Travelling has always been a strong human instict. People would move across huge swaths of land, as cave dwellers and hunters, in search of food and water to sustain themselves. The ancient Bedouins parked their camels near oases and prompted small settlements that later developed into cities.
The Inca, Mayans, Aztec and Sumerians all nurtured grand city-states near bodies of water. Closer to home, we have the ruins of the Indus Valley Civilisation to prove that the prehistoric man was never stagnant. And neither are we. While the quest for sustenance led the early men across the world, the promise of a better life has sparked a similar trend in the current generation, commonly referred to as immigration.
Among the top feeder countries, developing nations like China, India and Pakistan lead the pack as thousands of natives migrate to the West every year in the quest for a better standard of living. “One of the main reasons people shift to a foreign country is to live a better life and get more opportunities that are impossible in their home countries,” explains Rayomand Dubash, a Toronto-based, former immigration consultant. “Good pay, job security and sound living facilities are huge motivational factors especially when third world natives manage to secure jobs in first world countries. In my experience, skilled people are readily welcomed when their skills are sought by the host country and when supply meets demand; it’s a win for both the immigrant and the host country.”
New land, new challenges
Unfortunately, not every immigrant gets the happy ending they hope for. In a career spanning over 10 years, Dubash — who migrated from Karachi to Toronto himself — has witnessed firsthand how assimilating into a foreign country can be fraught with tension. “Suffice it to say not all who immigrate get what they want,” he warns. With countless documents to fill and requirements to meet, that too after years of waiting for your call, it is clear that the process is hardly a piece of cake. “We got our call for immigration 11 years after we filed for it,” shares American green card holder Sara Hashim*. “Then there were thousands of hurdles to cross, trips to the embassy, forms to present, etc. It’s quite a daunting task, especially if you have to do it for your entire family.”
What is even worse is that paperwork and waiting out your turn whilst living ‘in transit’ are just the start; there is a whole other set of problems one has to overcome upon reaching the desired destination. Many like 55-year-old Shahida Ahmed Khan had to build a whole new life from scratch. “I moved to Toronto in 2004, alone with my three children so I had a very rough time,” she admits. “My husband stayed on in Pakistan to keep his job and we were left at our own devices. Even small things like figuring out the subway routes or locating halal restaurants would frustrate us,” she says. “So you can imagine what it was like overcoming the bigger ordeals, like housing, finding the right schools and landing jobs. Not one of my children looks upon that time in our lives happily but it’s been 10 years now. We pulled through and wouldn’t want to live anywhere apart from Toronto.”
Shahida and her husband are just one example of a couple consciously deciding to live apart for the benefit of their children. Oftentimes, one or more members of the family are denied an immigrant visa or given it on a later date, breaking the family up. “My brother had to wait for almost two more years after the rest of our family got our green cards,” says Hashim. “We had almost given up but thankfully, it came through.”
But perhaps the most pertinent issue perpetrated by the trend of immigration is that of immigration fraud and trafficking. One of the largest categories of immigrant are those that qualify under the ‘family class,’ especially young women from developing nations who hope to join their husbands in the foreign country they reside in. “It is unassuming, new brides from the subcontinent that get the short end of the stick as their immigration status is dependent upon their spouse,” explains Deepa Mattoo, a staff lawyer with the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, Canada. Many of these young girls are forced into marriage by their parents who are promised immigration in exchange for the girl — a promise which often does not materialise. “I have seen countless young women in my practice who have been victims of forced marriage,” shares Mattoo. “They are promised a happy, prosperous life in the new country, for themselves and their families, but instead are subjected to abuse by their in-laws and when the abuse gets out of hand, they end up on our door.”
“These young girls are used as immigration mules,” explains Amandeep Kaur, an Indian-Canadian nutritionist who came to Canada under similar circumstances herself. “Their maternal families pay large amounts of dowry for a groom located abroad, with the caveat that the daughter will soon sponsor her brother for immigration and so on. The in-laws happily accept the dowry but go back on their promises once the bride has arrived.” After having escaped an abusive marriage after 22 years, Kaur now works as the chief operating officer of the panjabi community health services in Toronto, helping men, women and senior citizens recover from such immigration scams. “This is when the tension between the families starts fermenting. I actually know of people who have died in the process,” adds Kaur. Illegal immigration, deportation, fake marriages and document fraud are other major problems associated with the process.
The grass may be greener on the other side
This is not to say that the process of immigrating is all doom and gloom for everyone. There is a strong sense of community amongst immigrants regardless of where they live. “I must admit, I could not have survived relocating had it not been for the Pakistani friends we were lucky enough to make in our apartment building,” admits Khan. “They helped us with everything from furniture to food and even my daughter’s s first job! And then we did the same for a newly married couple that moved in from India soon after I did. There is a great sense of brotherhood amongst people of similar backgrounds living abroad. Everyone comes together for each other.”
It is advisable to seek professional help from an immigration lawyer to navigate around the pre-migration process. “The lawyers are trained to cater to the different needs of different applicants,” suggests Hashim. “And if one can’t afford a lawyer, they should seek out others who have undergone the same processes as only they will be able to guide them properly.”
Many immigrants are content struggling in a developed country as it offers a better alternative to struggling in their own. “My husband and I had good jobs in Karachi but our daughters couldn’t enjoy the same amenities in Pakistan as they do here in Canada,” argues Mehra Hansotia, who has been living abroad for over 20 years now. “It was a gamble, leaving Karachi, but it paid off cause of the hard work my husband and I put in. Upon arriving in Canada, we studied for local diplomas, landed jobs in our respective fields and remained committed to our family,” says Hansotia. 58-year old housewife Sultana Tahir and her husband agrees. “We have grown old here in Pakistan and would continue living here if we could,” she says. “But my daughter and grandchildren are in the UK and want us to join them. How can we possibly say no?”
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, April 6th, 2014.