‘I was just another immigrant’

Illustration: Lian Lem

Priced out, under-employed, and worried about health care — a Brazilian immigrant came to Halifax for a fresh start but leaves disillusioned

When Brazilian Laura Campos (not her real name) and her husband were searching for a better quality of life and a safe place to live, Canada seemed the best choice, so they immigrated in 2017.

They arrived first in Toronto, where money and language were the big barriers. “Immigrating to Canada was an expensive process,” she says. “Our savings depleted at an alarming rate. And I found it difficult to express myself in a language different from my mother tongue.”

After a year, they decided to move to a community where the cost of living would be lower. “Halifax seemed a suitable place at that time,” she recalls. “We believed that, although a smaller city, we should be able to find everything we needed.”

Unlike many newcomers, they faced little culture shock. 

“Brazilian culture is greatly influenced by Americans and therefore it is not very different from Canadian culture,” Campos explains. “I like the fact that Canadians respect other peoples and cultures. Also, I find that they are less concerned about appearances and material things, but are more focused on enjoying life.” 

But they couldn’t avoid another hurdle, which many immigrants stumble over: finding meaningful work. 

“I went to law school in my country but never practised law; I worked as an administrative assistant for the government,” she says. “When I came here, I realized it could be an opportunity to experience new career possibilities. So, I worked as a cleaner, a sales associate, and a pastry cook at different times.”

White-collar work was more elusive. 

“Even though I had previous experience and it was shown in my resumé, I never received any response from employers,” she says. “I got the impression that they are not open to offering jobs to new immigrants, and when they do, it is usually at the entry level. Another hurdle I had to face was getting local references. Every employer asks for local references. As an immigrant who had just come into the country, this was a real challenge.”

The pandemic compounded the difficult job search. “After some time, I stopped applying for jobs because I did not feel comfortable exposing myself to the COVID-19 virus,” she says. “Now I am focusing on future possibilities. I have been studying different things at home, online, to equip myself for a new job field.”

But Campos sees no future in Halifax. 

“My husband and I have decided to go back to Ontario,” she says, adding that Nova Scotia’s strained health-care system is a big part of the decision. “The endless waiting time for a family doctor makes me insecure about how our heath is being dealt with.”

She also finds it frustrating to have to hunt so hard for a job, even as employers claim there’s a labour shortage. “The job market is not newcomer friendly,” she says. “The province says it needs more workers, but has serious problems concerning the necessary infrastructure to support the new immigrants. Also, the locals see immigrants as threats to their own job opportunities.”

And thanks to soaring prices and out-of-step worker pay, Halifax has lost the advantage that lured them here.

“Halifax is not a cheap place to live in,” she says. “This place is as expensive as any other big city in Canada. Rents have skyrocketed, the prices of food and essential commodities have been increasing steadily. And our monthly expenses have gone way beyond our budget.”

They had hoped Halifax could be a long-term home, but ultimately, they just don’t feel wanted. 

“I had a few bad experiences when I needed assistance,” says Campos. “I had to deal with some people in public services who showed no patience or caring. I was new, and I did not know how things were done here. I wanted to clarify my doubts and I wanted to be heard. But I realized that to them, I was just another immigrant who had a different looking face, and spoke broken English.” 

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