Jenny Gulamani-Abdulla, a member of the International Bar Association, is founder of Gulamani-Abdulla & Co., Immigration Consulting.
Tell me what your company is and does?
Gulamani-Abdulla: Gulamani-Abdulla & Co. is an immigration consulting firm based in Calgary. It’s in its 25th year and was established by myself. The firm is focused on the client and by that I don’t mean mere client satisfaction. It’s about exceeding the client’s expectation by providing a meaningful and valuable experience. The potential client should walk away after a 30-minute free consultation feeling that they received more information than they came in for, that their story was valued, and that the interaction with a top-level executive was down-to-earth and priceless.
So at Gulamani-Abdulla & Co., it’s not only about providing a consultation, assessing the individual case, preparing the forms, compiling the facts and submitting the file. It’s about having a dialogue, about the client’s real needs and desires, with a realistic plan to move forward. It’s about changing lives of individuals and affecting families in a way that will forever touch them. It’s about earning the client’s trust in an ethical manner.
What’s your background and how did you get into this business?
Gulamani-Abdulla: This is an interesting question because when I graduated in 1994, 25 years ago, there were no immigration courses offered at law schools. We all graduated with a general law degree. In fact, my first job was in contracts in Ontario and I never really met the parties to the contracts. My desire was to work closely with people on real issues. So when I came across an offer from an immigration firm on Yonge Street, I was quite excited. Soon after, I set up my own practice in Toronto and then Calgary.
In terms of my own background, I immigrated with my parents from Tanzania, East Africa, at the age of 11. I saw that my parents gave up a great life there and moved to Canada when the schools were nationalized and all the main subjects were going to be delivered in Kiswahili and not English. My parents moved to Canada for our education and so I had first-hand experience through my parents when it came to immigration, settlement, integration and citizenship.
What are the main challenges today when it comes to immigration?
Gulamani-Abdulla: I think that the central challenge of immigration is that it introduces greater diversity into our society. When people come together from different parts of the world, they come with their own perspectives and experiences. At times, their values and opinions may differ from ours and so we have to look for ways to understand one another, respect one another, and figure out how to treat one another so that we may live together in harmony.
Now this may sound simple but it really isn’t and requires deliberate effort. We may recognize diversity because it is a fact … and we can learn to tolerate our differences but we really need to take this a step further. In a pluralist society, we must learn to embrace these differences. By doing so, we’ll begin to see that diversity is not a problem but rather an opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of. We must find ways to benefit from our differences at all levels of society.
The alternative is a fractured and divided society where immigrants do not feel a sense of belonging and citizens feel insecure, fearful and desperately protective over their national identity.
Immigration is always a hot-button topic. Do you think society is more welcoming to immigrants or less welcoming than in the past?
Gulamani-Abdulla: We all know that immigration is not a new phenomenon. In fact, before Canada even became a country in 1867, the French explorers established the very first European settlement in what we now call Nova Scotia and the Acadians who were descendants of the French colonists settled in the Maritime provinces. This was in the early 1600s. The French-speaking Quebecers are actually the descendants of the French settlers in the 1600s and 1700s.
Then the loyalists came from the U.S. in 1776 and they included the Dutch, German, British, Scandinavian and so on.
In the early 1900s, it was the Hungarians, Norwegians, Swedes and Icelanders; the Ukrainians and the Poles followed after them.
So immigration is what Canada is made from. What has changed since the early 1970s is the intake of immigrants from ‘different parts of the world.’
And I think your question about immigration being a hot topic is really about the heated debate on the selection criteria that’s used in immigration, which in my view, excludes certain types of people who are different from us. We do this with citizenship, too, not only with immigration.
How can we say on the one hand that we’re welcoming to newcomers and yet have processes and systems in place that create tiers within our population by using, for example, language testing scores to create a hierarchy in our citizenry?
Did we do this in the past or are we doing it now because our top-source countries have changed to China, Philippines, India … you see where I’m going with this, right? And this is just one example.
Why is immigration important to Canadian society?
Gulamani-Abdulla: We all know that Canada has an aging population and a low birth rate so clearly, we’re not able to keep up with the needs of our country. There’s also another side to this, an economic side. Canadians may be educated and we may have access to higher education but we’re not graduating from high-skilled fields that are facing shortages at a rate that can keep up with our labour demands. The same holds true for low-skilled jobs. We see these as student or summer jobs and as stepping stones to move on to something better.
It’s therefore imperative that we turn to immigration to address these labour shortages.
Let me also be very clear that what dominates the headlines about immigration and I am talking about the refugees, that is just 10 per cent to 15 per cent of our total intake of immigrants so the question to ask is who are the other 85 per cent to 90 per cent coming into our country?
And the answer is that they’re primarily economic immigrants, many of whom work hard, pay taxes and boost the economy. This is the critical piece that’s missing in our education curriculum, the media and our daily conversations. It’s time for us to truly showcase the permanent residents and citizens of Canada that are successful and contributing homegrown leaders. That’s the only way to transform the current narrative on immigration.
– Mario Toneguzzi for Calgary’s Business