Alex Fevralev has a degree in mathematics and worked as an information technology manager in Yekaterinburg, a Russian city east of the Ural mountains where the air is so polluted that his children couldn’t play outside and winter lasted six months. He wanted to get away from the weather and the pollution — and to change careers “to do something I find more useful and important for our future.”
“It was really important to me to change my life — and immigration is one of the ways to do it,” Fevralev, 35, said in an interview this week at the Wagar Adult Education Centre, part of the English Montreal School Board.
This fall he will begin studies in biology at Concordia University; he is interested in edible insects as food for cattle. “It can be good for the food chain,” he said. “It is hard to force people to eat insects, but there are so many insects on our planet, and we have to use them.”
For the past 18 months, Fevralev has been in a program to help permanent residents or Canadian citizens who didn’t graduate from a Quebec high school improve their English-language conversational and writing skills. When he started, he could not utter even simple sentences; his English has improved enormously. The centre offers French classes as well, but he already speaks French.
Fevralev was one of three students in the program who spoke to the Montreal Gazette about their reasons for coming to Quebec and how they have been received.
Adriana Alcala Saldana graduated from medical school in Mexico and worked for two years as a family doctor in an under-serviced area of the country. She arrived in Montreal as a permanent resident in February, sponsored by her boyfriend, who moved here from Mexico with his family 10 years ago.
“I love being a doctor and my goal is to be a doctor in Canada,” she said.
She knows her medical degree will not automatically be recognized, said Alcala Saldana, 28, and that she will need to work hard, improve her English, learn French and pass several exams for the Medical Council of Canada before she is even considered for a residency program. The success rate on these exams is generally lower for foreign medical graduates than for graduates of Canadian medical schools.
“I know I should have a Plan B, but I don’t want one. I only want to be a doctor here.”
She said she feels “very welcome in Quebec, because I think people in Montreal are OK with newcomers.”
Living in Russia, said Fevralev, “I believed that people everywhere are the same. But when we came to Canada, we discovered that people here are not the same as in Russia: They are much more welcoming, more friendly and more outgoing. In Russia, people are very closed. They don’t trust one another, and that has influence in ways that are small and large.”
Vegdar Abgaryan said he likes how “everyone is polite and smiling and service seems better” than in his native Armenia. He arrived in Quebec in June 2017 with his wife and their two children, now 8 and 2. He and his wife are lawyers. They were doing well in Yerevan but had started to think about trying to ensure a better future for their children and themselves. “By better future, I mean a good education, a good health system and other advantages,” he said.
Both speak French and, because their law degrees are from a French university with a campus in Armenia, will be entitled to join the Barreau du Québec after satisfying a certain number of credits and writing qualifying exams for the Barreau.
He and his wife are only children and are a bit homesick for family. But “when I take a step, I don’t look back,” said Abgaryan, 33. “The main objective is to get a licence to practise law in Quebec.”
Of Bill 21, proposed provincial legislation that would ban religious headgear for public servants in positions of authority, he said: “A lot of people choose Canada because they are able to practise their religion without issues. Creating such a law may cause an imbalance.”
In Mexico, said Alcala Saldana, practically everyone is Catholic and visible religious headgear is not an issue. “Here it is more complicated because some people show their religion,” she said.
On one level, she understands the government’s wish to separate church and state, she said. “But I also think that everybody should be free to wear what they want.”