A Covid-19 Guide for Newcomers
Moving to a new country takes fortitude. The idea of trading a place one called home to start anew is a notion fraught with expectation, anticipation, fear and even disappointment depending on the dream you have or what you believed to be the reality of your intended destination. 2020 was a ‘craze’ setting year in many regards, but hardly anyone anticipated they would be at the mercy of the COVID-19 pandemic; suddenly, what was calm and tranquil was filled with doubts, fears, restrictions, and phobias. It was enough to make the citizens question their positions, their financial futures, their health (mental and physical) and even their social standing. In countries struggling to save themselves are the newcomers/immigrant populations who though generally silent were just as anxious of the situation if not even more so, feeling like an outsider stuck in a tidal wave.
To understand the position of the average newcomer, it is important to identify the key stress points for those entangled. These included:
Many newcomers are initially reliant on service and “survival jobs” as a means to obtain Canadian experience and make ends meet. During the height of the pandemic, many service industries closed, workers were laid-off and businesses were on a hiring freeze. This is especially troubling to migrants who are not on permanent resident visas as it adds additional complexity if they are only legally allowed to work for the company to which a work permit was issued. An additionally item in the newcomer’s case is the fact that unfortunately, not everyone qualifies for benefit programs which though very inclusive are still dependent on several qualifying factors including the number of hours worked thus far. This can work against those still in the job hunt phase, those who have just starting work or persons who have had opportunities rescinded because of the pandemic.
Finding Financial Balance
For many newcomers, downsizing their standard of living to save money is difficult when there is a lock-down, and even after restrictions were lifted, many people still wish to avoid co-sharing and home-sharing ventures which may put them or their family at risk. This is understandable; however, these are the main means by which newcomers find initial housing without credit scores and job letters. Wire transfers are another source of stress as they require banks to be open in originating countries which is/was not always the case if the country is in a state of emergency. Another inhibitor was the fact that many online grocery stores required local credit cards for online purchases, which meant that food access was in a way restricted during the lock-down for those who did not have fund deposits already in the country, or who may not have the opportunity to secure a credit card (Banks may arrange a credit card for the primary visa holder but this is not necessarily extended to their accompanying spouse).
The Mouse Trap
The rent still needed to be paid, food is still a necessity and to make matters worse even if newcomers/immigrants wanted to escape and return to their former countries it was/is not an option because flights are halted, and in some cases, borders closed. For some newcomers, COVID-19 had created the perfect mouse trap. As the weeks go by and funds dwindle, the situation then turns from one where even if they wanted to go back, they may not be able to afford to anymore. “Should the last set of savings be used for rent or a plane ticket?”
Part of the ‘joy’ of being a newcomer is figuring out a new system of care. Part of the ‘joy’ of COVID-19 was the realization that access to registration systems were no longer available or limited. Nobody knows where to direct your inquiry, when your matter will be attended to, or when next services will be available. To give an example of how this affects the greater picture, let’s consider the position of those within the skilled trades industry such as the mechanic or service technician who may not be able to acquire a license or permit.
Access to Tools
A number of immigrant services provide digital resources for newcomers who may not have the necessary ‘tools’ at their disposal. This includes computer access, printing services, library resources, mentoring and advisory sources. Many of these services have been migrated to online platforms, however, some newcomers find themselves at a disadvantage because they do not have the means to access these services due to a lack of equipment (printer, computer, etc.) or internet services.
There are many reasons members of the afro-diaspora choose to move to the shores of Canada but at the forefront of it is the expectation of a more tolerant society which allows them peace-of-mind, growth, a brighter future, generational prosperity and perhaps acceptance. Luckily, some organizations have noticed the plights of newcomers and provided advice and additional services to assist. So, what are the solutions?
Condition Readiness and Employment Assistance
There are a number of comprehensive guides provided to help newcomers integrate however many of these do not necessarily include direct advice in relation to the COVID-19 position. A few organizations have been taking the mantle on this e.g. the moving to Canada website, suggests that newcomers ensure that they have health insurance, be aware of their position with respect to EI (Employment Insurance) contributions and benefits, reach out to their communities and take care of their mental and physical health. Likewise, Toronto Regional Immigration Employment Council (TRIEC) has launched initiatives to provide further support to immigrants with their job search during these uncertain times. My advice, be even more wary of savings vs needs, recalculate the amount of funds required based on current conditions and be strategic in your spending.
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Reach Out to Your Community
Many African-based cultures have a spirit of community which tends to shine through in the darker moments. This is not to say that one should swallow one’s pride and ask for favors but rather that one should maintain this spirit by ensuring that you are on someone’s radar and others are on yours. Create and find support groups that can not only assist you, but you can also contribute to as quickly as possible, because in times of sickness we all need a helping hand. Additionally, be aware of your position, do regular self-checks and do not ignore the signs. In short, look out for yourself as well as others.
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Know What Assistance Programs are Available
Many of us would hope that we never find ourselves in a position where we need to rely on direct help, but sometimes situations occur that fall outside of our control and in some cases understanding. If that day does arise, it is always best to know before you need. Having this information already available and up to date means that research time is skipped and call to action is swift. This reduction in reaction time could quite possibly play a positive influence on the time it takes to rebound/recover and could get you and your family back on the road to prosperity sooner than you think.
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Find Out Where to Get the Necessary Tools
The digital divide is difficult for many organizations to ratify assistance. Finding an affordable means to provide equipment to those in need can be challenging especially if there is risk involved. Internet services are even more difficult. As mentioned before, many newcomers use shared accommodation initially so unless access is provided by wireless means then the onus is on the ‘owner’ or primary tenant to approve the provisioning of services. Despite the challenges, the government of Canada and several entities are trying to bridge the divide through sponsorship programs.
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Self-checking is the measure of where you are with respect to a baseline/condition and is an important means of gauging your position, determining actions to be taken and identifying threats and opportunities. As a newcomer, four (4) things may stand out during these uncertain times (1) Feelings, (2) Blessings, (3) Contributions and (4) Purpose.
Feelings – Understand what you are feeling. Are you feeling lonely, fearful, optimism, happiness, frustration, etc? Frame of mind can be a great determination of what you may need and your capacity to give.
Blessings – Count your blessings and remember to show appreciation to those who have helped you and have made you feel welcomed.
Contributions – Remember to stay engaged, maintain your drive and where possible ‘pay-it-forward’ i.e. give someone else the same support that you were given.
Purpose – It is reasonable to question why you made the decisions you made but remember that you came with purpose. Stay mindful of this.
It is evident that it will be some time before a new normal becomes established. It is therefore best that newcomers be prepared to play the long game. The government of Canada usually advises having 1 year of funding available for newcomers to settle, extend this timeline to account for unforeseen circumstances. This includes recession planning which involves a look at not only short-term but long-term positioning with respect to money. Many banks offer advice with respect to money management and have taken the current climate into consideration so do not be afraid to ask your advisor for assistance.
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Finally, Be Vigilant
Newcomers are often the target of work and financial scams as they are usually the least knowledgeable about situations and formalities of due process. Due to COVID-19 the move to online services has resulted in a higher presence of behaviors which aim to take advantage of cognitive lapses in judgement caused by fear and desperation. If you are doubtful in any way, then get items ratified and ask mindful professionals for a second opinion. It is better to be safe than sorry.
“Welcome to Canada!! Stay Safe, Stay Calm and Sta