Huong Nguyen moved from Vietnam to Prince Edward Island last fall with her husband, who was starting his business on the island.
“I was a doctor in Vietnam,” she said.
But despite taking English lessons, volunteering and trying to meet people at events, Nguyen said she struggled to find a job. Ideally, she would like to work in healthcare, but says at this point she just wants a full-time job.
She is not alone. Difficulty finding stable employment was the second biggest concern highlighted in the results of a recent survey of newcomers to PEI.
The survey was conducted last year by the PEI Immigration Partnership Program, part of the Immigration and Refugee Services Association (IRSA) PEI.
Program coordinator Melanie Bailey said more than 250 newcomers responded to the survey, revealing emerging trends.
Problems accessing health care, immigration delays
Although previous surveys in 2020 highlighted problems with making social connections as a major challenge, difficulties in accessing health services “came to the top spot this year”, Bailey said.
She said ongoing immigration processing delays are another major challenge, leaving many newcomers stuck in limbo, waiting years for answers to applications such as work permits and permanent residency.
“It was a huge crisis point,” she said.
Discrimination was also highlighted in the survey responses.
“There was an increase in discrimination from 6% to 12%. Additionally, 35% of survey participants with school-aged children reported that their child had experienced discrimination at school” , Bailey said.
Tamer Selim, who moved to the island of Dubai three years ago, said he was concerned about rising concerns about discrimination.
Although he said he had not experienced any overt discrimination, he found himself in situations where he felt people avoided interacting with him and other newcomers.
“You feel like you’re not in the room, actually. But we can’t say it’s discrimination. I would say it’s a misunderstanding of cultural differences,” he said .
“I want to see one day, some kind of open dialogue…where we try to help Islanders change their mindset about newcomers and embrace them and open their arms and hearts to newcomers.”
Worry about business viability
Selim also raised concerns about the fourth biggest worry flagged in the survey results: the viability of newcomer businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
He said he heard from some of his friends who came to Prince Edward Island several years ago to open businesses, that their businesses were not yet profitable.
“Imagine if you have a shop for three years, which does not generate any money, what will your financial situation be at this time?” said Selim. “They just spend all their money.”
Huong Nguyen said it was not about his family’s business.
Nguyen’s husband imports products like coffee and tea from Vietnam to the island. Together they have attended workshops to connect with island businesses, which helps them attract more local customers, she said.
They have also participated in occasions to showcase their products to the public, such as the Asian Market last September in Summerside, she said.
“Now [our business] is fine. We have a lot of support from some organizations like IRSA and PEI Connectors and we have a lot of new friends. They are very supportive of our business.”
Bailey said the survey results will be sent to PEI organizations. to help them provide better services to newcomers. The next survey of newcomers will take place in August.