What Retirement? The many hurdles faced by immigrant retirees in Quebec - New Canadian Media

What Retirement? The many hurdles faced by immigrant retirees in Quebec

In Quebec, more than 235,000 immigrants are over 65, but many face significant challenges in accessing adequate retirement benefits

“Everything has a beginning, everything has an end,” says Khadija, without a hint of resignation.

As she enters her sixties, the career and vocational teacher, who preferred to remain anonymous, has decided to retire at the end of the current school year.

However, she does plan to do substitute teaching, two to three days a week. “Today’s retirement is no longer yesterday’s retirement […] it’s no longer a break,” she asserts. According to her, the way of living and perceiving retirement in Canada differs from her home country: “here, it’s not the end of something, it’s just another step in life where you can do a lot of things that you couldn’t do before when you were working full time.”

If she plans to maintain professional activity “to not feel rusty,” Khadija must also think about her finances: arriving from Algeria in 2010, from where she does not receive a pension, it took her two years to get back into schools as a substitute, waiting for her equivalencies. It was only in 2016 that she obtained a full-time position.

Multiple Factors

Khadija is far from being the only one in this situation. In Quebec, more than 235,000 immigrants are over 65, according to 2021 census data.

“Financial planning for retirement is always easier, the earlier you start,” says Philippe Guèvremont, interim director at Retraite Québec, which administers the Quebec Pension Plan, public sector pension plans and supervises supplementary retirement plans and voluntary retirement savings plans.

However, the “life path of immigrants is such that they sometimes find themselves, somewhat involuntarily, starting later than others.”

Some indeed arrive with a well-established career in their home country or in a third country. Others are slowed down by the process of recognizing diplomas and achievements, or by delays related to adaptation and installation.

Even if an immigrant finds work quickly, they would not necessarily be highly paid , emphasizes Corinne Béguerie-Goddaert, a research professional.

Immigrants face other hurdles, as well.

“There are those who send money to their home country to their family who stayed in the country and who have financial problems,” she adds, explaining that this money “cannot be put into a retirement fund, into a [Registered Retirement Savings Plan].”

Between Theory and Facts

All these factors contribute to the “financial vulnerability” of immigrants at retirement, according to Béguerie-Goddaert, while many observers point to the impoverishment of the elderly in Quebec.

She also highlights the “intersectional” nature of the issues surrounding retirement and recalls that immigrant women are all the more likely to find themselves in a precarious situation at the time of retirement.

Other potentially vulnerable populations, such as temporary foreign workers, contribute to a retirement in Quebec, but few would claim their pension, Béguerie-Goddaert wrote in the  Bulletin de l’Observatoire de la retraite, in 2022. “It remains to be seen whether this is due to a lack of information and support for writing their application, or if the system is not adapted to their situation,” she wrote.

The system would not be at fault, according to Philippe Guèvremont and his colleague Shanie Lévesque-Baker, strategic advisor at Retraite Québec. Because on paper, as soon as a person is 18 years old, earns more than $3,500 per year and contributes for a minimum duration of one year, they are eligible for a benefit from the Quebec Pension Plan, regardless of their immigration status.

Lower retirement incomes are the result of “their particular situation,” says the interim director.

Retirement is for Later

Citizens of about forty countries benefit from social security agreements with Retraite Québec, allowing them to coordinate their Quebec pension fund with that of their home country. At the federal level, the Old Age Security pension does not depend on the length of participation in the labor market, but on the length of stay in Canada.

Taking into account these parameters and the personal trajectory of each immigrant, there are as many individuals as there are financial situations at retirement.

In all cases, Shanie Lévesque-Baker invites immigrants to “maximize government programs” and to stay as long as possible in the labor market, in order to enhance their pension.

The average age of retirement for immigrants is two years higher than that of natives, according to a study published in 2023. While confirming a longer participation of immigrants in the labor market, Philippe Guèvremont assures that he does not hold any qualitative data on the reasons behind this gap.

Indeed, Khadija doesn’t make too much fuss: she knows that in case of financial difficulty, there is likely to be a place for her in the labour market.

This piece was originally published in French at lemediadesnouveauxcanadiens.ca, which is New Canadian Media’s French-language publication.

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Adèle Surprenant est journaliste indépendante. Elle a travaillé en Amérique du Nord, au Moyen-Orient, en Afrique du Nord et en Europe, et s’intéresse aux questions liées à la migration, au genre, au travail et aux mouvements sociaux.

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