I wanted to make Canada my home. Then I realized my degree was worthless here
After 9 years as an architect in the Middle East, it hurt that I could no longer call myself one in Canada
This First Person column is the experience of Komaldeep Makkar, a Canadian permanent resident who moved back to Dubai. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
I grew up in the Indian state of Punjab. It felt like almost every street in my state had billboards promoting a better life and lots of job opportunities with higher salaries in Canada. I knew many families whose younger members were enrolled in courses for English-language proficiency tests making efforts to move to Canada. The pride in the eyes of those parents as they shared the news of their son or daughter settling in Canada left a strong impression on me. It made me think Canada had amazing opportunities and could one day also become my home.
I graduated with a bachelor of architecture and a master of urban planning from India. My work as an architect took me to New Delhi and subsequently to Dubai, where I worked for multinational firms. In Dubai, I earned a salary I likely would have never earned in India, while also having a good work-life balance. But as an expat living in Dubai, there isn't a straightforward path toward citizenship. So to advance my career goals and in pursuit of a place to call my permanent home, I applied for the Canadian express entry program in 2017. I got married to an architect during the process of application and received my permanent residency visa in early 2020. My husband and I were excited to finally make the move we had heard and read so much about.
When we landed in Toronto in January 2021, we experienced our first snowfall. I loved breathing in the clean air and listening to the sounds of nature, which were so different from India. But soon our winter started getting colder with the cold calls that ended nowhere. After a few months of job hunting, I realized that my education and nine years of experience as an architect in the Middle East didn't matter.
We joined government-funded newcomer programs when we arrived in Toronto to learn how to adapt our skills and experience to the Canadian market. I was told by multiple employment counsellors to remove my master's degree from my resume — the same degree that had gained me additional points in the express entry program. They also kept suggesting that I shave off some years of experience from my resume or strike off some of higher-profile projects so that I didn't appear overqualified for positions available to me.
Architecture is a licensed profession in Canada — which is another way of saying I was no longer allowed to call myself an architect. I could only identify as an internationally trained architecture professional. To add to our confusion, while immigration is the federal government's responsibility — and we scored high in the points system because of our qualifications — the licensing requirements are managed by the province, which didn't recognize our degrees. If I wanted to call myself an architect, I'd have to enroll in an expensive Canadian master's program and repeat the degree I already had or crawl my way up the corporate ladder by taking entry-level internships. That was the advice I got from counsellors and other immigrants who had made it. I felt deeply disrespected and demoralized.
Most interview callbacks I received were either for co-op or unpaid work. The few job offers for architectural technician positions which I received paid $15 per hour. I was at a loss. I had invested years of my life and a lot of money in the process of getting permanent residency in Canada. But instead of getting a job in the profession I had studied and worked so hard for, I was bleeding my savings day by day, just to keep up with living costs in Toronto.
My husband and I started to become disillusioned by the reality of the Canadian dream. We both had worked on large-scale projects in many regions like the Gulf states, Africa and India. And here we were as newcomers to the country explaining to companies why we did not have this seemingly special "Canadian experience."
We weighed our options. To stay meant spending a huge amount of money for further education in the hopes of eventually landing a job as a Canadian architect, while simultaneously putting on hold our plans for saving for retirement or buying a home. Our years of education and professional experience overseas would have been for nothing. Rather than choose this subpar life in a country that has erected systemic blockades to prevent immigrants from succeeding in their professions, we decided to leave. I respect myself too much to stay.
I can't understand how the Canadian government says it plans to welcome 500,000 immigrants a year in order to meet the country's labour shortage, but then doesn't seem to do anything to stop qualified professionals from being treated with disdain. Until that gap between immigration policy and hiring loopholes is closed, we'll keep hearing stories of foreign-trained doctors who become Uber drivers and teachers who can only find jobs as janitors.
I also totally understand why so many immigrants in our position choose to stay — to validate the dream they have been advertised for their entire lives. Many of them are even from my hometown. Throwing in the towel was not something I ever saw myself doing until I saw my bank statements.
We currently live in Dubai, working in decent jobs where we can proudly call ourselves architects and hold a standard of living that we have earned and our parents can be proud of. We do not intend to go back.
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