Greeks line up to start new lives in Canada
Austerity measures and grim prospects at home force many in Greece to look overseas
By Sheila Dabu Nonato and And Darah Hansen, Postmedia News; Vancouver Sun
Former restaurateur George Varvarigos has started a new career in auto sales in Toronto after immigrating from Greece seven months ago.
Varvarigos, 37, sold his share of a restaurant and came to Canada with hopes for a better future.
“Everybody works hard for every daily expense … and the bills they have to pay,” he said. “Nobody is lazy … So they’re fighters.”
“[Canada] is a better environment with better chances for people who would like to do something in their life, to have a family, to have their job and to get paid for that and to look straight to the future,” he explained.
Members of Greek-Canadian communities say Varvarigos’s story is becoming familiar as an increasing number of Greek residents inquire about job opportunities in Canada. They are hoping to start a new life because of the financial uncertainty in their homeland, which is on the brink of bankruptcy.
The EU approved its second bailout for Greece on Tuesday worth $172 billion. To get the debt bailouts, Greece has had to commit to unpopular austerity measures, which include tax increases and deep cuts to pensions, public-sector wages and the country’s minimum wage.
Greece’s unemployment rate hit a record 20.9 per cent in November, compared to 10.4 per cent for the 17 countries sharing the euro. The number of young Greeks without work is closer to 40 per cent.
The crisis prompted thou-sands of protesters angry at punishing spending cuts to pour into Athens’ central Syn-tagma Square on Wednesday as lawmakers rushed to pass laws needed to secure the latest bailout.
With these economic prospects, new immigrants are increasingly attracted to Canada’s economic engines.
“Since this crisis occurred we’ve heard from a lot of professionals who are frustrated and can’t find employment in Greece.
They want to know what the job conditions are like in Vancouver and how do they go about applying to come here,” said Peter Kletas, a Vancouver lawyer and president of the Hellenic Community of Vancouver, a group that serves the local Greek community.
In the past six months, Kle-tas said the society has seen the number of phone calls to its office from Greek nationals looking to migrate rise from an average of one to two per week to two to three a day.
“They are sending us their CVs and everything, thinking we can get them work,” he said.
Kletas said not since the post-war era of the 1950s and 60s has B.C., and Canada, seen such interest from Greek nationals in migration.
“A lot of them want a better way of life for their families. That is what we are hearing,” he said.
John Yannitsos, president of the Hellenic Society of Calgary, said a few dozen Greek residents have been arriving in Calgary on a weekly basis recently. Most are Greek citizens with Canadian relatives. There are also some Canadian citizens who had been living in Greece and are now starting to return, he said.
Inquiries from Greek residents are skyrocketing, he said, noting it’s come to a point where they arrive daily.
“You can sense the desperation in their voices and in the inquiries,” he said. “[They say] ‘can you help us with opportunities? How can we get there? We’ll take our chances when we get there.'”
But moving here isn’t easy.
Mario Bellissimo, an immigration lawyer in Toronto, said many professionals looking to make the move to Canada don’t qualify to migrate unless they’ve secured a Canadian employer.
People with experience and education in one of 29 federally recognized occupations, including nurses, psychologists, industrial electricians and welders, are eligible to apply as skilled workers.
But that list is so narrow, and the numbers accepted capped, “that it doesn’t tend to be an option that is very fruitful for many people, not just from Greece, but around the world,” said Bellissimo.
But Vancouver lawyer and immigration analyst Richard Kurland said Greece could likely prove a “prime recruiting zone” for human resources professionals looking for a ready supply of workers in occupations where there is a looming shortage.
By 2020, there will be an estimated 61,500 more jobs in the province than workers to fill them, according to B.C.’s most recent Labour Market Outlook, and that has the province relying on newcomers to fill a third of all job openings within a decade.
New Toronto resident Roula Loukaki says it was when the tourists stopped buying that she and her husband decided to close their decade-old, family-run gift shop in Greece.
Born in Toronto, Loukaki moved to Greece with her family when she was nine years old.
In her late 30s, Loukaki returned to Canada in early February.
“It’s a difficult decision but we want a better life,” she said. “We thought, let’s just try something else because we don’t see any future there,” she said.
She says her friends and young people in Greece are considering moving to Canada, Australia or other European countries, such as Germany.
Although there hasn’t been a large immigration wave from Greece in Toronto yet, the return of “bold expats,” such as Loukaki, also will include individuals who are single, unattached and Canadian-born who are “coming back to their roots,”said videojournalist Tri-fon Haitas, who was born in Greece and works with Toronto’s Greek media.