Happy times, hard times: Two sides of the Canadian immigrant coin

posted on April 10, 2014

By Metro News | Link to Article

Priscilla Bunke has come a long way, in more ways than one.

By Metro News | Link to Article

Priscilla Bunke has come a long way, in more ways than one.

Her route to Canada was via Germany, where she spent 11 years. She then worked through a process of requalifying as a lawyer in Alberta, completing that in May 2012.

It’s been 18 years since Bunke left her native Nigeria, and she’s now a successful specialist in securities and derivatives regulatory law, as well as the energy and oil industries, with Dentons law firm in Calgary.

If that sounds impressive, it’s because it is.

“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “But many people come here and succeed.”

There’s been a lot of work in the last 11 years, including 12 exams just to requalify in Canada.

“I wouldn’t lie,” said Bunke, 45, who has a 14-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. “Life is very good now. I’m very happy now. But it was tough.”

She said working in Germany — where she completed a master’s degree and worked as a corporate counsel for an insurance company — was tougher, mainly due to the language barrier.

In Canada, Bunke was able to find work quickly, spending three years as a legal researcher while she requalified.

But adjusting to Canada after she arrived in July 2007 brought its own challenges.

There’s a greater emphasis on networking, she explained, and the lessons come thick and fast.

“What I’ve realized here is that, if you are open to learning, then people are really, really kind and ready to help,” Bunke said, adding that she values the Canadian mentors who offered their time.

“I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to meet people who have been amazing.”

It’s been a tough few years for Jamie Martinez.

He’s 54-years-old and came to Canada from Colombia in January 2008.

Nowadays, he works as executive director of the Latino Canadian Community Corporation in London, Ont., and is a leading light in the London Multicultural Club.

But getting this far has been a struggle.

“My original background is mechanical engineering,” Martinez said. “But I worked for Goodyear in Colombia for 17 years in human resources. I wanted to do something the same when I came to Canada, but I couldn’t.”

First, there was a language barrier.

Two ESL courses helped with that, but even applying for jobs was a problem, so there followed lessons in creating a resume and looking for work.

Martinez spent years being offered only labourer jobs, and he’s also been forced to tap into the welfare system. But he stayed determined to work in administration, in a similar job to the one he had in Colombia.

It took three years before he landed an office job, and he says his experience isn’t rare — even the large numbers of university-educated immigrants face a steep climb, he said.

Martinez, who is in the country on a work visa and still trying, after six years, to get permanent resident status, says he’s committed to Canada.

“Canada is amazing,” he said. “We love Canada. It’s so family-oriented.”

But he called on employers to be more open to newcomers, whose status is easily signalled with a SIN card number that starts with “9.”

“We don’t get real help to get a job,” he said about immigrants. “We need more help to overcome all the problems we have.”

Read more: More from The Story of Us: How immigration Created Canada