Internationally trained immigrants come to Canada looking for a better future, at a personal and professional level. But it’s not always easy to successfully integrate and build a life here.
Understanding the connection between financial stability and career success is crucial for newcomers. Fortunately, many organizations offer immigrants support along their journey to fulfillment.
Financial stability – a definition
Financial stability is one of the three pillars of successful integration for newcomers, along with employability and education.
In this context, financial stability has two major components. First, immigrants must understand the financial system. They need to be able to make complex decisions about their economic well-being; without this knowledge, newcomers may be prone to amassing debt. Second, immigrants must familiarize themselves with financial services so they can access the products and services needed to start building their credit history in Canada.
Financial stability as a foundation for success
Without first achieving financial stability, the path to education and employment in Canada is very difficult. For many newcomers, financial stability can be tricky. They may face the dual challenge of building a new life while caring for their families back home. They may encounter any number of obstacles while navigating the banking system. And, they often need to cover the cost of re-licensing or getting their credentials recognized in Canada, which can be quite high.
Financial literacy is often overlooked by newcomers and the organizations that exist to support them. Understandably, when settling in Canada, immigrants have three priorities: earning money, sustaining their families and getting back into their field of work. Financial literacy isn’t usually a primary concern.
Immigrants often come from countries where credit products are not common, and the preferred method of payment is cash. Perhaps negative experiences have resulted in apprehension about the safety and reliability of the financial system in Canada.
Lacking financial stability can lead to financial setbacks, which can hurt anyone in the long run, but newcomers are one of the populations at greater risk and under more stress.
“[Newcomers] may face the dual challenge of building a new life while caring for their families back home.”
The following examples give some personal context to the impact of financial instability on newcomers as they pursue their educational and career goals:
- An internationally trained lawyer spends all of his savings during the immigration process. Once in Toronto, his only choice is to get a ‘survival job.’ Cash flow isn’t enough to make ends meet, so he uses credit cards to pay for necessary living expenses. When he loses his job as a security guard, he starts to miss payments and damages his credit rating.
- A couple, both internationally trained dentists, get low-income survival jobs in Calgary to save money to pay for their re-licensing. The wife becomes pregnant and goes on maternity leave. They have enough family support to cover necessary living expenses and, although the husband continues working, he doesn’t earn enough to support their growing family and pay for both of their re-licensing as well. Since they use money lent by their families, not the financial system in Canada, no financial institution will lend to them. The baby arrives, and the wife stops studying to care for the child. The husband doesn’t have proper time to study for his exams, meaning he fails at three attempts on a difficult exam and isn’t allowed to retake it. As a result, he stays trapped in underemployment.
- An internationally trained accountant moves to Saskatoon and works as a bookkeeper as she tries to work her way through the CPA process. She sends a significant amount of her earnings back home to support her family as her father is ill. Unfortunately, he passes away, and she quits her job and spends her modest savings on a flight home. Once she returns to Canada, she has to find a new job and pick up her studies again, but she struggles to make ends meet while studying on the side, so she puts her studies on hold and takes on a second part-time job.
It can be very difficult for immigrants to integrate and adapt to a new country. Recovering from financial setbacks often takes time, but it’s possible with the right supports.
Supporting newcomers’ financial literacy
Immigrant-serving organizations are often the first stop for immigrants on their road to integration and are key in setting newcomers up for success. Luckily, some organizations are already supporting newcomers by assessing their financial literacy, connecting them to useful resources based on their needs and helping them plan for their financial future.
As a counsellor, you can encourage newcomers to recognize the importance of saving money regularly, developing and sticking to a monthly budget and building a strong credit history in Canada. These are all important steps to reaching their financial and professional goals. Financial literacy is a necessary tool for survival, and when newcomers are prepared to make informed financial decisions, they can integrate into society and thrive more quickly.
Even though internationally trained individuals are highly educated and skilled, it often takes time for them to integrate successfully in Canada. Understanding the importance of financial stability and how it affects their education and employment prospects, combined with adequate support from immigrant-serving organizations, is the recipe for newcomer success.
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