Feature

Why Immigrants Come To Moncton and Why Some Don’t Stay

David Weinberger and his wife, Ann. Image: Submitted

This is the second part of a series about the changing face of the growing labour market in Greater Moncton. 

MONCTON – Moroccan Loutfi Samadi and his family came to Moncton for various reasons. It’s quieter than Paris, where they lived for nearly three years. It’s bilingual. The people are friendly. There’s less fear about right-wing politics that make it hard for immigrants in places like France. And there’s more certainty with their immigration status.

Loutfi Samadi, his wife Safae and his son, Barae. Image: Submitted

“It was a dream for us [to come to Canada] and now it’s a reality,” he said. “My son said, ‘daddy, we only have one life, so we have to do what we want to do.’ So, that’s why we moved to Canada.”

Like many newcomers, Samadi entered Canada without a job offer. He was able to do so through the Provincial Nominee Program and federal Express Entry program, which attract highly skilled and educated immigrants based on a point system.

Samadi not only speaks English and French, he was also a well-paid systems engineer in France and has a master’s degree in project management.

Those qualifications don’t guarantee an easy settlement. In Moncton, he quickly found a job at a call centre, which was enough to make ends meet and add a Canadian work experience to his resume. But the work didn’t fit his skills or passion.

“For me, it was difficult because my CV is very specialized. And if I want to do the same as I did in France, I think it’s almost impossible. So, I had two choices: try to study something and continue doing the call centre job, or move to Montreal or Toronto because there I can find easily a job in my field.”

Greater Moncton is seeking international and interprovincial migrants to grow its talent pool. In fact, newcomers from abroad now fuel the region’s population growth.

Last week, Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold was in Toronto with her counterparts from Fredericton and Saint John to support recruitment efforts at the Toronto Newcomers Canada career fair. New Brunswick employers were also there to seek potential foreign-born employees.

The latest data from Statistics Canada show that since 2001, the number of immigrants coming to Greater Moncton per year has grown from 175 to a high of 1,659 in 2015/2016. Although the peak could be due to the influx of refugees, the data shows steady growth nevertheless. Last year, Greater Moncton received 1,282 immigrants.

But the region needs at least 2,000 newcomers annually for the next five years to maintain even a modest pace of economic growth, according to its economic development agency 3+ Corporation.

When it released its latest growth plan in late January, 3+ President and CEO Eric Mourant said to close the gap in the labour force and increase the population base, stakeholders need to more than double the number of immigrants from 961 a year.

RELATED: Greater Moncton Sets Ambitious Growth Targets For the Next Five Years

“With the same resources we need to accomplish more than twice as much,” he said. “For this to work, it has to be a collaborative regional effort.”

David Weinberger, who moved with his wife Ann and their three sons from France, have taken full advantage of the region’s support network for immigrants.

He came to Moncton without a job, but on a prior exploratory visit, he and his wife had started making connections with locals and employers.

Once they moved here, they started building a network through friends from Le CAFi, the immigrant reception centre for Francophones. They also took part in the job fairs that the City of Moncton holds a few times a year.

“My wife, she works in childcare and here, there is a lot of work for that. As soon as she wants to work, she finds work immediately and changes many times, it is really not a problem,” he said.

It was more complicated for Weinberger because he wanted to work a different field. In France, he was a well-paid tech-support agent for biomedical devices.

He now works as a customer service associate at Kent Building Supplies. Weinberger says it’s not his “dream job,” but he appreciates and enjoys it now. He sees an opportunity to move within the J.D. Irving corporate structure in the future.

“It’s what I did in my previous company. I started from the bottom and I moved and I tried all that I can and find what I like,” he said.

But for many newcomers who choose Greater Moncton, getting a job in their fields of expertise remains top of mind. Two ethnocultural associations said not finding that work was the reason some of their members leave for larger cities.

Stanislav Olkinitskiy, the president of the Russian Multicultural Association of The Greater Moncton Area, said around 200 Russian-speaking immigrants have come to Moncton in the last two years.

Some moved from other parts of Canada because they wanted a quieter, safer place that is experiencing economic growth. For others, the expanding community of Russian-speaking people made the city more attractive. But some of the organization’s roughly 450 members have decided to move away.

“Fortunately not many of them, just a few. I talked to all of them before they moved,” he says. “They’ve been all happy living here. The only reason is they couldn’t find a job in their field, in the position they expect to fill here in Canada. But they found [jobs] in big cities – Montreal or Toronto.”

Sunan Kim, the general manager of the Korean Association, said many Korean families choose to move to cities where their children go to university. Some face cultural and language barriers and find it easier to live in a city where the Korean diaspora is bigger, like Toronto. But good jobs remain the most important retention factor.

“Getting a job is the first [priority],” says Kim. “When they have a job, maybe they can look [to open] their own business. Business has its own risks. So, we need some good jobs available for immigrants. Not just making ends meet. Full-time good jobs or a good chance for promotion or something like that.”

“When we decide to come to Canada, we have to prove our financial status. So we are mostly coming here from higher positions in Korea, but when we move to Canada, we suffer from [not having as good a job]. That’s why many people suffer from depression or family conflicts. I think this is a big issue.”

Currently, there’s no data that tracks how many immigrants leave Moncton. But David Campbell, the President of Jupia Consultants and the former Chief Economist of the New Brunswick Jobs Board Secretariat, said the departures are likely reflected in the negative interprovincial migration numbers.

“We’re getting a lot more [newcomers] but we’re also losing some of them through interprovincial migration. So that’s the risk – that immigrant will come here and for whatever reason, not settle and leave,” he said.

Samadi eventually had to quit the call centre because the schedule didn’t align with his son’s needs. The few months he spent looking for another job, one more like the one he had in France, were challenging.

He didn’t have a network yet, but he was confident he would find a job within four months. He eventually got hired as a support engineer at The Co-operators with the help of the employment agency Atlantic Human Services. His wife also started working in a daycare and is going to college to study childcare.

Samadi was prepared to support his family for two years without work, but the psychological impact was hard to deal with.

“I spent 11 or 12 years in my life working and now I was without a job and I had a great position in France,” he said. “It’s a big change. You have to handle this in your mind because this is a big deal and a big challenge.”

Campbell said the province needs to better match newcomers to the kinds of jobs that exist here.

“My view is, if you need contact centre workers, go find contact centre workers, don’t go find an economist. But under the old system, [the economist] passed. He got the points. He had the education, the language,” says Campbell.

“The minute you say you only want to bring in immigrants who are high-skilled, well, where are they going to work? And if you have all these gaps down here, you can’t find workers, those industries are going to shrink and then it’s going to depress the whole economy.”

In part three of this series on Thursday, Huddle explore the role of immigrants in the private sector and that of businesses in immigration efforts.

PART I: Why Not Many People Are Moving From Northern N.B. to Moncton Anymore

PART III: How Immigration Can Help Moncton Tackle Its Labour Market Challenges