Immigrating: Turnaround Triumph

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“I never, in my wildest nightmares, thought that I will be selling steel spanners in a west-end neighbourhood of Toronto. I had dreams of living the good life which kind of shattered the moment we stepped into Pearson International Airport.” Zubin Homi Hansotia, March 1993.

“What was it that led me to uproot my two daughters, leave a fabulous job at a multi-national company in Karachi, Pakistan, give up my home, sell my car, leave my old father and come to this cold, frigid land. Is it really a land of opportunities?” Mehra Zubin Hansotia, March 1993.

“The best thing we did was invest in ourselves. It turned our life around full circle.” Zubin and Mehra Hansotia, July 2010.

This drastic change in perspective over the 17-year period that the Hansotias have been in Canada can be traced back to the early 1990’s when on arrival they were faced with an economy struggling to come out of a recession.

Zubin, a mariner by trade, and his wife Mehra, an administrative assistant, lived the good life in Karachi, Pakistan, with their two girls (then 15 and 10 years old) when they traded comfort for safety.

“By the early 1990’s Karachi was changing,” said Zubin as we sat around his backyard BBQ under a cherry tree. “The political landscape lent itself to the creation of pariah political parties, which in the guise of democracy, were terrorizing locals. We were not sure if we wanted to raise our two daughters in an increasingly fearful place, so we packed up and left.”

However, upon coming to Mississauga, Ontario, the family realized that without a decent job, it was difficult to make ends meet. Soon they were introduced to the bitter truth most immigrants fear – that in an already depressed economy, jobs were not easy to come by. They also faced another challenge – Mehra was 37 and Zubin was 43, so it soon became crystal clear that to potential employers they were well past their best-before date.

In a job he got by answering a newspaper advertisement, Zubin tried to sell steel spanners door-to-door in the Markland Wood neighbourhood of Etobicoke only to be frustrated with the snow.

“We came here in March and the weather was overwhelming. I found it physically challenging to walk in knee-deep snow, cross over embankments, reach a door, ring the bell only to be turned away.”

That is when the Hansotias, through another newspaper advertisement, were introduced to the apprentice/trades programs at Sheridan College’s Oakville campus. “Mind you, this was all in the pre-internet age. We actually faxed and mailed resumes in answer to a few advertisements posted in the local newspapers,” recalls Zubin, who now works as a mechanical engineer in a Hamilton-area factory.

Being a marine engineer on international steamship liners for over 25 years helped his case. He did a number of courses on heating and ventilation, power engineering, instrumentation, and so on, leading up to certification of First Class Stationary Engineer. This was the requirement needed to run the first class boiler plant of Unilever Canada. After obtaining this certification he was promoted to Chief Engineer of the whole plant. He now has to renew his license every year from the Ministry of Transportation.

“We did not qualify for OSAP, nor was there any second career funding or any Skills Canada website to aid us then. We used our savings to re-educate ourselves and have never looked back,” adds Mehra, who works as a Resource Manager in a prestigious Bay Street consulting firm.

Mehra completed her Canadian Human Resources Professional diploma from Sheridan College in 1998, working and studying part time over a four-year period. Zubin, apprenticed and took his Mechanical Engineering equivalency exams at Sheridan College’s Skills Training Centre, also located in Oakville. He was fully qualified by 1997 to take on any job within his field in Canada.

Having faced their share of lay-offs, the couple cautions that just getting a Canadian education does not immunize one from market upheavals.

“Our Canadian qualifications aided our entry into the job market at a fairly reasonable stage. We were not relegated, as so often the case is, to entry-level positions. Our experience back home, plus a solid Canadian diploma in our chosen line of work, added value to our marketability,” says Mehra.

Having worked as a recruiter over so many years, Mehra knows now how important it is from the standpoint of an employer to be able to make the most of an employee.
“You have to be able to add value to the company and my advise to all newcomers is simple – add value to your skills, as that will help employers understand that you mean business. Like any good investment it will pay off in returns.”

For the couple and their children, life now looks good. One daughter is a doctor and the other is a web designer. They are now used to the Canadian climate as in a few days they are going on a vacation to Northern Ontario aboard the Polar Bear Express, which will take them to the shores of Canada’s arctic!

Teenaz Javat

Teenaz Javat is a journalist living in Mississauga, Ontario. She works for the CBC and freelances for newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad. She can be reached at

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