What defines a successful immigrant or newcomer?

By Dr. David Divine

How do you define a successful immigrant in Canada, particularly in the Maritimes? Is it someone who has used their previous experience, education, skills, and drive to establish a successful business, such as prominent real estate developer Wahid Fares; Ghada Gabr, pharmacist and owner of Shoppers Drug Mart in Clayton Park; or Tareq Hadhad, the successful entrepreneur behind Peace By Chocolate?

Or is it a newcomer finding secure permanent employment—someone who has managed to bring their family with them amidst considerable hardship and trauma, and provided a sustainable base for their onward journey to whatever they wish to achieve in Canada? Or is it a young person on their own, whose family has been slaughtered in war as a result of religious persecution, seeking refuge and new beginnings in Canada? I think of Newfoundland and Labrador resident Philip Riteman, whose 2010 Holocaust memoir Millions of Souls outlines his painful passage from profound sorrow to independence, economic success, and major contributions to social justice and Holocaust education, including several visits to schools in Halifax.

Success defined in such terms places the onus—the primary responsibility for making the arrival process successful, and ensuring the stability of the newcomer’s stay in Canada—on the immigrant solely. The weight is placed on the immigrant, the person perhaps with the least knowledge and experience of the possible helpful resources available to them in the adopted home country.

Describing a successful immigrant or newcomer, therefore, needs to be more nuanced, comprehensive, and inclusive of the vast variety of life experiences—the struggles to overcome, the successes, and the lessons learnt on the road to sustainability. It demands partnership between the newcomer and the host communities in Canada: using and developing the obvious commitment and motivation of the newcomer that has contributed already to their successful arrival here, and assisting in the shaping of further needed knowledge and skills to make the next chapter in their story rewarding.

Success has no single beneficiary. It benefits us all: the wider community and the newcomer.

I am reminded of a single mother of several children I met last year. She was pursuing a degree program at one of our universities here in the Maritimes to further her chances of gaining employment reflecting her experience, qualifications gained outside Canada, and competencies. On her own, she sought accommodation for her family, employment whilst studying, suitable schools for her children, all the time unaware of possible sources of help. Our view as newcomers or immigrants is long-term. On the whole, we do not expect to have our desires, needs, and necessities immediately gratified. We have often come to our adopted home with significant skill sets, educational accomplishments, and track records of competent work experience—all part of the assessment process that warranted our entry into Canada in the first place. On seeking employment in Canada based on such credentials, however, we are informed that our qualifications and experience are not credited. They are not recognised, because they were not earned in Canada.

Many newcomers, as a result, have to start from scratch, often in middle age and with families to support. And we do, because our vision is that if we cannot as parents and elders in our families and communities of origin, acquire the employment positions and business opportunities reflecting our educational and work history, we will seek alternatives, whilst ensuring that our children will attain employment and educational opportunities commensurate with their Canada-based qualifications and desires.

Success then appears to be income security, safety to raise children, and contributing to the wider community. In other words, the same things everyone wants—whether we have travelled across oceans or deserts to get here, or simply across town.



Professor David Divine is a published author, columnist, world traveller, and speaker on areas relating to social justice and the lived experiences of individuals and communities. He is managing Director of Footprints Life Coaching. Professor Divine was the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University from 2004 to 2009, in addition to being a fully-tenured Professor of Social Work. For more information, visit www.daviddivine.co.