When the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre opened its doors last January, executive director Cathy Murphy knew it would be full steam ahead.
With the recession biting back home, a new wave of Irish were heading for the country and it was clear the centre, funded by the Government, was needed more than ever.
Little did anyone realise that within the year Canada would be announcing an overhaul of its visa system, allowing even more Irish workers in and making permanent residency easier.
The Irish population in Canada is set to explode. In 2013 and 2014 alone almost 16,000 under-35 visas will be given out. That doesn’t take into account the many other types of permits for skilled workers, or the thousands of new immigrants from previous years looking to stay on.
The centre, located in the heart of downtown Toronto, is a badly needed resource for the new arrivals. And considering there are such offices in all major US cities, London, and Sydney, the only surprise is that it opened just this year.
“People don’t often realise there is such a connection with Canada,” says Ms Murphy.
“I think sometimes the US story overshadows it, but there is a massive history of Irish immigration to Canada.”
She says the centre came about due to huge efforts, first by community members who made representations to the Canadian ambassador to Ireland, Ray Basset, who then took up the cause and lobbied the Government.
“I do think community groups were picking up the slack until this opened. There was a centre in the ’80s, during the previous wave of immigration, but not government funded,” she says.
“Mr Basset lobbied heavily after being contacted by so many people across Canada. And with such an increase in numbers of Irish over past number of years it made sense.”
It is difficult to get definitive figures on how many Irish live across the country, but it’s in the tens of thousands, Ms Murphy says, with about 10,000 alone in the Greater Toronto area.
Day to day, the office deals primarily with visa and employment issues, fact-finding for people, cutting through the confusion of the different visas. Although it can’t act as a straight-up employment agency, it has an Irish jobs website, and holds workshops offering support around CVs and how to approach a Canadian employer.
The real shift Ms Murphy is seeing of late is people’s desire to find out about permanent residency. “At the beginning of the year, we were seeing people who were brand new coming for advice. Now, more and more, it’s people who have been here a year or two [who] want to know how they can go forward with residency. That’s become a big part of the day.”
According to Ms Murphy, the prospects are good. There are two different ways you can go about it: Be nominated by the province, arranged through an employer, or if you have been here for a year in a skilled job you can apply through the federal government’s CIC programme.
The key is that people must be in skilled employment. “I encourage people like servers, bar workers, retail workers to try and become a manager. If they seek out higher roles within those trades they will be in with a chance,” says Ms Murphy.
But although Canada is full of opportunity, people should not expect to just walk into a job, she warns. That is especially true in Toronto where there is a youth unemployment rate of 16% and a wealth of ambitious graduates looking for work.
According to Ms Murphy, trade workers will pick up jobs right away, but for professionals — finance workers, architects, and solicitors, for example — they are looking at a good three months at least before landing the perfect job, and may need to take another job in the interim.
“It’s a hurdle; there are Canadian graduates who can’t get work. People need to be prepared for that, but if they go west to Albert or Saskatchewan, they’ll likely get a job straight away,” says Ms Murphy.
From the centre’s point of view, the major challenge over the next few years will be helping people with employment issues. “I am thinking of 2014 when 10,000 IECs [International Experience Canada visas for under-35s] will be given out, if a lot of these people come to Toronto the challenge will be helping them to understand that Canada is huge and they may need to go elsewhere to get the job they want.”
Indeed, though the centre’s base is Toronto, Ms Murphy travels to lend support to Irish across Canada. This year she has been to Vancouver which is “buzzing” with Irish, but is the most expensive city in Canada to live; Calgary, where more and more Irish are starting to land; and Edmonton a small town, also in the province of Alberta.
In 2013 she expects to make a trip to the anomaly that is Fort McMurray, a town built around the vast oil tars in northern Alberta. There is huge money to be made, and a growing Irish population. However, it’s not without problems, such as drug-use, gambling, and prostitution since a majority of tar sands employees are young, male, and coming from far away.
A trip to Newfoundland is also on the cards, the eastern seaboard province has huge connections with home and the region has historically been dubbed the most Irish place outside of Ireland. They are looking for accountants, construction workers, chefs, and hotel workers. “There are fabulous opportunities there. Newfoundland has such strong ties to Ireland, and it would be a much shorter trip home. We really want people to consider other geographical locations in Canada. Obviously Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal is what people hear about, but they are probably the least likely places you will land the perfect job.”
* Cathy Murphy will be in Montreal in February, St John’s in March, and in late winter/early spring: Saskatoon, Fort McMurray, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver.
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