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Immigration: A new life

December 22, 2012

Photo by Emaan Rana/White Star

“Take the flight that lands after six in the evening.” Zain Sherwani spoke loudly and clearly in his cell phone, talking 11,000 km away to his father in Karachi, Pakistan. “That way, you and Ami will be out by eightish and I can come straight from work.” Zain was preparing for his parents’ arrival in Canada and as much as he had done, he still wasn’t sure if he was forgetting something. “Too bad Google doesn’t have a checklist for such events,” he thought. As Zain’s parents are in their mid 60s, he knew that uprooting them from their birthplace and distancing them from their childhood memories, and more importantly friends, was a very thorny business. But he is not alone. Zain’s parents are one of the 25,000 senior citizens immigrating to Canada in 2012, from all over the world. And as with any key change in life, especially in that age bracket, adjustment can be daunting. Just the fact that the ground is white with snow for half the year is enough to freeze most people in their tracks.

Last August, Farwah Adnan’s parents migrated from Islamabad. “Initially, they thought of it as a long vacation, travelling between Ottawa and Saskatoon, where my brother resides, but slowly the realisation settled in that they were here for good. As the days grew shorter in the winter months, I could see that a feeling of restlessness and gloom was moving in. That’s when I used the return airline ticket I had insisted Abba purchase. They went back to Islamabad for January and February. And once they returned, I noticed the difference. They knew their ‘home’ was within reach. Frankly, I don’t think they will ever consider this place home. But at least they are not unhappy here.”

Sajjad Qavi took a major step forward when his parents got their landing papers in May 2012. He shifted his home to make the transition easier for his parents. “Because I am single, it was fairly easy for me to do so. My new home is in the same building where my two other friends reside with their families. As one of them works from home, Abu is able to attend Friday prayers in congregation. Even though it’s a Somalian mosque, he has the community feeling and enjoys the sermon in English. With this strategic move to the new location, I was able to create a strong social network for my parents.”

Sibte Haider Zaidi migrated from Lahore to his son’s home in Montreal more than four years ago. “My daughter lives two hours away and we have few Pakistani families close by, with whom we meet every other week. The geographical shifting was easier for us and we were really lucky in this regard.” When asked if he missed his social life and the fabulous flavours of Lahori food, he jokingly replied, “Well, at this age, your doctor won’t allow you to eat what you consumed 10 years ago. And when inviting a new circle of friends for dinner, we cook with packaged spices.”

Another positive factor for Mr Zaidi is that his five grandchildren under the age of seven take up a major chunck of the day.

“Time literally flies when the children are around. I take so much pleasure in their company and am blessed to see them grow before my eyes.”

On the other side of the scale is Zakia Ali Jawad who is still trying to adjust in a new country. Her son, Ayaz, explains, “After Aba’s death, Ama was all alone and it was not easy for me to visit her every six months. Despite her very strong opposition, I filed for her sponsorship and she landed here in February 2011. I know she is unhappy, but at least, we are together and her medical needs can be attended to”. However, even after the passage of nearly two years, Mrs Jawad is still very bitter about the current scenario.

“I left my house, my friends, my memories and most importantly, my husband in Karachi. As my son and his wife work full time, I have absolutely nothing to do. And I am not good with directions, so I don’t venture out on my own.” The resentment and dislike could be seen clearly on her face. “Everything is different here. The weather, the people, the setup, the culture. How do you expect an elderly lady, in the last decade of her life, to settle here? Now my only prayer to God is that when the time comes, I be buried next to my husband,” she added angrily. The only activity on her hands is to teach Quran Sharif to two children living close by.

But then again, there are people like Syed Ammar, who was sponsored by his son Kamil in 2009. “Even before our landing papers arrived, we had created a list of activities that we could get involved in. My wife is very creative and had taken stitching lessons in Karachi. She has carried on her hobby here and is doing pretty well. My brother suggested I initiate a trading account in the stock market and now I am an active trader. The frequent buying and selling of stocks keeps my mind sharp and I have something to keep me busy. Not to mention the few extra dollars I make daily.” His few words of wisdom: “We should be grateful for all the pleasures in our life. I was able to give azaan in my granddaughter’s ear. True, I left my birthplace and a million memories behind, but look what I gained”.

Your immigration checklist

Before departure

  •   If you drive in Pakistan, try to get an international driving license before you leave. Then you can give both the driving tests, written and road test, within a month of each other.
  •  If possible, try to travel between May and September. This is dependent on the arrival of the landing papers, but there is a leeway of 90 days from the date of issue before you need to land in Canada.
The host in Canada
  • Purchase a return ticket from your parents’ hometown. The knowledge that they can leave if they wish will add to their level of security and comfort.
  • Try booking a flight that lands during daytime in the new city. Leaving the airport when it’s dark and gloomy outside will add to the fatigue and depression.
  • If they are arriving in winter, meet your parents with winter jackets and gloves at the airport.
  • Acquire a SIM and cellphone for the incoming guests. Print your own cell number and stick it to the refrigerator, so that they have means to contact you while you are in office.
  • Understand that even English-speaking parents may have difficulty in comprehending the accent and pronunciation of the locals; make allowances for communication problems.
Documentation
  • PRC: A Permanent Resident Card is a wallet-sized plastic document issued to all permanent residents to confirm their status in Canada. This card is mailed to new residents at the postal address provided within 90 days of arrival. It is required on re-entering Canada, so until you receive the card, it is advisable not to exit Canada.
  • Health card: This is the key to Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). Depending on the province, not every member of the family will be issued a health card. Newcomers need to visit the designated office to apply for the health card. OHIP coverage begins after three months of the resident landing in Canada. Until then, either you pay from your pocket or purchase international medical coverage before leaving Pakistan. Provide exact documents as required; photocopies or substitutes will only create an unnecessary delay.
  • Eye care: A comprehensive eye examination is covered by OHIP annually for persons under 20 and over 65 year of age. For ages 20 to 64, it includes annual eye examinations for those having pre-existing medical conditions.
  • Dental Services: The ministry pays for some dental surgery when it is done in a hospital. However, regular dental services, incurred at the dentist's office, must be paid by the patient.
  • Other health care: You may need to pay the full or partial cost of services provided by physiotherapists, podiatrists, etc.
Winter worry
  • No matter what you say, there is no avoidance of the extreme weather in Canada. The effects can be minimised, but not eliminated.
  • Layer your clothing. Leg warmers and a fitted vest will maintain the body heat and reduce heat from escaping. A regular winter jacket is less efficient than fitted inner clothing in conserving the body’s heat.
  • Boots, couple of inches higher than the ankle, with rubber soles and deep grooves are essential; not only will they prevent snow from entering your shoe, they will keep you from slipping on ice and snow.
  • Always check the weather report before venturing out and make sure you’re dressed appropriately; any skin uncovered in freezing temperatures can cause frostbite.