Natalia came to Canada from Colombia. She feared for her life back home, and quickly applied for refugee status in Canada. The paperwork took a long time—four years—but it wasn’t the main problem Natalia faced. A journalist in her home country, she struggled to find a paid position in Montreal. She stresses that she tried everything, from unpaid positions to job clearly below her skills. Eventually, she decided to go back to Colombia, where the political situation had gotten better.
In a way, like she said, immigrating in Canada met her expectations: she came as a refugee as asked for protection, and Canada did protect her. Nonetheless, she remains disappointed that fitting in the local job market proved to be much harder than she had thought.
1) What brought you to Canada?
I visited Canada a couple of times since 1996 and, unfortunately, my job as a journalist in Colombia forced me to remain in Canada for almost 5 years, from 2007 to 2010.
In 2006, I came to Canada and the U.S for a couple of months. While I was there, the situation in Colombia got worse for I decided to ask for protection. I applied for refugee status in Canada.
While I was in Canada, the Colombian government extradited a group of paramilitaries, including the one who was threatening my family. Members of my family who were in exile came back to Colombia. My exile was over, there was no reason for me to stay away of my family, relatives and friends if I could not get at least the same level of salary that I was used to having.
2) Did you find the immigration process difficult?
Canada is very organized in terms of immigration, no matter what kind of application you are dealing with. The immigration process is not difficult at all, especially if you speak English or French. And for those who don’t know the official languages, there is always a free translation service. My process took almost 4 years. I hired a lawyer, but I did most of the paperwork.
3) How long did it take you to find a job that you liked in Canada? What kind of obstacles did you face?
I never actually got a paying job in Canada and I faced a lot of issues.
I’m a journalist. I speak English and French, worked free-lance and I have a lot of experience. I even created a festival for the Latin Community, but I never got a chance to make money or to have a good salary.
The big issue in Quebec is that employers want prospective employees to have a previous “Canadian experience”. Meanwhile, to gain experience in Canada, you end up working very hard as a volunteer for free. I applied for positions at CTV, Radio Canada, CBC… but the market is closed, even for French-Canadian.
Meanwhile, Emploi-Quebec (note: the local employment centre) ask applicants to keep a low profile, regardless of their backgrounds, experiences, and opportunities available. They mean well though, and they want to help, but unfortunately they are discouraging applicants. They disregard the fact that the new generation of immigrants have better education, experience, language skills, and higher goals than before. For instance, I worked as a counsellor for the United Nations and the best job I found in Montreal was a position as a customer service agent for a telemarketing company!
So I decided to go on my own way, to learn as much as I could, to cover all the international festivals, to create my own festival and to leave a trace for the Latin-American artists and for the community. I have my own website, www.nataliagnecco.com, where I published some of my work.
I am very grateful for the experience I got, but once my problems were solved, I left Montreal to find better opportunities outside Quebec.
4) Where did you learn French/ English? What was your second language level when you first came to Canada?
I learned English in Michigan. I studied French in Colombia and my French was very basic at first, so I took a three-month course to improve my writing skills.
5) What was your biggest culture shock?
First, the stereotypes. It’s not because someone is from Colombia that he/she isn’t educated, doesn’t have manners, experience etc. It was interesting to prove how much we can give as immigrants.
Second, conformity. The Canadian government is a “sugar daddy” and there are a lot of “losers” who have no dreams, no passion to do anything. People sometimes give up as soon as there is a problem, and they are not ready for change.
6) What haven’t you gotten used to yet in Canada?
To live away from my family. To have everything, except the spirit to enjoy!
7) Did immigrating to Canada match your expectations?
Yes, it did, because as a refugee, I need a place where I could be safe. Canada did that for me.
8) Do you find life expensive in Canada compared to your home country?
Everything is more expensive, except the access to the culture.
9) Are you planning to apply for Canadian citizenship when you will meet the requirements?
I don’t think so. I’m back in Colombia and my priority now is to recover the time lost with my family and to make a living.
10) What advice would you give to someone from your home country interested in immigrating to Canada?
If you are a professional and decide to come live in Canada, weight the pros and cons before leaving your country. Most of the time, people have to learn new skills or start over. Be aware that it will take at least four years to get a good job. Choose your province based on your professional profile. Network, because you must have a first Canadian experience to get a job. Doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects, dentists etc. all need a special certification to work in their field.
Every case is different. However, it’s good to know other people experiences.
Si usted es profesional y decide vivir en Canadá, por favor piense bien en los pros y contras antes de dejar su país de origen. La mayoría de las personas deben reinventarse profesionalmente o comenzar desde ceros. Un inmigrante necesita como mínimo cuatro años para poder integrarse y conseguir un buen trabajo. Además, es obligatorio tener experiencia canadiense para poder trabajar en Canadá y para tener oportunidades debe crear una red de contactos. Los doctores, ingenieros, abogados, arquitectos, dentistas, todos necesitan pertenecer a las ordenes profesionales para poder ejercer su profesión. En Quebec, hay que estudiar mucho, pagar los exámenes para poder ingresar a las órdenes, los médicos diplomados en el extranjero tienen que vencer muchísimos obstáculos.
Cada caso es diferente. Sin embargo hay que conocer las experiencias ajenas y aprender de ellas.