When Nicaraguan-born Franco Rayo moved to New Brunswick in 2017 as an international student, he was open to the idea of making Canada their home.
Rayo earned his MBA from the University of New Brunswick in 2018 and landed a job in auditing that paid $45,000 annually. Rayo, who holds two college degrees from the United States and Canada, says finding work has been difficult and the compensation being offered has been disappointing.
“My problem was that they offered me entry-level jobs,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m from another country.”
With his wife and young son, Rayo says he has been indulging his savings to maintain the lifestyle he wants for his family.
Their situation eventually led Franco, 33, and his wife, Natalie Rayo, 29, to make a drastic change in their lives. Almost a year after the outbreak, the family of three packed their bags and headed to Nicaragua.
While the rising cost of living — with inflation rising to 6.7 percent — affects all Canadians, the reality is that new immigrants still earn less than the general population.
Now, a recent survey Leger conducted in partnership with the Citizenship Canada Institute suggests the pressure may be holding back new immigrants.
“Canada tells itself a story about being this heaven for newcomers, and we wanted to see how true that was,” said Daniel Bernard, executive director of the Institute of Citizenship of Canada (ICC).
Plan to leave
The federal government does not track the retention of immigrants, but according to Statistics Canada, 50 percent of international students do not have tax records one year after graduation, indicating that they have left the country.
In the ICC survey, 23 percent of new Canadians with a college education answered that they were planning to leave the country in the next two years.
For new Canadians under the age of 35, that number was 30 percent. However, it is not clear how this compares to intentions in previous years.
The survey was conducted between February 24 and 28 with 2013 participants using an online panel. Although an exact margin of error cannot be calculated, for comparison, a probability sample of 2,000 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.5%, 19 times out of 20.
Rayo has now settled in Managua with his family and runs his own business, although he has retained his status as a permanent resident of Canada. His wife, Natalie, who grew up in New Brunswick, says they are enjoying a better quality of life than they did in Moncton, where they feel less financially stressed.
“I wasn’t expecting to move to Nicaragua, but when it came to our future, me, my husband and my son, it was the best option for us,” she said.
At the national level, there are repercussions if immigrants choose not to stay. The country is facing a labor shortage, and policymakers hope immigration will help fill gaps in the workforce — with plans to convert more than 400,000 new immigrants to permanent residents this year.
Between 2016 and 2021, the number of people aged 65 and over increased six times the number of children aged zero to 14, a finding with serious repercussions for the economy.
Survey suggests cost of living will drive migrants to leave
However, immigrants have historically reported employment challenges, with many forced to work in low-skill jobs despite their foreign credentials.
According to Statistics Canada, the average income of immigrants admitted to Canada in 2018 was $31,900 after one year. Although this is the highest level since 1981, it is still 18 percent below average income for the general population.
Now, newcomers are also facing a housing affordability crisis and record-high inflation, which raises the question: How attractive is Canada to immigrants?
Berhard said the survey results should give Canadians “pause”.
“We have to ask ourselves what benefits Canada offers to immigrants because we are in competition with the rest of the world,” he said.
“People are not able to earn up to their actual potential,” he said. “The standard of living that they might reasonably expect or even which they might obtain in their home country is becoming less achievable.”
In the survey, 64 percent of new Canadians agreed with the statement “The higher cost of living in Canada means immigrants are less likely to stay in Canada.”
According to Statistics Canada, 31 percent of new immigrants were spending more than 30 percent of their income on shelter costs, compared to just 18 percent of the general population.
There is not enough data on the retention of immigrants
Economist Michal Skutterud of the University of Waterloo says it is difficult to draw any conclusions from the survey because there is no data from previous years.
He said it highlights the federal government’s need to track how many people are leaving the country and why they choose to leave.
“A large part of the challenge for Canada and policy makers is not only to attract immigrants with high levels of human capital, but also to retain them,” Scottyrud said.
The economist says there is a risk of losing highly skilled immigrants to the United States where salaries can be more profitable.
However, Skutterud doesn’t think the cost of living is likely to drive immigrants away in droves.
“When people make choices about where to move or whether to move at all, what they do is assess their economic well-being in one place versus another,” he said, adding that many countries around the world are also grappling with high inflation right now.
“Migration is very expensive and inflation is a temporary phenomenon,” he said. “The idea that people would suddenly uproot themselves to leave for somewhere else, I don’t think is credible.”
View immigration experience
When Manpreet Kaur and Harmeet Singh immigrated to Canada in 2018, the couple had trouble finding information on how to navigate the country as new immigrants.
This prompted them to start their own YouTube channel.
“We thought about making videos and [sharing] “Our journey,” Singh said.
The couple’s “Canadian Couple Vlogs” YouTube channel has over half a million subscribers and has videos on everything from how to move to Canada to what life is like after immigration. They even have a video of why immigrants choose to leave Canada.
“No one shares his failures and no one shares the challenges he faces in Canada,” Singh said.
From cold winters to the cost of living, Singh said there are a lot of challenges immigrants in Canada should know about before moving.
Singh and Kaur had mentally prepared themselves for some of these challenges, expecting to take a financial hit at first.
Although the couple were able to find work within a few months of arriving, Singh says his lack of Canadian work experience has been an obstacle when applying for jobs. Fortunately, though, his experience working for Walmart from India helped him work at Walmart Canada, he said.
Had it not been for the couple’s IT jobs and YouTube channel serving as a side hustle, Singh says, “it would have been very difficult.”
There is a failure to fully “assess” the skills and value that newcomers offer, says Citizenship Canada’s Bernhard. And as many employers have reported on their challenges in finding work, he says they need to improve their awareness of the skills that immigrants must offer.
“This is not just a moral duty or a moral duty,” he said. “It is also your competitive advantage in the marketplace.”