Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Emigrating to Canada - My personal experience.

Many Singaporeans have written to me seeking advice on how to emigrate to Canada. Please understand that I am not an emigration consultant and I do not pretend to be one. However I can share my personal experience with those who are interested in emigrating to Canada. I have no experience about emigration to New Zealand, Australia or any other countries.

Emigration is an important decision that should not be taken lightly especially out of spite. It does not only affect that individual but his/her family and generations that follow. Failure would be costly and painful. It is not a bed of roses if you are not adaptable to changes and prepared to work hard to make it a success. Nothing comes easy but the reward is priceless.

The actual application for emigration to Canada is not difficult. You can go online or to the Canadian High Commission and fill up the relevant forms and answer all the questions honestly and fulfill all other requirements, i.e. notarized documents, good conduct certificate from police,etc.

You do not have to engage the services of an emigration consultant if you can read and write English. The success of your application is based primarily on points system and the availability of the jobs and criteria you are seeking.

The current quota for new immigrants to Canada is 250,000 people worldwide annually. You will have to compete with all other applications from people of all nations for a place in this quota.

According to Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, 3 to 4 % of the top 30% of the population of Singapore emigrate to other developed countries every year. We are looking at between 40,000 to 60,000 Singaporeans* vying to get out of the country each year. The competition is fierce. Twenty years ago, it is possible for an application to be approved within three months. Now we are looking at three to five years of processing and waiting time.

Another important note is that Singaporeans have a higher ratio of failures compared with other immigrants from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Malaysia. I estimate that it is about 10% for Singaporeans vs less than 5% for others . This is largely due to our comparatively lack of fighting spirit, ignorance and arrogance cultivated from decades of government propaganda. We were brought up believing that Singapore is world No. One in almost everything - education, healthcare, welfare, housing, law and order, cleanliness, no homeless or poor people, etc.

We have developed a self centred and selfish culture known as “kiasi and kiasu”. Most of us believe that we are the best and should easily brush aside those competitors from China, Taiwan and Malaysia. If we do not get the jobs we wanted, most would cry foul or racial discrimination. Please understand that just because you held a top management job in Singapore, you cannot expect a similar position in Canada upon arrival. You need to have Canadian experience and that means you start from the bottom of the ladder.

Singaporeans are less likely to take risk and not as street smart as they thought. Most Singaporeans do not think out of box and will act only upon instructions or when all the safety measures are in place. Sadly, with such a mentality, most opportunities are snatched away by Taiwanese, Hongkees, Mainland Chinese or Malaysians.

An example is a Taiwanese friend of mine who was asked during an interview for local courier service if he has a fleet of delivery vans. Without hesitation and a straight face he said he had 10 vans when he has only one. When an inspection date was arranged to view the vans, he gathered 9 of his Taiwanese friends and together they bought a van each making a total of 10 vans. With that they got the contract for the business and jobs for each of them.

Given the very same opportunity, it is unlikely Singapore immigrants could get that business. Singaporeans with their kaisi and kaisu attitudes are less likely to share the business or have the entrepreneur ability to gather enough Singaporeans to participate. If they do managed to gather enough participants they would spend weeks drawing up business plans to cover all contingencies and put in place all safety measures. The most irritating statement by Singaporeans when a job or business proposal was offered to them was to ask, “Got guarantee or not?”

Most immigrants from other countries have a “do or die” mentality whereas Singaporeans have a “do and try” mentality. These “failure not an option” immigrants are more willing to venture into entrepreneurship or willing to accept any jobs, white or blue collars, without hesitation. Singapore immigrants tend to be much more choosy and expect to be employed in middle or top management positions with the naive assumption that their credentials back home would guarantee them any position they wish. I have known Singapore immigrants waiting more than a year for their dream jobs. Their excuse is that they cannot downgrade otherwise they would “lose face” back in Singapore. Some even reject job offers that they considered below their qualifications and dignity.

Singaporeans have to learn that most Canadians pick careers that interest them – money and status are secondary. Success is not measured by how many millions you amassed or whether you are a CEO or how many directorships you hold. In Singapore, most people work 12 hours or more a day with hardly any time for family. In Canada, family bonding, happiness, freedom, a safe home to live, enough food on the table, and be with good friends are more important. Let children play when young and develop naturally is top priority. This is in direct opposition to Singaporeans’ life style of forcing children to study 24/7 with little or no time to play for the sake of academic excellence.

From my observation, Singaporean immigrants who succeed in Canada are those who have the same mentality as those from other Asian countries. You must have the” to do or die and not to complain why” attitude. Ironically, those in the late forties or early fifties with tertiary education and have middle or top management experience are most likely to fail. These are Singaporeans that have great difficulties adjusting to the new culture and environment. Exceptions are those who come with lots of money and assets.

Canada is a big country but yet most Singaporeans concentrate on mainly Vancouver or Toronto. By doing so, Singaporeans are limiting their chances of success because jobs are  more competitive in these big cities. Be prepared to be adventurous and explore other cities and try other professions.

I have friends who were doctors and yet took on production jobs while re-taking their medical degrees or engineers working as carpenters, plumbers, electricians instead of sitting and complaining at home. It is important to note that Canada does not recognize degrees outside of Canada. 

Following are several stories of the failures and successful immigrants:

Success stories:

1. Mr. Lui, who was the head of IBM research department in Taiwan, started off as a junior technician in IT department of a local bank in Vancouver. It was a humbling experience as he was downgraded and paid minimum wage as a junior technician. Two years later, when the computer system at the bank went down and nobody knew how to repair the system, Mr. Lui stepped in to the rescue. That incident was made known to the CEO that a low ranking employee was responsible in saving the computer system, Mr. Lui was promoted to section chief.

2. Mr X (Singaporean whom I have not ask his permission to disclose his name) was a Colombo Plan scholar renounced his Singapore citizenship. He paid off his bond and left for Canada. Upon his arrival, he realized that his university degree and Colombo Plan Scholarship was not recognized. Instead of complaining he took on a job as an electrician with Alberta Hydro. Fast forward 20+ years, he has no regrets. He has a happy family, a modest house, three cars, one Recreational Vehicle (like an home on wheels), several boats, retiring with great health.

3. Mr. Bernard Chan - Singaporean graduated from Cambridge University (same university as LKY) was rejected based on his qualifications. He took a crash course in plumbing and was accepted as a plumber when he re-applied. He is happily working at home doing foreign exchange for the past 15 years. His testimony is in my FB notes.

4. Mr X2 - A decorated ASP and national sports celebrity immigrated to Canada and took on a trade of house renovation. He did not feel embarrassed wearing an overall with dirty paint spots and holding a tool box. He lead a successful career and happy life style without the stress of a 24 hours stand-by job as a senior police officer.

5. Mr. X3 - A Singapore teacher immigrated to Canada and got a job as a postman delivering parcels and letters. Fast forward twenty years, he has a happy family, seven children, modest house (freehold and not 99 years like HDB) and a good retirement plan. In Singapore, he may not have the luxury of going fishing, vacations every year, maintaining a big family without working 12 hours a day and all stressed out.

The list would go on and on. The point is that their success were due to their abilities to adapt and willing to change their mindset from being materialistic focus to quality life style focus.

Failures -

1. Mr DYL - a Singaporean, was a CEO of an international company. He immigrated to Canada after he was laid off and he sold his house for S$3 million. He could not get his dream job of being a CEO in Vancouver and idled around. A typical show-off Singaporean, he built himself a huge expensive house in the most reputable district in Vancouver. Next he bought himself a top of the line BMW 7series and a Lexus although he was the only one driving. Within two years he spent more than $2 million of the $3 million he brought with him. His wife constantly complaint about having no maids even though they have part-time house cleaners. His children were in expensive private schools to keep up with his image. They constantly travel back to Singapore on business class. Without an income, his money drained off rapidly as he has no knowledge about financial planning. He actually thought $3 million could last him forever. When he realized that his money was depleting so fast, he panicked and became paranoid. He started to accuse everyone around him of cheating on him. Soon, all his friends kept away from him. Eventually without friends he sold his house, cars at a loss and moved back to Singapore, blaming Canadians for cheating his money.
To be honest, Mr.DYL could have live happily with the$3 million he has without having to work IF he had conducted a more modest life style.

2. Mr M - a Singaporean and early retired military officer. He is typical of those who refused to downgrade and accept a junior position. He was offered many jobs such as manager of a security firm, a manager in the fast-food restaurant, etc. He worked a few months in each of these jobs and left saying that it is demeaning for an officer to work in such low class jobs. Interesting enough, the Singapore friend who recommended him the job was himself working at the same kind of job for more than 10 years. He has no complains. He has a modest home, car and above all a happy family with quality life style.
It is more than 4 years now and this military officer is still waiting for his dream job.

The list could go on and on but I do not want to depress you with stories of failures. The bottom line is that to be successful you must throw away the self-destructive mentality of arrogance and show off when few cares what house you live in or what cars you drive. You must live within your means.

I drive a small economic Honda Civic and in our mid-sixties, we do all our house chores - cleaning, cooking, laundry, repairs, fishing, tending to vegetables and general work with no maids or outside help. In addition I do volunteer work at hospital helping out by serving coffee, tea, cookies to patients and talking to them or taking them to boat paddling. I also give free tai-chi lessons.

Do not be jealous of others that have successfully settled in Canada. Please remember we were here for more than twenty years. The first few years were not easy unless you have lots and lots of money. It is like having children, the first few years are tough. They cry all day, need attention around the clock but in the end it is all worth it. Just be patient and before you know it, you have already cross the line.

I hope this article will help you to decide if you are willing to take the plunge.

Good luck and God Bless.

Wing Lee Cheong

Note: I will update this article when I have permission to write about the experiences of other immigrants. Many of the stories are touching and motivational.

Reason why I emigrate:

Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear -- kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor -- with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.

A Soldier Speaks: Public Papers and Speeches of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur