Highly educated female immigrants say Canada isn't on their side

If you're an aspiring immigrant with a science degree, don't expect to find good work in Canada, say various immigrant women in Vancouver.

Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology meeting

Jayashree Shrivastava, a 38-year-old environmental scientist from India, says if she could start over, she'd go south of the border.

“I'm telliing people from India who want to immigrate to try the U.S. first, and not Canada. The U.S. will recognize your education and experience and Canada will not," Shrivastava said.

“My sister is finishing her Ph.D. in the U.S. and she is much farther ahead in her career than I am.”

After seven stressful years of looking for work in her own field here in Canada, Shrivastava is only now coming to terms with the realization that her dream of contributing to the sciences in Canada has diminished.

Feelings of frustration, isolation and depression have been a part of daily life for Shrivastava, who tried to communicate her experience with the Ministry of Environment in India to Canadian employers.

Shortly after her arrival to Canada, Shrivastava spent over a year meeting with employers in order to understand the credentials and requirements for her occupation. Her ordeal took a toll emotionally and had a considerable cost. As part of her journey to find a job in Canada, Shrivastava returned to India for a month to gather documentation of her education and work experience to demonstrate to Canadian employers.

After several unsuccessful years of trying to gain meaningful employment in her field, Shrivastava found a part-time job with Canada Post.

“I felt very stressed and sick. I had to start working part-time,” Shrivastava said of her transitional years in Canada.

She was working for Canada Post and has been out of work due to the strike. While she is luckier than some, who have faced long-term unemployment, she was hoping she could make a contribution to Canada that matches her years of education and experience.

In June, The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST) hosted an event at a local Vancouver pub  to provide an opportunity for women in the sciences to exchange industry news and meet familiar faces. It helped women like Shrivastava learn about  opportunities and offered a supportive place for the women to express their apprehensions.

Gordana Pejic, an engineer who first arrived to Canada in 1999, understands Shrivastava's response and feelings of despair.

“The biggest problem for immigrant women in the sciences is their understanding of how to present their experience to employers and the technical English language in the industry," Pejic said.

With Pejic’s insights as an immigrant who is trying to get a break in the field, she has taken on the role of director of Immigrating Women in Science Project (IWIS). A not-for-profit organization with no formal funding, IWIS is a program of the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology and hosts three events per year, providing much needed  support to female newcomers.

Mojgan Kavoosi, who works as a chemical engineer for a pharmaceutical company, got her education from UBC and said that being a woman in the sciences can come with distinct disadvantages.

Some fields of engineering are more male dominated, for example, civil engineering," she said. In her field of chemical engineering, she said, it is a pretty even ratio of male and female.

Kavoosi said that these types of networking events have helped women in the sciences where there continues to exist an "old boys' club" which continues to be hard to crack into.

Pejic feels it is important to break down misperceptions that immigrant women may have about how to approach their job search in Canada.

“Women from other countries are treated differently than in Canada. In other countries, women are not encouraged to be proud and speak out about their accomplishments; here in Canada, you must do this to succeed,” said Pejic.

One possible remedy to eliminate the barriers that immigrant women may experience is a mentor program. Pejic feels that "mentors with other women in the same field would help these newcomers understand the step by step process here in Canada and discover hidden opportunities in the industry."

Johanne Nadeau, communications advisor for the B.C. and Yukon Region, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, responds to the concerns that highly skilled immigrant women are unable to supply the Canadian job market with their years of education and knowledge.

“Finding a job in Canada may be different from finding a job in another country. Canada attracts skilled and talented professionals from around the world and the Government of Canada is committed to providing them with the information and referral services they need in Canada, beginning overseas, so they can succeed in our labour market,” Nadeau explained.

As part of the government’s ongoing efforts to increase the likelyhood that immigrants will find a job in their trained occupation, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, through the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP), run by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC), offer services abroad to skilled immigrants before they arrive to Canada.

Through CIIP, the government of Canada offers overseas orientation sessions to prospective skilled immigrants in India, China, the Philippines and now, the United Kingdom. Over 9,000 professionals have taken part in training sessions on how to have their credentials recognized in Canada.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has in recent years welcomed between 240,000 and 265,000 new permanent residents, annually.  In 2010, Canada welcomed the highest number of legal immigrants in more than 50 years, at 280,636 permanent residents.  This was done to support Canada’s post-recession economy.

Are skilled immigrant workers in Canada an important aspect of Canada's future economy?

CIC responds with a yes. Over the medium-term, due to Canada’s aging population, immigrants will account for all labour force growth sometime this decade.

Before then, though, we continue to need economic immigrants to meet persistent sectoral and regional labour market demands.  Economic immigrants with transferable skills, education and experience are particularly important because they are able to adapt to our changing economy.  Economic immigrants also help Canada stay globally competitive and drive improvements in innovation and productivity.

While the Canadian government continues to make significant advancements for newcomers and immigration, the reality for Shrivastava is a faded dream of working in her profession in Canada.

“I am disappointed I can’t contribute my skills, but I no longer feel the need to prove myself in Canada,” said Shrivastava.

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