The following narrative was constructed by Beatrice Zani, based on an interview that she conducted with Chen (pseudonym), a Chinese foreign worker in Montreal.
I like cold places: that is why I came to Montreal. I grew up in Harbing and I am used to snow and ice. I liked my hometown, but my job as a nurse was exhausting, and the salary was miserable. I felt a lot of pressure. People gossiped about me because I was a single mother, and I felt I had lost face, and my parents felt so too. At some point, I understood that the only thing I could do was to leave China. I remembered that the nurse school I graduated from had partnerships with Canadian schools. So, I moved to Nova Scotia to study public health. I used all the money I had to arrange for the trip. I was so excited to leave! I wanted to build a new life, where nobody knew about my past. I also wanted to make good money for my child, who remained with my parents. After becoming successful, I wished to bring them there with me and to take care of them all.
The climate was cold enough for me, very similar to Northern China. However, the place was just too small and boring; it was almost a desert. I started to study French since I wished to move to a bigger place, like Montreal. People said there were many job opportunities there since the province of Quebec needed foreign labour. I was committed to learn the language. But in 2016, when I arrived, the law suddenly changed. To work I was required to pass an interview to certify my linguistic skills in French. After the reform, I needed a level B2, which was far above my competence. At that time, I could barely understand and make a sentence. So, I failed and could not seek a job as a nurse. That was very unfair.
However, I did not throw in the towel, and I kept on studying French. To make money, I found an undeclared job in a Chinese restaurant as a waitress. It was fine to work there but quite far from home. I lived in the suburbs of the city and shared an apartment with seven other Chinese workers. After a year, I retook the exam and failed again. This meant that I also lost my right to remain in the territory. I changed jobs a few times, still working here and there for some Chinese bosses in the kitchen of some canteen or as a waitress. That is common and most of my Chinese colleagues face the same problems that I do. They tell me not to worry, that nobody cares about us. Yet sometimes I feel pressure and I feel scared. What would happen? Would they kick me out? Where could I go? When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, I was very worried for my child and my parents. I wanted to go back, and to take care of them. I am an only child, and I am responsible for my parents. As a mother, I am responsible for my child. But I also know that if I leave the country, I will never come back. I could go back to China, but it would be hard to find a job. I am old for the market, and during recent years, I have not worked as a nurse. It is a competitive environment, and you must keep yourself up to date, you have to keep on working to progress. If you stop, it is impossible to start again. Despite this, all in all, I am lucky. During the pandemic, I did not lose my job since my boss arranged a takeaway and food delivery system. I just worked less and made less money.. Furthermore, I am in good health, and I still have energy to work. My current boss is also very supportive. He told me that I should keep on studying French by myself and reapply for the certificate later. He said that many people try to do that even after losing their residence permit, and sometimes that works. He has put me in touch with a lawyer and we will see what to do. I still want to be a nurse here, I still want to be successful! In Canada, I have learned not to give up, and I will not give up!
Beatrice Zani is a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University. Her research interests include transnational migration, globalization, transnationalism, gender, migrant entrepreneurship, global labour, and global supply chain capitalism. Committed to advocacy and action-oriented research, her strong engagement with migration and inequality brought her to apprehend migrants’ experiences of inequality during the pandemic, and she hopes that the stories collected will be insightful tools for policy change and social transformation.