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Why these immigrants to Canada say they're thinking about leaving, or have already moved on

Duncan Yuen says he decided to move to New Zealand 'to try something new.' (Duncan Yuen) Duncan Yuen says he decided to move to New Zealand 'to try something new.' (Duncan Yuen)

For some immigrants, their dreams of permanently settling in Canada have taken an unexpected twist.

Canada is grappling not only with a surge of immigrants arriving in the country, but also those who are leaving.

The number of newcomers leaving Canada has been steadily increasing since the 1980s, according to a 2023 study.

Beyond finding better job opportunities and a higher standard of living elsewhere, newcomers' reasons for leaving may be more complex, and are sometimes a personal choice rather than a practical decision or necessity. spoke with three immigrants who settled in Canada about why they left or why life in another country is now seeming more appealing.

'Disappointed' in Canada

Nadia Bilal said her husband was making triple the salary as an information technology professional in Saudi Arabia, but he quit his job so their family could move to Canada.

Bilal, a 40-year-old robotics and coding teacher who lives in Mississauga, Ont., said her family landed in Canada in August 2017. Their savings was enough to help them survive as her husband looked for a job, which he found within five months.

Originally from Pakistan, she said she sought the dream of a better life and future for herself and her family, and that they found it during the first few years they were in Canada. Though Canada is inclusive and respectful towards religion, something the family sought out, she said now she isn't so sure it's the place they could realize their dreams.

Bilal said her husband is "pretty happy" with his still-high-paying job in IT, and added all of her family members have become Canadian citizens.

But she's now trying to convince him that they should move out of Canada.

"I feel disappointed," Bilal said in a video interview with "I was pretty happy living in this country. … I would have grown old right in this country. But now I'm reconsidering that."

Initially, she said, she expected Canada to have a safe environment and a good health-care system.

"Like when you get taxed so highly, you expect these things to be given, right? But after the pandemic, … there is a downward trend."

With three children aged 15, 13 and just 22 months, she felt less safe going out as she noticed what she described as a rise in crime, road rage and general law breaking.

Life after the pandemic also meant a higher cost of living.

The high cost of housing was a problem. Bilal said she and her family were forced to move out of their three-bedroom rental home in January because, she alleges, their landlord wanted to illegally raise the rent from $2,700 to $3,000.

"We cannot even afford a house for ourselves and we are struggling with rent," she said, noting the expenses involved in raising three children and supporting her in-laws, including groceries and rent for a large enough home.

"It's hard to save money even though my husband makes over $120,000 a year."

As for health care, she said she didn't feel supported by her gynecologist through her last pregnancy, during which she dealt with a condition called esophageal achalasia that made it "really difficult."

Nadia Bilal, shown with her family, is considering leaving Canada. (Nadia Bilal)

Nadia Bilal immigrated to Canada with her family in 2017. (Nadia Bilal)

Yearning for change

Duncan Yuen says he and his then-wife were yearning for change when they decided to uproot their young family from Canada to New Zealand in 1995. His daughter was then seven and his son was four.

A year before their move, Yuen, then 32, had been laid off from his computer programming job at a large American company in Toronto.

"It wasn't that we dislike Canada," Yuen, now 62, said in a video interview with from Auckland. "I decided to try something new. And my ex-wife at that time also wanted to try that too, so we end up in New Zealand."

In addition to a change in lifestyle, a warmer climate was appealing. He said his wife, originally from St. Catharines, Ont., found Toronto a bit too crowded.

"So she wanted to move to a quieter place," he said. "She didn't really like Toronto so much. We lived in a townhouse. The neighbours are very close."

His mother, two sisters and in-laws from his wife's side remained in Canada, so the decision wasn't easy. Still, they decided to try a new life elsewhere.

The computer science industry was changing very fast, but he found a software consulting job just three months after arriving in New Zealand. He later developed new skills and got "much better" jobs, including as a computer system administrator.

Though New Zealand was similar to Canada in many ways since it was an English-speaking country, Yuen said, Auckland was smaller than Toronto, the cost of living was high and people generally earned less money there than in Canada.

Still, he and his family liked the moderate weather, with rainy winters and summers that don't get too hot, and they liked the friendly people.

Yuen, who immigrated to Canada as a foreign student from Hong Kong in 1979, feels his roots are in both Canada and New Zealand. His now-ex-wife and daughter decided to stay in New Zealand as well, because they liked life there, but his son, now in his 30s, moved back to Canada four years ago.

"I noticed as an immigrant that some people, like myself, I always have a sense of belonging wherever I move to," he said. "Whereas some people, they always feel like they have a piece left behind, that the roots (are) somewhere else. So my son feels like his roots are in Canada. It's different for different people."

Duncan Yuen says he feels his roots are in New Zealand and Canada. (Duncan Yuen)

Came for love, left for family

After 25 years in Canada, Henriëtte Breunis left the place where she loved, lived and worked in September 2023.

Love brought Breunis to Canada in 1999, when she met her late partner. It was love again that led to the 72-year-old's decision to return to her native country, the Netherlands, so she could help care for her son.

A stroke in 2018 left her son, Marco, with brain damage. His left side is paralyzed, resulting in him using a wheelchair. Her friend was accompanying her son to doctor's appointments. The friend also paid Marco weekly visits until the spring of 2023, when she moved to the countryside and it was no longer realistic to spend so much time in the capital.

So, in August 2023, Breunis retired from working as a research co-ordinator at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto and moved back to the Netherlands to be her 54-year-old son's caregiver.

"He started needing more and more help and he lives in an assisted living facility, but the assisted living is only indoors," she said in a video interview with from Amsterdam. "So I came here to help him do more things outside the house … going to concerts and to a museum; every now and then go out for dinner."

Before moving, she researched whether he could move to Canada to receive the care, but says it wasn't financially feasible.

"His care is so expensive that I would never be able to afford it," she explained. "In Canada, you can bring somebody with an existing condition but the government would not pay more cost than for the average cost per capita in Canada and that would not be enough."

Immigrants applying to come to Canada must meet requirements, some of which are specific to those who have medical conditions that may place excessive demand on the health or social services. The Canadian government will only pay a maximum of $26,220 per year over five years for people with an existing condition, she said, which isn't sufficient for her son's care needs.

In the Netherlands, health care is privatized but long-term care, which applies to her son, is public, she said.

If she was able to cover the cost of his care in Canada, she said, she would have stayed in the country.

Still, she said the health-care system in the Netherlands is "very expensive." Living on a Dutch and Canadian pension and her savings, she said she herself pays $300 a month for private health-care insurance and the taxes are higher there.

Her son's care costs about 80,000 euros per year (C$120,000), she said, most of which is covered by the Dutch government. Based on income, he only pays the equivalent of about C$600 monthly for care that includes nurses and personal support workers who take care of him seven days a week. Though he no longer can work, he receives a long-term disability benefit from the government, based on 80 per cent of the income he had when he was working.

His apartment costs $15,000 to rent per year, she added.

"So he lives fairly independently. He has a two-bedroom apartment. He has day programs where he can do art, and I don't have to live with him," she said.

Her son is happy to have her around, she said, but she misses life and her friends in Toronto. She said she gave up her Dutch citizenship so she could become a Canadian citizen in 2005.

Breunis, who was divorced, initially moved to Canada in 1999 when her daughter was studying in university and her son was working, so neither child moved with her. She decided to immigrate so she could be with her Dutch-Canadian partner, Breunis Kamphorst. He had befriended her after finding out her last name was the same as his first name. Tragedy struck soon after she started her new life in Canada, as he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in November 1999. He died a year later.

She said she found Canada more welcoming to immigrants than the Netherlands, and added, "I especially miss the melting pot of all the cultures that we have in Canada."

Henriëtte Breunis returned to the Netherlands to help care for her son Marco, pictured. (Henriëtte Breunis)

Henriëtte Breunis is shown with her daughter Monique and granddaughter Romee. (Henriëtte Breunis)

Henriëtte Breunis moved to Canada to be with her partner Breunis Kamphorst. (Henriëtte Breunis)

If you previously immigrated to Canada and have since left the country, or are thinking of leaving the country, wants to hear from you.

What factors might have influenced your decision to leave Canada? Did you face any obstacles in Canada that contributed to your decision leave? What made you move to Canada in the first place?

Share your story by emailing us with your name, general location and phone number in case we want to follow up. Your comments may be used in a story. Top Stories

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