The Perspective: Finding work during a pandemic

Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire

Even as employers talk of a labour shortage, newcomers find it harder than ever to land meaningful jobs in Halifax

As COVID-19 retreats, Haligonians are awakening to a new world of possibilities. For some, it means a return to pre-pandemic pleasures, for too many others, it’s simply about finding employment and self-sufficiency. 

In 2017 the population of Halifax was 431,479. Statistics say that immigrants and refugees make up roughly 10% of the population. How did they fare during the pandemic? Those who had well-paid jobs or sizeable savings would have managed very well. For those who lost work and did not have any of these, life has been hard. 

I met Meera Raghava (name changed, due to fears that her candour will hurt her job hunt) a few times in the last couple of months, and knew she was trying to find work. Recently, we had a cup of tea and talked.

“Back in India, I approached an agent to help me with my immigration process,” Meera said. “He charged me a large sum of money as his fee and for writing up my resumé. The agent promised to put me in touch with employers in Canada, but he didn’t. When he kept asking for more money, I stopped accepting his services.” 

She landed in Halifax in January 2020 on a visitor visa, with no job prospects. 

“I was given to understand that being in the country would make it easier for me to find work, and to get permanent residency status for me and my family,” she explains. “My husband and two children are still in India.”

She pauses. I can read her thoughts. I remembered my own ordeal and frustration while I was looking for work a few years ago, after making a similar move from India to Halifax. 

The long hours spent searching the web for vacancies and the dozens of applications to prospective employers, the many phone calls I had made, the very long wait for a positive response to my applications. 

I live through it all once again during these few moments.

“I was a Registered Nurse in India,” Meera continued. “I worked in a large hospital, and loved nursing, and especially teaching student nurses. And I was financially secure.”

Meera approached many organizations in Halifax for a job. Then she called up some Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program-designated employers and one of them responded. Meera went for an interview and was selected for the job. The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia prepared a settlement plan for her. The employer applied to the provincial government for an endorsement on the job offer. 

Then COVID struck. People panicked. The economy slowed down.

“My immigration process which was moving along smoothly got delayed. Communication became erratic. The waiting period became endless. I’ve been in Halifax for a year and a half now, and I’m still unemployed,” Meera says. “I am now getting my credentials assessed by the National Nursing Assessment Service, in preparation for taking a bridging course that will qualify me, a nurse trained in India, to do the same job in Canada.”

When asked if she had ever felt coming to Canada was a mistake, she replies: “I like living in Halifax. The place is beautiful, and the quiet life appeals to me. I’m determined to stay on and to bring my family here.”

And meanwhile, she awaits the answer to two questions. When will she be able to work? When will she be reunited with her family? 

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