PEI·In Depth

Indian immigrants top newcomers to P.E.I., filling labour shortages, investing in business

India has surpassed China as the top country for newcomer immigrants to P.E.I. for three years now — a trend that's reflected regionally and nationally, as Canada aims to attract skilled workers and entrepreneurs to fill labour shortages.

P.E.I.'s next wave of immigrants part of regional, national trend

Anna Clement and Kense Philip met in Vancouver, but moved to P.E.I. to pursue nursing careers and raise their two children Aima and Nathan. (Deepak Thomas)

It was the promise of work that attracted Kense Philip to P.E.I.— but it was his love for the game of cricket that convinced him to stay.

"I love playing cricket. I've played cricket all my life, so that was the main reason," said Philip, adding that he finds the cricket field in Tea Hill, P.E.I., "the best cricketing facility in the whole Atlantic Canada."

The offer of a job in a community care/nursing home and the attractiveness of the lifestyle P.E.I. promised, came together to make the move to the Island an easy choice back in 2011, he said.

"This job was permanent and the housing market at that time was the cheapest market in all of Canada," said Philip.

Kense Philip calls the Tea Hill field 'the best cricketing facility' in the Atlantic region. (P.E.I. Cricket Association )

P.E.I. is now drawing more new immigrants from India than any other country. In fact, India has topped the list of countries for the past three years, replacing China, which held that top spot for more than a decade, and has seen gradually dwindling numbers of immigrants in recent years.

The number of Indian immigrants to P.E.I. has ballooned dramatically in the past few years: from just 16 arriving in 2014-15 to 401 in 2018-19. That compares to a total of 117 from China in 2018-19. Nominees from India made up 42 per cent of all nominees accepted to P.E.I. in the most recent year.

Once here, it can take from six months up to two years to be approved for permanent residency. An applicant's dependents are also included in total admissions for permanent residency approved by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

It's a trend reflected regionally and nationally, too.

Immigrants from India make up 18 per cent of all new permanent residents in the Atlantic region. They also make up 25 per cent of all new residents to Canada: 74,455 newcomers from India became permanent residents of Canada in 2019 — more than double the 28,943 in 2012.

There are no current total population numbers by province, however, reflecting how many immigrants stayed in individual provinces.

"All applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria," said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in an email to CBC.

It said as Canada increases its immigration levels it aims to attract "the best and brightest from around the world," with most coming through economic immigration programs.

More than 400 people showed up for the Indian festival Navrati in Stratford, P.E.I., last fall — an event that focuses on traditional dancing. The festival is especially popular in the country's state of Gujarat. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

It also said the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program, launched in 2017 and recently extended to December 2021, hopes to attract skilled immigrants and international graduates to the Atlantic region.

Under the AIPP, immigrants can be granted permanent residency in six months, instead of up to two years under other streams.

Entrepreneurs, skilled workers, students

Priority is given to entrepreneurs with the economic ability to establish a business, and to those qualified to work in areas that are experiencing shortages, including skilled professionals with degrees and diplomas, and hard-to-fill positions such as customer service workers, labourers, housekeeping attendants, and truck drivers.

Each entrepreneur applicant must also have a net worth of at least $600,000. PNP no longer requires investors to pay a deposit of $150,000 to $200,000, which they'd forfeit if they failed to operate a business for a year.

There is now a $10,000 application fee, however, and nominees must live and work on P.E.I. and be involved in the day-to-day management of their company.

More than 300 people attended the Vaisakhi celebration in Charlottetown in April 2019, which featured a community meal. It's an annual celebration in the Sikh tradition. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Applicants are graded by a point system, based on age, proficiency in English or French, education, work experience, employment and adaptability.

Immigrant students who graduate from a university or college on P.E.I. can also apply for permanent residency, if they have a job offer of at least two years, speak English or French and show they intend to settle on P.E.I.

The more health-care workers we have in P.E.I. the better it is for all the employers and all the staffs.— Jason Lee, P.E.I. Seniors Homes

"I think people are seeing Prince Edward Island as a destination of choice where opportunities exist. And we've been recruiting actively to attract folks that do want to stay and raise families here," said Mary Hunter, director of operations at P.E.I.'s Office of Immigration.

Unlike the last big wave of new immigrants to P.E.I. from China, most newcomers from India arrive with a good understanding of English, so communication is not a struggle once they're here, said Hunter.

Health care shortage

Health care is one of the main sectors benefiting from this program, including foreign trained nurses coming to Canada to work, Hunter said, which is the job that clinched Philip's decision to move to P.E.I. First, though, they have to meet Canadian qualifications.

I just took it and grabbed the opportunity right away.— Kense Philip

Philip had worked as a dialysis nurse in India, before relocating to Vancouver in 2010 as a student, preparing to write his Canadian nursing exam.

He took a casual nursing-related position in Halifax, before landing a job as a residential care worker in P.E.I. in 2011 at Whisperwood Villa, an assisted living complex in Charlottetown.

"I just took it and grabbed the opportunity right away," he said. Philip wrote his nursing exam a few months later and became a full-time RN at Whisperwood. In 2015 he became director of care at the facility overseeing 133 residents. 

His wife, Anna Clement, also works in the health-care field, as a licensed practical nurse at Beach Grove Nursing Home in Charlottetown. They're raising their two young children here, Aima and Nathan, who were both born on P.E.I.

Kense Philip chats with resident William MacKenna on the grounds of Whisperwood Villa. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

Before Philip started at Whisperwood Villa, it was using an external recruiting agency to find employees. That's a role Philip has now taken on as director of care. 

"I've brought many people, like most of them my own friends and friends of friends," Philip said. He estimates he's brought about 70 people to P.E.I. from other provinces or from India, to work in nursing-related fields, in addition to other professional fields experiencing labour shortages on P.E.I.

"Kense now has the connections and understanding of all the immigration programs and how the process works to allow us to do it on our own," said Jason Lee, CEO of P.E.I. Seniors Homes, which runs Whisperwood, Garden Home and Lady Slipper Villa.

He said Philip is the lead recruiter for all three homes, and has helped the industry in P.E.I. as a whole.

We thought this is the perfect place where we can settle down and we can start a new life.— Sujata Saha

"We see it as a benefit to the industry and therefore a benefit to our homes. The more health-care workers we have in P.E.I. the better it is for all the employers and all the staffs."

The process to qualify as a registered nurse in Canada has become more complicated since Philip wrote his exam, though.

Most applicants must take courses before they're accepted, which can take two years or longer, said Philip, so many of the Indian immigrant nurses are opting for the shorter process of qualifying as an LPN in Canada.

'The perfect place where we can settle down'

It was the lifestyle that convinced Sujata and Tanmoy Saha to locate on P.E.I  too. They'd had enough of living in big cities, and after spending some time in Africa, they wanted to move closer to their adult son, Chetan, who is studying renewable energy engineering at Penn State. They checked out some options, and zeroed in on P.E.I.

"We need a place where we can live our life, nice weather, nice peaceful life," said Sujata Saha. "Small, natural — connected to nature, the sea.

"So we thought this is the perfect place where we can settle down and we can start a new life," she said.

Eshan, Tanmoy, Sujata and Chetan Saha celebrating a family birthday in Charlottetown. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

The Sahas came to P.E.I. in 2016 through the entrepreneur stream of the provincial nominee program, opening a UPS store in Charlottetown in 2019, which they manage and work at themselves.

Before coming to Canada, Sujata taught computer classes at a British school. Tanmoy was an engineer in India, with a masters in business administration. He says with a background working with large organizations and big brands, he felt comfortable opening the UPS franchise here. Tanmoy has also built several multi-unit housing complexes. 

He said P.E.I. offered a very positive and supportive welcome. "There was a tremendous lift and commitment from the government to help us settle down and engage us positively so that we could find routes, build both successful future in terms of the PNP program and at the same time, you know, integrate into the community," said Tanmoy Saha.

Tanmoy and Sujata Saha in their traditional Indian attire. (Submitted by Sujata Saha)

"We found the personal attention, the focus, the easy access to people very, very positive and I guess that is what helped us decide compared to the larger provinces. That being said I think the beauty of the land and the beauty of the people in their hearts also sort of tilted the whole vision in favour of P.E.I.," he said.

Like Philip and Clement, the Sahas had a good grounding in the English language, which began in school and grew through their work experiences. A proficiency in English or French is one of the requirements for PNP applicants, as is living and working in P.E.I. for at least a year.

"We are very comfortable with the English because we have gone through so many places in Africa and India. So we never had that challenge," said Sujata.

Langar, a free community meal, was part of the traditional Sikh celebration of Vaisakhi in Charlottetown in April 2019. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Tanmoy believes newcomers from India have shared the good word about P.E.I. to friends and family back home. "The word of mouth is a very powerful tool in this case."

Making a new life in a new country was made easier by connecting with the other newcomers from India though the Indo-Canadian Association, and the Sahas have also embraced their new life on P.E.I. making many new friends here.

"The people are very nice, very helpful, very energetic because the moment they see you are going out to join … you have a good friend circle so it gives me a boost," Sujata said.

Pathways to migration 

India is a diverse country with more than 1.3 billion people, 29 states, numerous languages, religions, and cultures. So why would someone choose to leave behind family, friends, and everything they know to move more than 11,000 kilometres to a different country and a different culture?

"Immigration from India cannot be thought of as a homogenous sort of move of people from one country to another," said Sutama Ghosh, an associate professor at Ryerson University, who is researching Indian immigration to Canada.

Sujata Saha works on printed reports at her family's UPS store in Charlottetown, which they opened in 2019. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

She herself moved from Kolkata (in eastern India) to Canada in 1999 to get her PhD in Ontario. At first she didn't intend to stay in Canada, but she ended up marrying a fellow graduate student.

The reasons for moving to Canada are as diverse as her home country, she said. Some educated professionals move with their families for work and a better way of life. Others are from former farming families, which are struggling financially.

And lately, she said, Canada is seeing a wave of international students in their early 20s, who see choosing to study in Canada as a path to citizenship and full-time employment. They may already have a graduate degree. 

Canada is also viewed as a very multicultural space— Sutama Ghosh, Ryerson University

"In India there is also a huge population increase and therefore huge competition for jobs," said Ghosh. Some students are finding work here and sending money back to help support their families in India, she said.

Also, compared to the United States, Canada is much easier to immigrate to, said Ghosh, and the cost of education is relatively cheaper too.

"Canada is also viewed as a very multicultural space, a safe space," she said. In the past, many newcomers from India would settle in the Toronto area, but now, there's "a saturation of too many international students in Ontario" so they're looking further afield, and attending colleges, as well as universities, to take courses that will lead to work here in Canada.

Signs of growth

"We have a growing number of international students that come from India," said Hunter, with the Office of Immigration on P.E.I. 

"Our post-secondary institutions are actively recruiting people from India, as well as our workforce … where they're actually hiring folks that have the background and skills and capabilities." 

International students are eligible to apply for a work permit without an employer having to complete a labour market impact assessment. That's turning into full-time work in some cases. "They're filling a variety of positions, they're staying in the long term," Hunter said.

International students are filling labour shortages and staying in the long-term, says Mary Hunter, from the Office of Immigration on P.E.I. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

P.E.I.'s post-secondary enrolment has seen a modest increase in students from India. At UPEI it's risen from 12 in 2015 to 79 in 2019; Holland College didn't have any students from India in 2016 and this year has 40. That's still a small percentage of their overall international student bodies: 1,423 at UPEI and 590 at Holland College.

The P.E.I. Association for Newcomers has seen a marked increase in interest from India. The association helps newcomers get settled and oriented on day-to-day living here, including school registration, employment and navigating government departments and services.

Up until five years ago they had fewer than 30 clients from India. Today they have 250, said Todd MacEwen, the group's information officer, adding that their website got about 2,700 hits from India in October alone, from those looking for information about P.E.I.

Here to stay

Philip and his wife Anna Clement, are both from Kerala, a state in southwestern India. He estimates about 350 people from his state have moved to P.E.I., another 400 from Punjab (a northern state, bordering on Pakistan), and another 150 from Gujarat state (in western India).

When he first moved to P.E.I. several years ago, Philip said there was a scarcity of Indian food. But that's changed. "Right now even Walmart has Indian stuff," he said, in addition to grocery stores, a few specialty stores that sell staples, and Indian restaurants.

'This is a really nice place to live,' says Kense Philip, with his wife, Anna Clement, daughter, Aima, and son Nathan. ( Issac Cherian)

"It's not difficult to find. We love P.E.I. for that."

Although he came to P.E.I. to pursue nursing, Philip is transitioning into business. He's part-owner of two nursing homes in New Brunswick and is almost finished his masters of business administration at UPEI. 

I never had one single bad experience living in P.E.I.— Kense Philip

"I plan to stay here," said Philip. "I've been to other cities in Canada.… This is a really nice place to live."

Philip appreciates a morning commute of just five minutes, with grocery stores and government offices all close by.

Retention as a challenge

The Sahas said they've embraced life in P.E.I. and plan to stick around. "We have been travelling for many, many years. So this is the last stop on that journey," said Tanmoy Saha.

"The people are nice. The food is great. I wish the winters were shorter! But then you can't complain too much about your blessed country and possibly the best part of Canada and we are loving it," he said.

But retention of the younger generations is more of a challenge, he said, with students enrolling at universities in larger cities, like Halifax and Toronto, and pursuing work in larger centres, which offer more opportunities. The Saha's oldest son is in his third year at Penn State; their youngest son is in Grade 8.

 
Tanmoy Saha installed high-tech equipment to print large signs and posters at his family's UPS store in Charlottetown. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

"These are young people," Tanmoy said. "They have aspirations and they have the education and intellect, but didn't necessarily have the opportunities. So how do we work to create those opportunities."

Philip agrees. He suggests more work be done on a retention strategy. 

P.E.I. also lacks religious facilities. The nearest Hindu temples in this region, for example, are in Fredericton, Halifax and in Frankville, near Port Hawkesbury, N.S. The Sikh community in New Brunswick plans to build a temple in Shediac to serve that province and P.E.I., but it's expected to take two to three years to complete.

Immigrants from India are among the 40 players with the P.E.I. cricket club. (P.E.I. Cricket Association)

It's that sense of community and support that continues to impress the Sahas and Philip. He recalls relying on a bicycle to get around when he first moved to P.E.I. When winter hit, his bike wasn't the best option and coworkers stepped up to provide lifts numerous times on stormy days. 

"I never had one single bad experience living in P.E.I.," said Philip. "All the experience has been really positive, like people are really nice.…That's another main reason that I'm still here." 

That and of course, cricket. It turns out he's not alone — immigrants from India are among the 40 players registered with the cricket club on P.E.I.

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

Sally Pitt

Producer

Sally Pitt is a producer with CBC and has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in online, TV, radio and print. She specializes in justice issues and also works with the CBC Atlantic Investigative Unit. You can reach her at sally.pitt@cbc.ca.

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