Housing, transportation, licensing processes all barriers to immigration to N.L., newcomers say

Febin Francis is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Malayali Association. Francis says there are barriers that need to be removed for newcomers to the province, such as licensing requirements and a lack of affordable housing. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC - image credit)
Febin Francis is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Malayali Association. Francis says there are barriers that need to be removed for newcomers to the province, such as licensing requirements and a lack of affordable housing. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC - image credit)
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

A group of newcomers from India met at the Hindu Temple in St. John's on Saturday to meet other members of the growing Indian community and tackle some of the challenges faced by immigrants to Newfoundland and Labrador.

The event was organized by the Newfoundland and Labrador Malayali Association, which is the provincial voice for Malayali people, a group who speak Malayalam and make up a large part of the population of southwestern Indian state of Kerala.

Association president Febin Francis says the event was intended for people who have recently arrived in the province to make connections with people who've already settled in.

"Think yourself [about] put in some island and in a remote place where you don't have anybody else," said Francis.

"Everything is different. It's a whole new culture where you have to adapt. So, it's quite challenging."

The association, Francis said, has seen a "huge increase" in the number of Malayalis in the province, with an estimated 150 people having arrived in the past few months.

When Francis moved to St. John's from Calgary in 2017, he said, the community only consisted of 20 or 25 families. He estimates there are now at least four times as many families in the province.

"Every day, we are getting at least five or six families coming," said Francis.

On Friday, a new report by Statistics Canada showed that Newfoundland and Labrador saw less than 4,000 immigrants between 2016 and 2021, fewer than any other province in the country.

Francis said many of the recent Malayali immigrants have come through the provincial nominee and the Atlantic immigration programs, which aim to facilitate the immigration of qualified newcomers to the province.

Yet, he said, newcomers still face barriers once they arrive, so the event on Saturday was also an opportunity for people to share their experiences and get advice.

Some of the struggles, Francis said, include a lack of affordable housing and public transportation, especially to communities outside of the St. John's area.

One of the newcomers who came to the event is Anuja Rose Kaithayil Francis. She, her husband and three children arrived from Bahrain on Aug. 31, feeling that the province would be a good fit for the family and offer plenty of opportunities.

Yet, she says, it took them about a month and a half to find a place to live, staying in Airbnbs in the meantime.

Originally from India, the family had lived in Bahrain for the past decade, where Kaithayil Francis's husband worked as electrical engineer.

Kaithayil Francis, who is a nurse specializing in mental health, said it will likely take a year or two until she and her husband are licensed in the province and able to work in their respective fields.

"As a new immigrant nurse, I have to start everything from the scratch. So, to function as a nurse in Newfoundland, ... a lot of procedures we have to undergo," said Kaithayil Francis. "It includes a lot of struggles."

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

She said people's welcoming attitudes are "the most wonderful thing" about coming to the province. Two of her children, she said, have already started school and enjoy their new home as well.

"When we search about Newfoundland, I thought that Indians are rare, especially those who are from our place is rare. And I thought probably it will be difficult for us to get settled," said Kaithayil Francis.

That's where the provincial Malayali association steps in, according to Febin Francis.

"We are offering all the services, we are extending our hands. We are even accommodating people in our houses," said Francis. "Like a huge family."

Francis thinks processes such as transferring foreign job qualifications or obtaining a provincial driver's licence should be sped up. He said many of the most recent Malayali newcomers are nurses just like Kaithayil Francis, who won't be able to work right away.

"They are well-qualified professionals.… They're not getting a registration right away. They have to go through a whole lot of process of writing examination, getting your credentials evaluated," said Francis.

"Why can't we speed up the process a little bit? Maybe that's a question we have to ask ourselves."

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