Kyron Laffan is an interesting example of migration come full circle. Originally from Ireland, he first became acquainted with Newfoundland because of the wave of Newfoundlanders who moved to Ireland in the 1990s during that country’s economic boom.
“During the years of the Celtic Tiger we had a labour shortage in Ireland in the service industry. So what the Irish government did was recruited Newfoundlanders to work in the hotels and the pubs. During the boom, [Irish] people moved from those jobs to higher paying jobs, and left a void that couldn’t be filled.”
Owing to the cultural similarities, Irish recruiters specifically targeted Newfoundlanders to fill labour shortages in that country. Laffan befriended many of them, and so when Ireland’s economy began to sputter at the same time as Newfoundland’s began to grow, he decided he’d have better opportunities following his Newfoundland friends back to their homes.
“I could see things going belly up in Ireland, it hadn’t quite hit but I could see the Celtic Tiger slowing to a crawl.”
With a business degree and 25 years experience in asbestos abatement, he moved to Newfoundland under the Provincial Nominee Program. He now works with Power Vac Belfor as a human relations manager and operations manager. He recognizes that he’s been more fortunate than some of the immigrants he’s met.
“[Newfoundlanders] say that now I’m one of their own … I was lucky in a sense because I was Irish, I spoke English, I was more lucky than somebody from Africa.”
He often meets immigrants who apply for jobs at his company, and recalled a recent discussion with a job applicant from Latin America.
“I said, ‘I thought you’d be working by now.’ He says it’s very difficult, very hard, people will not even see you. He found it very hard to get in. This guy is in his mid-40s, good English, he just found it very difficult. We had a guy here from Africa, he worked with the United Nations, highly intelligent guy, but he was living in Newfoundland for two years and we were the first to give him a job. There is something out there … I haven’t had any experiences myself, but it is out there.”
“But Newfoundlanders do adapt and they do embrace diversity.” He urged companies looking for foreign workers not to get embroiled in recruitment agencies, but to go directly to the provincial government-funded Association for New Canadians.
“They’ve got untapped resources, so many people they can put in place for you. I’d advise anybody coming over here, from any country in the world, to speak to the ANC.”
“The provincial government is very good. They’re very helpful, they’re very open. They call it as it is. They’re very helpful, very free-flowing with advice, they’ll spend hours helping you with any problems or questions you may have. They’re excellent. Any immigrant will tell you that. But the federal government, there’s a lot of paperwork involved. It’s a lot of red tape. That’s fine, I can understand that. But I got a degree. To someone that has to pay out $1,300 or $1,400 to a lawyer for the process, and to someone from Africa that might not even have that money, they might have to borrow their whole family’s savings to come over here … is is there an equal balance then? If someone from Europe can pay a lawyer to get their visa passed, but somebody from Africa can’t? Canada could be missing out on a lot of good people because of that … it should be a little cheaper, a little more fair. Open the doors up more.”
William Galeano is originally from Colombia, and came to Newfoundland in 2008 along with his wife, daughter and grandchildren. He didn’t find it quite so easy to find work.
“It was really, really difficult. The first barrier is the language. The manager of the company doesn’t want to hire somebody who doesn’t understand English. In my case, I was a welder, but I don’t have a certificate here in Canada for a welder. And my English wasn’t very good, so you can only find a job cleaning, maybe in a restaurant. Two years ago I applied for different companies, but they said no, you don’t have a certificate here, you can’t work here.”
He tried to enroll at College of the North Atlantic in order to get his credentials recognized in Canada, but the problem then was that although his skills were fine, his English was a barrier to him passing the tests.
His experience with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians has been positive, although he says language is a consistent concern.
“For us, here people are really friendly … But I know for example many many Columbian people have had problems with getting a job, because their English is the barrier. It’s really really hard. For example I know about one guy from Columbia, he’s about 70 years old, he now goes to the school to learn English, but he’s alone, he’s old, he feels really sad here because he applied to bring his daughter and immigration said no, they said you can’t bring your daughter. He’s very upset, he feels alone here. It’s very difficult for him.”
Galeano’s daughter is having similar difficulties trying to get permission for her husband to join them in Newfoundland. The bureaucratic red tape at immigration-related offices, he says, is a major barrier for immigrants, which is often exacerbated by language difficulties. He said with more staff and resources, particularly at the federal level, immigration offices could do a better and quicker job of responding to the needs of immigrant workers.
Gloria Isada, originally from the Philippines, came to this province as a doctor in the 1960s. While she was studying medicine in Montreal with her husband, Newfoundland’s provincial minister of health came to town recruiting doctors for a new hospital that had just been built in Gander.
“We loved Newfoundland very much. It was interesting because when we were in Montreal, what we heard about Newfoundland was very negative. People said that they were ignorant, they’d never seen a car, they had no university. They said to buy a Coca-Cola and cigarettes you had to walk nine kilometres. But I really wanted to come because I heard they had big lobsters. So our children were born in Gander, and we love Newfoundland very much.”
They’ve seen more of the island than many of those born here. She and her husband spent years working as doctors in Gander, Bonavista, Burin, Bell Island, St. Lawrence, and other rural communities, in addition to St. John’s.
There was a growth in the province’s Filipino community at that time too – largely in health professionals. They helped form the Newfoundland and Labrador Filipino Association in 1967. But she’s noticed a shift in the labour demographic of more recent Filipino immigrants.
“During our time, we were scattered around. There were quite a number of doctors and laboratory technicians, and there were nurses. There was one wing of the Janeway which opened in 1974, and they had to recruit 55 nurses from the Philippines. And in Twillingate there were mostly Filipino nurses recruited there: except for the director and assistant, the rest were Filipinos. Now the generation that are here are mostly caregivers, and domestics, or they work in Tim Hortons and in hotels. During our time there were only two working in those fields, now there are over 100 working in Labrador in Tim Hortons.”
She said that while many Newfoundlanders she met on her arrival had never even heard of the Philippines – she was constantly asked if she was Chinese – Newfoundland and Labrador presented a much more familiar environment to Filipinos than elsewhere in Canada.
“When they go to Toronto, it’s a shock because it’s a big, developed city. We come from a different culture, it’s rural and less developed, and so when they come here it’s a more comfortable setting, the culture is more familiar … I think Newfoundland is a better place to live.”
However, she’s also concerned about the activities of recruitment agencies tapping into the demand for foreign labour. She said a big problem is that many recruiting companies in the Philippines demand enormous fees or bribes to connect would-be workers with North American companies. Sometimes they do so without actually finding the workers jobs. Other times, would-be workers have no money to pay for their travel to their new jobs in Canada, and unscrupulous agencies lend them money at outrageous rates which keep them indebted for many years.
If Newfoundland and Labrador wants to prevent Filipino workers from experiencing these types of exploitation, Isada said the companies hiring them should help with travel costs, and the province could take a more direct role recruiting within the Philippines, instead of letting dubious agencies be the brokers. The government could also review and certify companies before they’re allowed to recruit workers to Newfoundland and Labrador and monitor their activities. But she said Filipinos working in this province haven’t raised many concerns – yet.
“Here, so far so good.”