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Immigrants explain why they're leaving Canada

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Immigrants to Canada are increasingly leaving this country for opportunities elsewhere, according to a study conducted by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and the Conference Board of Canada.

In fact, the number of immigrants who left Canada rose by 31 per cent above the national average in 2017 and 2019.

Factors that influence onward migration include economic integration, a sense of belonging, racism, homeownership, or a lack thereof, and economic opportunities in other countries, the report revealed.

Amid a crunch on affordable housing and other services, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced on Nov. 1 that the federal government intends to maintain its target of admitting 500,000 new permanent residents in 2026.

In the days since the announcement, dozens of people who came to Canada as immigrants have reached out to CTVNews.ca to explain why they've abandoned their efforts to build a life here, or are close to doing so. The emailed responses have not all been independently verified.

Most respondents said the high cost of living and competition for jobs and affordable housing have driven them to look beyond Canada's borders for better prospects.

Julian Cristancho immigrated to Canada from Colombia in 2019, after briefly considering the U.S., and started an entry-level human resources job after completing a human resources degree in Ontario. The job paid $17 per hour – not a living wage in most Ontario cities at the time, according to the Ontario Living Wage Network – and he quit after two years to apply for something better.

"It took around 50 applications and countless hours tailoring resumes and cover letters just to get three initial interviews and not hearing back from those companies," he wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca. In Cristancho's experience, Canada's immigration system works well at getting people into the country, but not at setting them up for success after they've invested some time here, he said.

Emilson Jose, from India, has lived in Canada for 10 years and has learned that many Canadians can't afford to live close to where their jobs are located, meaning they spend dozens of hours commuting each month.

"So literally you will spend the majority of your time on roads which could be otherwise spent with your family," he told CTVNews.ca in an email. From daycare to housing to daily household expenses, Jose has found that the cost of living in Canada can easily exceed a family's income. He said he worries how much harder it will be for his children to attain homeownership decades from now.

"No matter how much you make, your take home pay is not even keeping up the expense. Families barely keep their head above water," he said.

"After 10 years of hardship, I am now a proud Canadian citizen who doesn’t want to live in Canada anymore."

Saikiran Yellavula came to Ontario with his family to study in 2019 after having practised dentistry in India for two years. Yellavula got a job in retail while studying health-care administration at Conestoga College, and in 2021, he and his family became permanent residents. For the past 16 months, Yellavula has worked fervently to land a job more suitable to his education and training, with no luck.

Saikiran Yellavula came to Ontario to study with his family in 2019 after having practiced dentistry in India for two years. It's been so hard for Yellavula to find work and afford the cost of living here, he said he's considering moving back to India. (Saikiran Yellavula photo)

"I have applied for approximately 2,000 jobs in Toronto, but have received only one interview," he told CTVNews.ca in an email. "The high cost of living, particularly the soaring grocery prices, combined with the current inflation…has made it incredibly difficult to make ends meet."

On top of struggling to get by in a city known for having some of the highest living expenses in Canada, Yellavula and his family have found Canada's cold climate hard on their physical and mental well-being.

"The combination of these factors has led to a deeply disheartening and depressing experience, not just for us but for many other immigrants facing similar circumstances," Yellavula said. "Regrettably, these challenges have driven us, as well as several others we know, to contemplate leaving Canada for good. It pains us to consider leaving a country that we initially chose with hope and optimism for a better future."

Shahrukh Al Islam, originally from Bangladesh, has been in Canada since 2011, when he moved here for school at 18 years old. He excelled at the University of Alberta and received several academic scholarships. Upon graduating, he landed a job with Amazon in Vancouver. However, Canada no longer holds the same appeal it once did for Al Islam, and he's preparing to move south, where he believes he will earn more, and enjoy more spending power.

"(I) will be leaving Vancouver for Seattle soon," he told CTVNews.ca in an email. "Tech salaries are higher, taxes are lower, houses are cheaper and USD is stronger." 

Shahrukh Al Islam, originally from Bangladesh, has been in Canada since 2010. He's employed full time in Vancouver but said he's planning to move to Seattle, Wash., where wages are more competitive and the cost of living is lower. (Shahrukh Al Islam photo)

Bernard De Vaal and his wife moved to Canada from South Africa in 2018 and tried for five years to build a life here. De Vaal completed a post-graduate program in journalism and the couple had a baby. In 2019, the small family moved from Windsor, Ont. to Vancouver to try and settle into life in Canada.

For another four years, they struggled with social isolation, the high cost of living and the prospect of reaching old age without a sufficient retirement fund. They settled for an apartment that didn't meet their needs, but which was all they could afford. Eventually, they gave up on Canada.

"My wife and daughter have since moved back to South Africa with me having to stay and work in Vancouver to pay off the debt we accumulated over the course of the last five years," De Vaal told CTVNews.ca in an email.

"We feel extremely let down by the 'Canadian' dream. What we found is a withering, uncertain and anti-working class government, happy to sell promises it never intended on keeping."

Other readers who contacted CTVNews.ca cited health-care woes and a hostile political landscape among their reasons for leaving Canada, though affordability was still a common thread.

Bianca Mtz and her partner moved to Canada from Europe when she was 29 and both secured well-paying jobs in Vancouver. Mtz came armed with a master's degree and a PhD in engineering.

Despite their professional success, the two found it hard to cover the expenses of their small family.

"We found ourselves merely scraping by, unable to afford a home to raise our child," Mtz said in an email to CTVNews.ca

Meanwhile, although they had chosen Canada over the United States for its health-care system, they were unable to secure a family doctor.

Compounding these issues, Mtz said, were daily headlines about political scandals, policy failures and pervasive social inequality in Canada. It was enough to convince Mtz and her partner to return to Europe.

"Confronted with a society where hard work did not seem to correlate with fair rewards, where health care and educational systems were compromised, and where government corruption was not an anomaly but a recurrent headline, our longing for Europe’s more accountable and equitable social systems intensified," Mtz said.

"We are thus compelled to return to a society where taxes lead to tangible public services, healthcare is a given right, not a privilege and where schools are havens of learning, unmarred by the pervasive reach of politics." 

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