By Suzanne Robicheau |
Immigration and innovation were the hot topics on January 26, 2017, when Saint Mary's welcomed government Ministers Navdeep Bains, Lena Diab, BA’85, Scott Brison, and Ahmed Hussen to a roundtable discussion that included faculty, staff, students, members of the University’s Board of Governors, and external stakeholders.
“It was an historic event that gathered together a wide cross section of the Canadian fabric,” said panel moderator Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, President and Vice-Chancellor of Saint Mary’s University. “Discussion centered around how universities in Atlantic Canada can attract and support international students, what role should be played by employers and the broader community, and what more government can do.”
Speaking on the immigrant experience, Saint Mary’s alumna Stephanie Winter, BComm’12, MTEI’17, received a round of applause for her description of the challenges in moving from Antigua to Canada in 2007 to attend the Sobey School of Business. After completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree, and accepting an exciting new job as a business systems analyst with RBC in Toronto, she discovered she would need to return to Antigua in order to obtain a permanent residence permit.
“I had to abandon everything I had built in Canada and go home,” she recalls.
Once back in Antigua, Winter applied for permanent residence under a different category. Thanks to a generous scholarship established by alumni Mike and Catherine Durland, BComm’87, DComm’10, she was able to return to Saint Mary’s and graduate for a second time from the Sobey School of Business in January 2017 with a Master of Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Moving to Nova Scotia was equally challenging for Najwan Al Barghouthi, a chemist from Jordan who arrived in Canada in 2011 with her husband and children. After four years of low wages and part-time employment, she was ready to give up and go back to Jordan, but her teenaged son said something that changed her mind.
“He told me that his life and his future are both in Nova Scotia,” says Al Barghouthi. “This is his home.”
A pivotal factor in her decision to stay was an offer to do research in the area of contaminants and safe drinking water with Saint Mary’s Chemistry professor Christa Brosseau. That, in turn, led to admission into the Faculty of Science, where Al Barghouthi is now pursuing a master’s degree in Chemistry.
“Dr. Brosseau shifted my life,” says Al Barghouthi. “I can never thank her enough.”
“Stories like Najwan and Stephanie’s transform all of us,” says President Summerby-Murray. “As one of the most internationally diverse university campuses in Canada, Saint Mary’s is committed to attracting and retaining international students and ensuring they have the opportunity to make Nova Scotia, and the greater Atlantic region, their permanent home.”
Roundtable participant Saeed El-Darahali (BSc’02, CHR’02, MBA’04) echoed this sentiment, stressing the critical contributions made by all immigrants. “Employers need to do more,” said El-Darahali, President and CEO of SimplyCast and Chair of the Immigration and Retention Committee for the OneNS Coalition. “We have a wonderful region and an amazing standard of life, but without jobs, international students won’t stay here.”
The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, also reinforced the importance of immigrants to the Canadian economy, describing diversity as our country’s competitive advantage, and people as the most important component of an innovative economy.
Similarly, the story of immigration is the story of Canada for The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. After arriving in this country at the age of 16 as a refugee, Hussen surmounted many obstacles on his way to becoming an immigration lawyer.
As a result, he is determined to make it easier for international students to stay in Canada and contribute to an agenda of innovation. “I want to clear the path to permanent residency,” he says. “The process needs to be easier.”