Like many immigrants, Damilola Onime came to Canada in search of “a better life.”
“My career opportunities were very limited back home,” says Onime, who grew up in Nigeria, where she worked as a journalist before moving to Canada in December 2018. She imagined that her half-decade of experience would give her a competitive edge and help her land a job.
“I came here with the mindset that ‘it’ll be fantastic, you’ll be great,’” she says. “I was applying for jobs at Rogers before I got on a plane.”
Unfortunately, it would be a year and a half before she broke into the Canadian media industry.
Onime got a job as a producer for the podcast network and news organization CANADALAND in July 2020. Recently, she moved to Ottawa to co-host the CityNews morning radio show.
Yet, with her level of skills and experience, Onime believes someone like her should’ve been more in-demand in the journalism industry.
“If Canada is going to tout itself and advertise itself as an immigrant-friendly, diverse country, then people that come here as economic immigrants should be given the opportunities that were advertised to them,” Onime says.
“Why should someone who has (several) years of experience in their professional field come here and not have any employment opportunities?”
But as New Canadian Media’s groundbreaking survey looking into the socio-economic status of immigrant and refugee journalists in Canada found, taking a year-and-a-half to land a job in your field is still much shorter than the average time immigrants typically spend finding a way into their career.
‘Not so rosy’
Anukul Thakur is a reporter for the Peel-region based publication, The Pointer. He immigrated to Canada from India in 2019 to pursue his dream of covering the 2026 World Cup. Thakur says it’s easy for immigrants to get caught up in their high expectations of life in a new country.
“Everyone assumes that when you go to a different country, that place will be a land of opportunities,” he says. “It’s not like that. It’s not that rosy.”
On Feb. 14, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Minister Sean Fraser announced the government’s plan to bring in over 1.3 million immigrants over the next three years. Last year, over 401,000 new immigrants called Canada home.
According to Statista, landed immigrants who’ve been in Canada less than five years have an unemployment rate of 13.5 per cent. That’s 4.5 per cent higher than the unemployment rate for people born in Canada.
The data suggests it can take immigrants upwards of 10 years to secure a job in their field. This is despite the fact that many immigrants come to Canada as economic immigrants — that is, people who’ve been selected specifically for their ability to contribute to the economy.
A ‘heartbreaking feeling’
A common obstacle for many journalists is finding a full-time job — especially amid waves of job cuts.
Data from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey show that although the number of journalists in Canada rose between 1987-2017, freelance work became a prevalent aspect of the industry during the same period. Today, freelancers account for roughly 17 per cent of Canadian journalists, compared to five per cent prior to 1996.
“I was under the impression that once you graduate, you do an internship, you’d get a job, like a full-time position. Then I was introduced to the world of freelancing. I did not choose to be introduced to it but it just sort of happened,” says Anushka Yadav, who works as a communications manager with Hope Life Migrant Settlement.
Yadav came to Canada in 2019 as an education reporter from India. Last year, she simultaneously freelanced as an editorial assistant and associate producer with both the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Global News while also working as a staff writer with the Toronto Star.
Yet, none of that counted towards her permanent residence application, which she filed in 2021, as it wasn’t considered full-time work. She therefore ended up having to leave the positions in order to find the right type of employment.
Yadav is currently waiting for her Labour Market Impact Assessment to be approved. In the meantime, she worries that she could lose her status and might be forced to return to India.
“Because I didn’t have a stable job, it affected my status in the country, and because of that, I was forced to leave journalism…And when you’re pushed out of the one thing that you want to do in life, it’s a heartbreaking feeling,” she explains .
She argues that Canada needs to change how it classifies relevant work experience given the growth of the gig economy and precarious work in Canada.
The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) conducted its first annual diversity survey between November 2020 and July 2021. The survey revealed that non-white journalists were less likely than their white colleagues to be employed full-time.
Yadav admits that the lack of job stability has affected her mental health, making her question, if not regret, her career path.
“For a profession like that, if leaders in the profession cannot provide for stable jobs, then what the hell are we even doing?” she wonders.
The findings from the CAJ and Statistics Canada surveys suggest there are more journalists vying for fewer permanent positions, and racialized journalists are often excluded.
And according to the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), the significant number of media professionals stuck in temporary positions “causes economic insecurity” and hurts the industry writ large.
Akanksha Lamba is a production coordinator with the CBC. Like Yadav, she immigrated to Canada from India and worked at the CBC as a casual editorial assistant and associate producer in 2021.
The nature of the role meant the days, number of shifts and pay varied from week to week, which made Lamba feel like she needed to accept any shift she was offered. To keep track of it all, she says she uses a diary and does her own calculations “because it’s different every month.”
“I try but I can’t really sustain it because it’s not in my hands,” she says. “That makes me really anxious.”
Lamba now works under contract as an administrative specialist at the CBC, which gives her more stability.
Unfortunately, while Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal are among the most attractive destinations for journalists to settle due to their diversity and high-concentration of media outlets, they’re also the least affordable.
It’s not uncommon to therefore find journalists resorting to other industries to make ends meet, as was the case with Onime, who looked for work in restaurants. But even there, she says, she was told she was overqualified.
“The little funding I had, I just lost, and I had gone through all my savings. This was me being on the verge of being homeless,” she explains.
Like for many journalists, for Thakur, The Pointer reporter, journalism is a profession driven by passion. He believes that it takes a lot of determination, patience and skill to break into it. “You need that tenacity,” he says. “Somebody needs to push for it.”
But while he isn’t resentful of his decision to pursue a career in the field despite the challenges he’s faced, he admits “after a point, it gets disappointing. You get dejected,” he says.
Some journalists have defected to careers in marketing and communications. In 2017, the number of people working in advertising, marketing and public relations was 131,900 compared to 11,700 journalists. According to salaries listed on Indeed.com, an average journalism salary in Canada is $47,476.89; for marketing and communications, it’s $64,582.25.
Like Thakur, Lamba also has a “huge passion for being a journalist.” But given the precariousness of the industry for immigrant journalists, she’s now unsure which career path to follow.
Indeed, how long can sheer passion sustain a person?
Nayirah Waheed’s poem titled “immigrant” is perhaps best suited to answer that question. The poem illustrates the frustration felt by many who uproot their lives to settle in a new country:
“you broke the ocean in half to be here. only to meet nothing that wants you.”
But others like Thakur, ever the optimist, continue believing there is hope yet.
“Money will come eventually,” he says. “They will recognize your talents.”
This article is part of NCM’s study on the socioeconomic conditions of first-generation immigrant and refugee journalists currently in progress. Please fill out our immigrant/refugee survey here: English survey French survey.
Disclosure: The author was a co-worker of Anukul Thakur and Anushka Yadav at the CBC. He is also a colleague of Akanksha Lamba in a separate department.
Marcus is a poet, editor and freelance journalist based in Toronto. He currently works with New Canadian Media as an Editor and as a Freelance Writer for ByBlacks.com, The Edge: A Leader's Magazine and The Soapbox Press.