Money and migration: how to save up for a new job in Canada

It’s been a demanding year for Renuka Gamage and her family.

Just 11 months ago, Gamage and her husband, both originally from Sri Lanka, made the decision to leave their adopted home of Dubai and make another international transition to Canada. The opportunity for a new start has been exciting, but Gamage – an electrical engineer with an MBA – still hasn’t found a job to match her skill set. With work experience in two countries, she didn’t anticipate that the search for her dream job in Canada would last as long as it has.

“As an immigrant, it takes a lot of courage to go through this process. You don’t expect this to happen when you come here,” she says.

When funding a moving to Canada, waiting for a job is

one of the biggest financial hurdles faced by immigrants like Gamage. Many Canadian employers are looking for candidates with Canadian experience, which most newcomers simply don’t have.

“Any immigrant that comes into the country is facing a vicious circle – no Canadian work experience, no job,” says Gohar Agaanalian, who emigrated from Armenia five years ago.

It’s an obstacle that Michelle Iseman, a business development officer with Ottawa’s International Talent Acquisition Centre, or In-TAC, is helping immigrants overcome. In-TAC helps newcomers interested in IT or accounting connect with potential employers in the city.

“You will find a lot of people coming in, and they get frustrated because they can’t find a job right away,” Iseman says.

“It’s full-time work to find a job, and if you’re not working at it all the time, it’s really difficult.”


The problem faced by many immigrants in getting Canadian job experience is also compounded by the challenge of obtaining recognition for foreign credentials.

Manoj Varghese, an engineer born in India, immigrated to Canada from Kuwait in 1999. He was surprised to discover that his educational background and work experiences weren’t getting him any interviews with Canadian employers.

“Based on my discussions with employment centres and career coaches, it was getting down to getting a Canadian [work] experience – and obviously without a job you can’t get experience,” he says.

Although he’d already been in the field as an engineer, Varghese’s solution was to enroll in a graduate certificate program at Sheraton College in Toronto. Fortunately, he had planned ahead by saving up to support himself for at least six months before immigrating. Without the money he spent on adding Canadian credentials to his resume, he says he might never have been hired at Nortel back in 2000.

“That was sort of a blessing for me,” he says.

“Because that was a post-graduate certificate program, and got you prepared for work life – [it was] more in tune with the requirements of building a career.”


If you’re getting ready to move to Canada, it may be wise to follow Varghese’s lead and set aside funds for retraining or adding Canadian credentials to your resumé. According to University of Ottawa professor Patti Tamara Lenard, Canada’s federal and provincial governments have been debating for years over a system that would allow for foreign credentials to be assessed quickly, perhaps in the same way as international school transcripts. So far, they haven’t come to any agreements, which makes retraining a more likely requirement for immigrants.

“We are not doing enough to make sure that foreign credentials are recognized efficiently and quickly,” Lenard says.

“But the federal government and provincial government have certainly recognized that this is the single most unfair challenge that immigrants face in getting jobs in Canada.”

Iseman says in order to survive, many new comers end up taking temporary positions or accept jobs that are below their skill level until they can find something in their field.


Gamage recently took a small three-week contract as a project manager for Algonquin College, and Agaanalian has accepted a few positions as an office administrator. While the positions aren’t related to their fields, both women say there has been value in slowly getting to know the Canadian work environment.

“Even at those jobs there is a lot to learn, so I highly appreciate the opportunity,” says Agaanalian.

“I gain skills, I’m meeting interesting people, so it’s good.”

Besides being financially mindful, and seeking out help from others, Gamage, Agaanalian, and Varghese also recognize the power of attitude in making the challenging transition to a new country. And having at least a small nest egg is almost essential.

“If you come here, you have to be totally prepared, because many of the people coming here are professionals, well-established in their countries. So the transition is not easy, it’s going to be very difficult,” adds Varghese.

“It’s just preparation, and accepting that it’s going to be tough in the short term.”