- Weighing the pros and cons for highly-skilled Pakistani professionals
Pakistan makes the global top 10 in two ways — it has one of the largest diasporas in the world and second, it is a top source country of new immigrants to Canada. A large number of highly-skilled Pakistani professionals are making their way to Canada especially through its Express Entry Program.
These Pakistanis are an instrumental part of Canadian society as acknowledged by Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister at the time, Jason Kenney, back in 2009.
“Pakistani-Canadians play an important role in Canada. We are seeing more and more newcomers arriving from Pakistan,” he had stated then.
Many have made their move through the Middle East that is actually host to the largest number of Pakistani migrants, but who are usually seen as a temporary immigrants due to the lack of access to Gulf passports.
In fact, the Middle East serves as a stepping stone for applying to Canada for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the higher salaries help achieve the minimum bank requirement for the Canadian application. Second, Gulf immigrants usually have gone through some document verification already.
“My motivation for moving to Canada has been to get a better life with a permanence factor that is not available to expats (in the Gulf)," says Ammar Ahmed Sheikh, Director of Acepro Consulting Group, bringing to light the third reason why it is easier to move from the Middle East, which is after living as a temporary resident most start yearning for a more permanent solution.
This has resulted in a collective Pakistani experience of going through this process that leaves everyone more informed.
And while there have been some who have moved from Pakistan, it has been a mixed bag of experiences for them.
“I think any move is hard especially from your home country,” says Neha Arif Riar, Head of HR at Reckitt Canada. “Because you’re leaving family, aging parents and the comfort of your homes. If Reckitt was not able to transfer me, getting a job in Canada would have been tough because Canadians usually prefer local experience and it takes a while.
“I have a lot of friends who worked at multinationals in Pakistan but were unable to get a transfer. They’re either taking a step down in their careers or are still searching.”
So what has motivated scores of skilled Pakistanis to make the move?
The main reason — the passport and the opportunities associated with it. According to the The Henley Passport Index, Canada is in the seventh most-coveted group in the world.
“The idea was to leave Dubai and come to Canada even though a lot of us were losing out on money,” says Syed Ali Naqvi, Amazon Senior Vendor Manager - Canada Retail. “Also to have that security and government support as a national.
“Even if we do not become successful or we become moderately successful, the system itself will give enough opportunities to our children and future generations to study, to get medical support, to make something out of themselves whatever that might be.”
Another dimension of security Pakistani immigrants are looking for pertains to minorities in Pakistan. Sectarian violence has been a long-running issue in Pakistan with the most recent deadly attack in March this year resulting in 57 deaths in Peshawar.
Increased representation of women in corporate Canada poses as a major plus of the country’s working experience in comparison to Pakistan.
“Women were only 20% of the organisation in Pakistan and here we’re sitting at about 70% women and I enjoy that a lot as a woman working here,” says Riar.
As of today, Pakistan has a 20 percent workplace participation rate for women, which places it as one the lowest both in South Asia and globally, according to the World Bank.
Not to mention the year-long maternity leave Canada offers that makes the corporate culture more attractive to female employees.
And just generally Canadian workplaces also seem to hit the nail on the head through the diversity it offers.
“We are surrounded by immigrants at work so it’s easy to ask questions and to relate to your colleagues," says Naqvi. “People’s past experiences were much more relatable so I didn’t feel like an outsider.”
There has been unanimous agreement about the work life balance which is an added bonus to life in Canada.
Statutory holidays, long weekends and an overall culture of observing a work-life balance have been highly appreciated especially amongst those with families.
“In Pakistan, I was definitely working longer hours,” says Riar. “I didn’t have much work life balance. I was constantly doing different things, I didn’t have much time for my family. In Canada, I think people here are more respectful of your boundaries and your limitations versus Pakistan so I really enjoy that here.”
Grass is not always greener in Canada
The real question to ask is, will the skilled professionals return?
At the end of the day, it’s either about the family left behind specifically parents, or the undeniable fact that years of foreign experience is most likely to fast-track you to high profile jobs that may have not been as quickly accessible in Canada.
“Yes [we plan to return] in the long term with the main reason being our parents despite what the situation is economically in Pakistan right now and what’s happening politically,” says Riar. “Our roots are there but timing is a question mark.
“For me because most of my family is here [in North America], the idea is not to go back to Pakistan,” says Naqvi. “My parents - it’s easier for them here - they’re active, social and take care of their individual wellness. And that’s made it worth it.”
Sheikh offers the latter perspective. “Will I go back to Pakistan? Yes, provided a stable and secure life style.” While the words “stable” and “secure” aren’t exactly synonymous with Pakistan, the bitter truth is that it is achievable with the right amount of income and job status.
Moreover, Pakistan’s low cost of living is undeniable lending to a comfortable lifestyle for its elite.
Whatever the reasons for immigrating maybe, and whether or not a skilled worker returns to Pakistan, the diaspora are a very prominent part of the Pakistani reality. They remain entrenched in the welfare of Pakistan evident through the foreign remittances, living room political discourse and or even the proliferation of Pakistani fashion trends globally.
The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners
The article, originally published August 30, created the impression that Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney is currently holding this position. This error is regretted, and has been rectified.