Sophia Solomon was excited to move from her home country of the United Arab Emirates to attend Memorial University in St. John’s.
“Canada was always a dream,” she said.
But before long, it hit her: she was halfway across the world, didn’t really know anyone and had to start over from scratch — at school and at work.
Solomon worked while attending university, and while she said she’s had good experiences with employers in the province, she wasn’t treated very well in the first couple of retail jobs she held.
“I have been laid off for absolutely no reason. I wasn’t given an explanation and it made no sense when it was just only me,” she said in an interview with The St. John’s Morning Show.
“That really does affect your mental health when you are in a completely new country and you don’t really have anybody to go to.”
Newcomers ‘equal partners’ in province’s future
Stories like Solomon’s are exactly what the Association for New Canadians (ANC) and Memorial University economics professor Tony Fang are hoping to hear through their new public engagement project.
The ANC and Fang want to learn about immigrants’ and newcomers’ experiences working in the province — why people are staying in their jobs, why people aren’t and what supports could help newcomers remain and thrive as employees in Newfoundland and Labrador.
It’s a timely moment for connecting with newcomer employees, as the provincial government announced nearly $8 million in funding last month to attract more than 5,000 newcomers a year over the next five years, largely driven by what Premier Andrew Furey called a “population crisis.”
Fang said that given the province’s declining population and dismal economic situation, residents should view these immigration quotas as “a free gift.”
“We should consider immigrants our equal partners for the future prosperity of the province,” he said.
In April, Fang and his research team released a report exploring employer attitudes toward hiring newcomers. Of the 801 employers surveyed across Atlantic Canada, Fang said 88 per cent reported positive experiences hiring newcomers.
Now, after learning from employers, Fang and the ANC hope to bridge gaps in understanding by connecting with newcomer employees.
Immigration a province-wide issue
Meaghan Philpott, manager of diversity and public education at the ANC, says it’s important to learn from the lived experiences of all newcomers — including permanent residents, refugees, international students, temporary workers and immigrants — in both rural and urban areas.
“Attraction and retention is a huge topic right now. And to fully understand why immigrants want to come and stay in the province, we have to hear from them first-person,” she said.
In-person consultations have already taken place in St. John’s. The facilitation team is also hosting in-person sessions in Corner Brook and Happy Valley-Goose Bay and area-specific virtual sessions for central Newfoundland and greater Labrador.
By hearing from the experiences of newcomers in the province, Philpott said the ANC hopes to translate the consultation results into improved policies — with a goal of helping newcomers find and keep meaningful employment.
“[The results] also will help inform government and other institutions and agencies who are really in this together, because immigration and retention is truly a whole provincial thing,” she said.
Support can go a long way
Three years after graduating with her psychology degree, Sophia Solomon is now working as an integration and settlement counselor with the ANC.
It’s a brand new position, and based on Solomon’s own experience of navigating permanent residency requirements, it’s one she feels is sorely needed.
“With the permanent resident process, it can be very overwhelming because there’s so many different pathways and you kind of have to figure out by yourself which pathway best suits you,” she said.
Solomon explained that after graduating — often with masters degrees and PhDs — many international students hope to stay and find jobs related to their field of study. But because of work permit requirements, many newcomers have to choose between pursuing work in their field, and finding a job with enough steady hours to meet permanent residency requirements.
“And most often people choose the second option,” Solomon said, “like I did initially, kind of just taking any job that came across my path that would help me get my PR so that I wouldn’t have to worry about having to leave the country.”
She said support can be helpful to keep newcomers in the province.
“We just need to recognize that newcomers don’t have it easy. We leave our family, we leave everything that we know behind just to start a better life … most newcomers want to stay here,” Solomon said.
“So just supporting each other, I think, goes a long way.”