As the global economy fizzles, our city is being inundated with a new cohort of foreign professionals. They’re coming for the stable economy, the chart-topping livability and the promise of a steady job. Meet the new refugees.
ANDY LEE AND RUTSUKO ITO
Both 36 and assistant professors of psychology at the University of Toronto
Arrived from Oxford, U.K., in June 2011, bought a house at Yonge and Lawrence
Andy: “We were both working as neuroscience researchers at Oxford. Our focus is learning and memory—how human beings acquire new information and how brain structures work together. Our research contracts were about to end, and we were looking around for more stable research and teaching positions. We have a six-year-old son, Josiah, and wanted to settle down somewhere. Toronto is at the forefront in the field of human memory, so when a few positions became available at the University of Toronto, we applied.”
Rutsuko: “We were picky about where we wanted to live. We were after big, multicultural cities, and we needed a place with positions for both of us. Toronto worked out perfectly. We’re renting out our house in Oxford, and we bought a place in Toronto even before we moved here. The rent from Oxford covers part of our Toronto mortgage payments.
“We love how we just blend in here. I was born in Japan and Andy spent much of his childhood in Hong Kong, but we’ve lived most of our adult lives in the U.K. People would look at us as foreigners in England because we’re not Caucasian. In Toronto, people don’t realize we’re from abroad until they hear our accents.”
NOÉMIE CRISTÓBAL LUMBROSO
31, Architect at Raw Design
Arrived from Madrid in June 2011, rents an apartment at Queen and Spadina
“It’s hard to find a job as an architect in Madrid, and you get paid about half what you make in North America. I was attracted to Toronto because I heard about how diverse it is. So I applied for a working holiday visa and started sending job applications.
“The firm Raw Design was one of my top choices because I’d seen some of their projects online and was impressed. They responded right away. I had my first interview the morning after I arrived and started working two weeks later. It’s exciting to be able to build downtown. In Europe, you can’t typically design new buildings for the city centre. I’ve never seen such an eclectic urban space as Toronto—you can find skyscrapers next to small houses. I’ve recently been working on a condo and office complex in Liberty Village.
“Toronto is so far from my family and friends, and with the time difference it can be hard to connect. I Skype with one friend as I walk to work in the morning, but by the time I get off, it’s past midnight there. A lot of my relatives have come to visit me here. They’ve all commented on how livable the city is—with lots to do, people from different cultures and the natural beauty of the lake.”
45, head of emergency medicine at SickKids
Arrived from Boston in September 2010, bought a condo at King and Spadina
“I was working as an emergency pediatrician at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and had a university appointment at Harvard, but I knew I wanted to move into management. Then I received an email from the head of pediatrics at SickKids asking me to apply for a position—the hospital was looking for someone to put new ER systems in place to improve the way staff gather and deliver information. I was impressed by the hospital’s international standing and by its resources, so I leapt at the chance.
“My five-year work permit is tagged to SickKids and the University of Toronto. This type of position at SickKids is traditionally 10 years, with a review halfway through. So my hope is that they’ll think I’m doing a good job and ask me to stay for another five.
“I sold my house in Boston and bought a condo in the Entertainment District. The best lifestyle change for me is being able to walk to work every day. Toronto’s a more international city, and people are much more stylish here. I bought new glasses just to fit in. And the city is surprisingly quiet. Instead of horns honking, the noise I hear most often in my condo is the hum of the streetcar, which I find soothing.”
55, head of rheumatology at University Health Network and Mount Sinai
53, renal pathologist at Toronto General
Arrived from Mexico City in June 2011, bought a house at Yonge and Eglinton
Jorge: “I was head of rheumatology at Mexico’s National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition—the country’s largest hospital—and Carmen was head of pathology at the Mexican National Institute of Cardiology. Three years ago, I was offered a job as the next head of rheumatology at the UHN and Mount Sinai, but they didn’t have a position for Carmen, so we waited. Finally last year a position opened up for her at Toronto General, and we made the move. We’re here under work permits, but we’re planning to apply for permanent residency.”
Carmen: “We bought a house at Yonge and Eglinton because it’s easy to get to work on the subway and we knew there were good schools nearby for our sons, Fernando and Alejandro, who are 17 and 15. They just started at St. Michael’s College School and are adjusting well. We’re earning more here, but the expenses in Toronto are higher.
“I love how much I’m able to walk in Toronto. In Mexico City, we’d always be driving. Here the downtown feels so open, and there’s not much pollution. We like that our sons are safer here, too—they can go out at night and we don’t worry.”
39, vice-president at Wittington Investments
38, full-time mother
Arrived from London, U.K., in December 2010, bought a house in Oakville
Rob: “I’m from Seattle and Lindsay grew up in Calgary, but we lived in London for eight years. I worked in strategy at Associated British Foods. Lindsay was a director at Merrill Lynch. Europe is fantastic when you’re double-income with no kids. Even with our first child, we travelled to Egypt, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and France. But then we had two more kids, and what were we doing every weekend? We were going to the pool or the playground, or having barbecues with friends. When I got a job offer in Toronto, we sold our house and bought a place in Oakville that’s three times bigger for 30 per cent less.”
Lindsay: “In London, our kids would have gone to private schools with a bunch of other privileged kids. We wanted to bring them up in more diverse surroundings, and now my kids hang out with children whose parents are from all over—eastern Europe, Mexico, Scotland.
“Canada offers great opportunities for us. The country fared so well in the global recession, and Toronto’s banks are building big global operations. It’s a stable place, where a new leadership is emerging—the country has more geopolitical clout—and we wanted to be a part of that. I plan to return to work soon—there’s a variety of career options, and the financial services industry is incredibly strong.”
35, account manager at Envision sales
33, senior manager at Scotiabank’s international mobile banking team
Arrived from San José, Costa Rica, in January 2010, rent a house at Dufferin and St. Clair
Ivan: “My work first brought me to Toronto in 2005, and I loved it—there were so many opportunities for professional growth—so I applied to become a permanent resident. I convinced Cynthia to join me here while I completed my MBA at the Schulich School of Business. We got married at Toronto city hall in January 2010. Since we moved here we’ve started to bike everywhere—to work, to the gym. We love that everyone we meet has a different background, and that the city allows you to keep your ethnic identity.”
Cynthia: “When I first arrived in Canada, I came with a tourist visa, so I wasn’t able to work for about a year. It was like a sabbatical. In Costa Rica I had worked as an industrial engineer for an American company that builds high-end condos. After I got accepted as a permanent Canadian resident in 2011, I found a position at Envision Sales. It’s a design company that specializes in making digital fixtures for venues like the Air Canada Centre.
“It was hard to leave my close friends and family, but I don’t feel like a foreigner in Toronto. Ivan is from Colombia and I’m from Costa Rica, and one of us would feel out of place in either country, but here we both fit in. We’re currently renting a house, but we’ve bought a new condo in the Distillery District that should be ready by 2014.”
39, graphic designer
35, industrial designer at Johnsonite
Arrived from Belgrade, Serbia, in March 2011, rent an apartment at Yonge and Davisville
Andjelka: “We were quite established in Serbia and both of us had good jobs, but I wanted to live in a country where we would have a better chance to build our careers and challenge ourselves. Duro was up for it, too, so we lived with his parents for two years in order to save enough money to emigrate.
“We liked the opportunities that Canada offered. I listened to the CBC for three years to learn about the country. We applied to move here as permanent residents. Originally we considered going to Vancouver, where we had a friend, but Duro didn’t think it was big enough. He didn’t want to leave Belgrade for a smaller city. I now design new flooring lines for Johnsonite. My salary is a lot better than what I was making in Serbia, but the expenses here are higher as well.”
Duro: “In Serbia, I was a sculptor, graphic designer and photographer. I have continued with graphic design here, but at the moment I’m a stay-at-home dad for our three-year-old daughter, Tetra. We’re artsy people, so we love the art exhibitions, concerts and theatres in Toronto. We love going to the AGO, the ROM and events like Salsa on St. Clair. It’s difficult raising a kid without the help of our parents, but we like that there are beautiful parks everywhere, and we were happy to find that the kids at the playground talk in all different languages.”
32, campus recruiter at PWC
29, corporate tax manager at PWC
Arrived from Edinburgh, Scotland, in March 2011, rent an apartment at Yonge and Eglinton
Russell: “We met at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Aberdeen office. From the start, Fiona told me she wanted to move to Toronto, but I just didn’t see myself going overseas. I was born in a small town in Scotland and had spent my entire life within a 100-mile radius.
“We got married in 2010 and figured if we were going to move, the best time to do it would be then, before we had kids and settled down. We didn’t want to regret not living in another country. We contacted colleagues at the Toronto office and inquired about whether they had a need for our skill sets. It turned out there were jobs available, so we applied through PWC’s global mobility program. It’s like a job exchange, and sometimes you can stay on permanently.”
Fiona: “I was born in Hong Kong, and my family moved to Mississauga when I was a baby and stayed until I was in Grade 4. My dad worked at First Canadian Place, and as a child I wanted to work in an office just like him. Now I’m in a tower near his old office, so I feel like I’ve made it.
“We miss our friends and family, but we keep in touch through Skype, and they’ve come to visit, too. We love the urban lifestyle of Toronto. I think it would be a great place to raise kids.”