By SARA PEREZ
When Arianne Melara graduated from St. Thomas University with the top accumulated GPA in economics courses in 4th year, an award for best political science thesis and four years of community involvement she was sure she’d be able to find a job in New Brunswick.
“I was networking a lot throughout my years as a student,” she said. “I was involved in networks like Breaking the Silence, the Green Party, the Multicultural Association of Fredericton, Fusion Fredericton and the chapel community at St. Thomas University.”
Melara graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations in 2015 and speaks three languages fluently: English, French and Spanish.
The Fredericton Green Party hired her in the fall of 2015 to work as the Communications Director for its election campaign. Meanwhile, Melara spent months looking for a permanent job in New Brunswick.
She had several interviews for government-funded jobs and positions in not-for-profits. She said although she had a work permit, none of the government-funded jobs offered her a chance to work because she wasn’t a Canadian citizen.
She looked for services that could help her find a job in the province by connecting her with employers looking for candidates, but many of them were only offered to Canadian citizens.
“I applied to many jobs during and after the [Green Party] campaign with people I knew,” she said. “But more than five people told me they couldn’t hire me because the funds came from the government and these funds were tied to Canadian citizenship. Although there are other jobs in the province that do not require you to be a Canadian citizen, the job positions I pursued did.”
She didn’t feel comfortable revealing which jobs they were.
The New Brunswick government indicates people must be eligible to work in Canada in order to apply for a job. The province had an unemployment rate of 9.3 per cent in January.
Some federal government jobs say you don’t have to be a Canadian citizen to apply, but preference will be given to Canadian citizens. Most employers require people to prove they can legally work in Canada.
“The federal government is stricter with their hiring requirements,” said Trish Murray-Zelmer, the employment and financial aid coordinator of St. Thomas University. “For the jobs that I’ve seen, there’s a disclaimer: Preference will be given to veterans and to Canadian citizens, in that order.”
Melara is just the sort of person New Brunswick needs to combat its aging population and looming demographic time bomb. In fact, attracting and retaining more international students like Melara is part of the provincial government’s official growth strategy.
“I think it’s perfectly understandable that the government offers this [opportunity to work] to Canadian citizens,” said Melara. “But as New Brunswick invites and expects more newcomers, the province should adjust regulations not only to retain foreigners, such as international students, but also to provide more employment opportunities for them.”
Between 2010 and 2013, 385,000 international students came to Canada, according to Statistics Canada. The Government of Canada Open Data website shows 2,223 international students had a valid permit to study in New Brunswick in 2014.
The provincial government doesn’t track the number of international students who stay after graduation. Melara’s difficulties in finding a job here illustrates why many don’t stay.
The Salvadorian-born student came to New Brunswick when she was 18. She left El Salvador because of the violence and economic uncertainty there. One of her relatives was robbed on the street.
Street gangs also known as “maras” have made El Salvador one of the most dangerous countries in the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the country had a homicide rate of 69.2 per 100,000 in 2011. That compares to a rate of 1.73 homicides per 100,000 in Canada at the same time.
Melara decided to stay in Canada because she feels Canadians are very welcoming and it’s a beautiful country with a relatively stable economy.
When she arrived in New Brunswick she immediately noticed how connected the community in Fredericton was. She liked being able to get involved so easily in different activities and meeting new people. The hardest part of studying was being away from family and friends.
“The tickets to go home were very expensive and I would go home every December just to see my family for two weeks,” she said.
Melara is now 24. She left New Brunswick earlier this year and moved to Toronto after getting a job with the non-profit organization Free the Children. At first she didn’t want to leave Fredericton, but the bigger city offered her a chance to use her degree and work in education and social justice, two fields she is passionate about.
Andreina Charris is another international student who has found it challenging to get work in New Brunswick after graduating.
When Charris graduated from St. Thomas University in 2015, she immediately applied for a work permit that would allow her to stay and legally work in Canada.
She did an internship with the Green Party in Fredericton during the 2015 election campaign and worked as a French translator for three months. She then found a job as a Spanish agent in Oromocto, working from four p.m. till one a.m. She started to feel exhausted and wanted to find another job. It was difficult, she said. “I was frustrated.”
She started applying outside of New Brunswick and got a job offer in Toronto, but rejected it because she didn’t want to leave. She finally got a job offer to become a sales representative for a local company in Fredericton and decided to work for it.
“I lost count of the places where I applied,” said Charris.
She wanted to stay in Fredericton after graduating because she loves the community here. She had arrived as a high school student six years earlier. “It’s the right place to know yourself,” she said. “I didn’t feel ready to go to a big city.”
Charris was born in Caracas, a city of two million that’s been ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the world. According to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, one Venezuelan is killed every 27 minutes.
“Thank God I never had any close experience to the violence, but many of my friends and family did,” she said. “I never thought it could happen to me or any of my friends, until one day my best friend was kidnapped. She told me it was the worst moment of her life, not knowing if she was going to live or not.”
Her friend was one of the lucky ones, released hours after she was kidnapped. The kidnappers went to her house and saw the family had no money to pay for her release. They decided to steal everything they had and then leave.
Charris is happy she is able to stay in New Brunswick, at least for now. Her future might involve a move to Montreal or graduate studies at the University of New Brunswick.
“I miss my family,” she said. “But this is such a small community that I feel part of it.”