Nfld. & Labrador

Immigrant families are leaving N.L., citing better opportunities elsewhere

Many Syrian immigrant families in Newfoundland and Labrador are packing their bags and heading for greener pastures — a result of lack of opportunity within the province, says a community leader.

'Everybody has to live their life,' says president of Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Khaled Alsharif, center, says he plans to leave for Toronto within the next year for a better opportunity for himself and his family. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Many Syrian immigrant families in Newfoundland and Labrador are packing their bags and heading for greener pastures — a result of lack of opportunity within the province doubled by the squeeze on the job market caused by the ongoing pandemic, says a leader of the community. 

At least 10 Syrian families have left in the last two months, with many more also considering the move, according to Khaled Alsharif, who has a family of 17. He has been in the province since late 2015 and spoke to CBC News through a translator on Friday.

Alsharif estimates about 10 people make up each family that has left. 

Originally from Lebanon and now a Canadian citizen, Alsharif said he plans to leave for Toronto within the next year. He said he hasn't been able to find a steady job in St. John's and prefers to contribute to the community rather than rely on social assistance. He also wants more opportunity for his growing family, now with grandchildren. 

"His profession, there's a lot of work for him there. ... [There are] more opportunities, more diversity there," said Yamen Shahwan, Alsharif's translator.

"Since the beginning, he didn't want to leave here because he feels like he's bringing diversity into Newfoundland society. Before him moving here not a lot of people knew about Arab traditions and the way they have their gatherings and stuff. So he feels like it would be a big loss." 

Syed Pirzada, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, told CBC News he has seen a revolving door of immigrants come through the province over the last few decades. 

Many, like Alsharif, tend to look at larger job markets outside of the province after staying for only a short period of time, he said.

Masjid-an-Noor will see fewer parishioners as Muslim families begin to leave Newfoundland and Labrador. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

"I came 22 years, and the first thing I was asked was the same thing. 'When are you leaving?," Pirzada said. 

"I feel that if anybody comes to Newfoundland, if they stay here for four-to-five years, they will definitely stay. But if in the first five years they cannot find their footing, they will probably start planning to leave because everybody has to live their life and everybody has to bring their family and put food on the table."

Pirzada said many who immigrate to Newfoundland and Labrador are already skilled workers, but the difficult challenge is having their skills recognized ahead of applying for a job.

"I think when they go to [the] mainland, even if their job skills are not recognized they do find jobs. Maybe there are jobs [here], but still there are still much more opportunities for them [there.]" 

The outmigration of immigrant families from Newfoundland and Labrador comes despite Premier Andrew Furey's pledge to attract new families and also keep them here long-term to balance the province's aging population and what will become a vacant labour market. 

Furey's cabinet consists of a newly minted Department of Immigration.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Cecil Haire