has been living in Canada for most of his life… I am the most recent immigrant!

      I understand what you say about newcomers living together, by ethnic groups. I’ve seen that too.

  4. We did not feel included there and here. I think it is impossible to blend completely into foreign culture with different mentality because we don’t share humour, have different values/priorities , and lived experiences . I guess we can’t be included in a sense of being totally assimilated with locals and “being on the same page”. Immigrants are be accepted in, respected, and will be tolerated as long as they play by game rules. Last is true for living in any foreign country. People can learn to behave and respond in a certain culturally expected way but will never truly become “local”. On the other hand, are we truly “included” in our countries? How long does it take to blend in, when person moves to new city or change work – it might take from month to years. So i would not blame Europe or Canada for being not “from within “. On the same note, what do is meant by the concept of inclusion? It would be interesting to explore what is meant by being not included for different people is it not having social ties, being discriminated, poorly treated, or just being homesick, and therefore, seeing world darker that it is. 🙂

    • Wow, this is fascinating. You truly have a lot to say about it, I wish we could meet in person!

      I think for me it was easier to adopt Canada because I was young, 19 when I came here, and I wanted to belong. But now I feel differently and there are Canadian values I’m starting to reject because… this is just not me. Like you said, I trained myself to behave and respond a certain way but deep down, sometime it bothers me.

      • Great inputs from both of you.

        It seems to me that the issue is that there will always be cultural values that either one resonates with or that one rejects. So far in my experience one tends to see the positive cultural values first and the negative ones tend to become more accentuated later on when the ‘honey moon’ period wears off. Funny thing is that this happens even with your own culture. There are values form my ‘home’ culture that I can’t stand. I guess the tipping point is when the cons outweigh the pros.

        I once asked my father-in-law, who has been living in the US for more than 20 years, if he ever found something he hated from the US and made him want to go back to his original country. He basically said that he sees three stages: first you love everything about it (the ‘honey moon’ period), then you become disillusioned, as you start seeing the ugly side of the culture you have adopted, but then, on the third stage, you learn to balance both. You see both the good and the bad, then you analyse whether you can live with it or not. That would be the tipping point I guess.

        • Excellent analysis!

          One more thing I should add is that, based on my experience (over ten years in Canada), you are never done analyzing your former country and your new one… and whatever place you may get to know in between. I think once you immigrated, once you get to experience another culture and other points of view, you constantly reconsider every assumption, every custom.

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