The next generation of Irish CanadiansSharon Whelton

In April of this year a staggering 3,850 Canadian visa were snapped up by the Irish desperate to get out of Ireland and grab the opportunity for a prosperous future in Canada.

It was noted that the visas were snapped up in just seven minutes.

The International Experience Canada (IEC) visas allow Irish citizens, between 18 and 35, to live in Canada for two years.

The Irish Ambassador to Canada, Ray Bassett, told IrishCentral how Irish people emigrating to Canada are succeeding in terms of finding work and settling into their new surroundings.

Bassett explained that the Canadian visa system can be a lot easier than for those who want to settle permanently in the U.S.A.

“In Canada, certain provinces like Newfoundland and Alberta are directly targeting the Irish to come and live there.”

The Ambassador explained that in certain areas of work the provinces are allowed to employ their own immigration criteria, separate from the federal criteria, and this allows for much easier access to Canada for Irish immigrants.

“We expect over 15,000 new Irish immigrants this year, and of this we expect about a third of those to seek permanent residency.

“Alberta is taking a lot of the new Irish; Canada as a country has a pro immigration policy which makes it easier for those who wish to stay.”

What makes Canada different is that immigration is viewed positively by the vast majority of the Canadian population.

Ambassador Bassett says that in Canada there is very little anti-social behavior from the Irish as opposed to the stories coming out of Australia in terms of alcohol fueled incidents.

“I think there is a different level of seriousness about moving to Canada. Nobody comes here for the climate, so I think they take a much more serious approach to work and communities here are very welcoming to the Irish.”

“Canada is a country built on immigrants and the Irish are held in very high regard,” says Bassett

“It’s very easy to establish a prosperous life here and I think now, more than ever, it’s easier for younger Irish people emigrating to settle here as there is a much broader Irish community now in comparison to the earlier days.”

“The Irish GAA community is blooming with talks of establishing a Canadian championship,” added the Irish ambassador.

Bassett says that “2014 is going to continue to welcome a host of new Irish immigrants,” but admits that those returning home now are those who are most qualified, such as those from the engineering industry, who are returning to an Ireland that appears to be offering them a greater chance of prosperity then when they first left.

Lisa Collender, Marketing Manager with USIT Ireland, one of Ireland’s leading travel companies specializing in assisting Irish people seeking work abroad, said, “Our program provides assistance with IEC visa application process to ensure correct submissions throughout the various stages.”

“In previous years, most of our participants would have traveled to the major cities like Vancouver and Toronto; this year, we are finding that people are branching out more.

“Alberta has become very popular particularly, because of the availability of construction work.”

She added, “We try to prepare those traveling on our program to open their minds to alternative opportunities. While there are definitely more jobs available in Canada, you do still have to work at it.

“We always encourage our participants to embrace Canadian lifestyle with many trying their hand at the various winter sports that are not generally found in Ireland. Some even go so far as to try curling! There is an ever growing Irish community throughout Canada with lots of online forums to provide practical advice and make the move even easier.”

USIT Ireland stresses that there are other options also available for those who desire a new life. As Collender explained to IrishCentral, a further option has opened up with two new categories.

A specially designed category for young professionals, particularly graduates of post-secondary educational institutions in Ireland, can further their careers by gaining work experience under a pre-arranged contract of employment in Canada.

“The main difference between this and the regular IEC is that they must have a letter of offer or contract of employment that is related to their field of professional experience that supports their career development.”

The second phase is the International Co-Op phase (Internship) category which is designed for those who are registered students.

SO WHY CANADA?

Known as the "four-seasons playground" nestled in western Canada, Alberta is steeped in history and focused on the great outdoors. It has become a home from home for many Irish immigrants and one Irish woman who is reaping the rewards of her new life is Sharon Whelton.

The young Irish woman graduated with a degree in Journalism and New Media in 2012 from the University of Limerick. Speaking to IrishCentral about her new life, Whelton explained why she sees Canada as a home away from home.

“I moved to Calgary, Alberta in November 2012, having spent the previous summer applying for job after job, to little or no avail in Ireland.

“As a recent graduate in Journalism and New Media, it was extremely frustrating to send out so many applications, and hear nothing back. My boyfriend Mike and I had applied for the IEC visa to have as a fallback option, if nothing proved successful for us in Ireland.”

As fate would have it, Mike was offered two jobs in Calgary in early September of 2012, and once he had chosen his preferred job, he basically booked his flights and left two weeks after, with Sharon making the same decision in early November.

“Life in Canada as a young professional is great, there is so much employment opportunities for almost every type of qualifications nowadays.

Both Sharon and Mike soon joined the local division of the GAA and began playing with Calgary Chieftains GAA club which is predominantly Irish based.

“I can’t stress enough how much I would recommend joining clubs or societies when you move to a new city. Our closest friends are pretty much all Irish, and it’s really great as we’re all here for the same reason – things in Ireland just weren’t working out for us, so the fact that we’re all in the same boat really makes all the difference.”

Originally the plan was for Sharon and Mike to spend one year in Canada but in 2013, they renewed their visas for another year, and are now in the middle of their permanent residency application.

“It’s crazy to think that it’s gone from wanting to come over and see what Calgary is like, to seriously contemplating a future in this city. Calgary is a wonderful city-good job prospects and it has a good standard of living.”

The young graduate stresses that, while it can be expensive, salaries are typically higher than what you may potentially earn in Ireland.

Homesickness

“Of course you miss your friends and family, who doesn’t when you move halfway across the world?

“But the harsh reality is that your nearest and dearest can’t secure you a permanent position in your desired field back in Ireland,” added Sharon.

What does help is being involved in the community through the GAA and having such a close network of Irish friends. Sharon cites this as one of the greatest ways to combat homesickness.

“You never really notice you’re thousands of miles away when you’re surrounded by so many fellow Irish people.

“I don’t want to rule out a return to Ireland in years to come, but right now it’s not really an option for me.”

LIFE IN VANCOUVER


Another young Irish woman from Co Waterford is 25-year-old AnnMarie Blount, who spent a year living in Canada following her graduation with a degree in English and History in 2012.

Blount has recently returned to live in Ireland, but looks back with fond memories of her time as an honoree Canadian.

“We booked our visa through USIT, and one advantage of this is that they work with a company called SWAP. Swap is a company in Canada that helps people who are coming over on work visas by creating by creating a little network hub for people to get information on the cities they are moving to.

“They also have an introduction day for when you first arrive which can be a life saver, especially for the Irish. It provides vital information you need for living and working in Vancouver.

“They tell you about setting up bank accounts and which banks have the best rates, and adding to the basics they organize events for people to go and mingle with fellow travelers, events such as ice hockey games and other cultural and social activities.”

Like many young emigrants starting a new life on a budget can be difficult and Blount admits that at times Vancouver can be a bit of a pain.

“I lived in Burnaby, which is a city about 20 minutes sky train ride outside Vancouver, and lived there for about eight months, but the rent was expensive for what we were getting. It cost around $625 each for a two bedroom place.”

“In May, we moved out of that apartment closer to downtown, as the rent was cheaper.”

Vancouver has always been known as an expensive city and Blount agrees “They don’t have shops like Tesco or Aldi like in Ireland where you can feed yourself for a week on half nothing.”

“They do however have a huge army and navy store which is the equivalent of Michael Guiney’s in Ireland, where you can get everything for half the price of other shops.

“Thrift stores are also a hugely popular place to shop in Vancouver and it’s actually quite a popular thing to boast about how much you got in thrift stores for very little money.”

WORKING LIFE

Now living back in Ireland, Blount remembers that the beginning of her year away and gaining work experience was rather difficult.

“When I first arrived I decided that I would get a little job waitressing, something to keep me going until I found something that would give me experience, and by experience I mean experience in something I had never done before.

“I was very lucky in my second week to find a job in a small cafe that had just opened and I was one of their first employees, the cafe and the owners became like a second home to me in Vancouver.

The Waterford woman admits to finding the job you want in Vancouver can be difficult but she pushed herself to gain the experience she had left Ireland to find and with her moving to downtown she sought a new role.

Blount began working for a fund-raising company that raises funds for various charities by going door to door trying to get people to sign up for a monthly contribution to whatever charity you are allocated to.”

It was a challenging role that took some adjusting to but such is Canadian life says Blount. “It took me a while to get over the fear of knocking on people’s doors ,and disturbing people in their own homes, but I can’t begin to describe the friendliness of Canadians, even if they weren’t interested they gave you the time to explain what you were doing.”

“Something that I found amazing about Canadians is that along with the amount they contribute to charity, it seems like it is a normal part of life. That once you begin to earn a wage, part of that is to go to charity, even the young teens and students in Vancouver are donating to charities whenever they have some extra cash.”

ADVICE

“I would advise people to inquire as to where the Irish hang and spend a lot of time there making friends and contacts. If there is a GAA club I would advise joining it, even if you have never played. It's a great way to meet other Irish. That was my biggest regret not joining a GAA club. I had it in my head that I didn’t want to meet Irish I wanted to meet Canadians…but there is nothing better than having a group of Irish friends over there.

“I’m not sure about the rest of Canada, but I found with Vancouver the people are probably the friendliest in the world, but it is quite hard to get beyond the friendliness and actually make friends with them. Although I did eventually make the best Canadian friends in the end.”

Looking back on an amazing year long experience and love affair with Canada Blount adds, “What I would say to people who are going to Vancouver now, you are probably going to the best city in the world. Do as many things as you can while you are there. Go skiing in Whistler; check out Davie Street (the famous gay district in Canada); walk around west van houses just to experience the crazy wealth in Vancouver; walk down east Hastings and Main and get the fright of your life with the drugs and crazy people hanging out down there.

“If the famous Vancouver rain is depressing you during the winter, you’ll forget all about it in spring/summer. I swear once you settle into Vancouver you will never want to leave, I didn’t.”

With so many settling in Canada, it would appear that yes, sometimes new pastures are lined with prosperity and for now Ireland continues to export the best and brightest for other countries to nurture.