Living on the edge: skilled migrant workers cram into apartments

They never washed a dish in India. Now they've washed hundreds at Tim Hortons. Richu Binu Vadath, a radiologist, and James Paul, a business management graduate, laughed over what little responsibilities they had in Kerala, India.

They never washed a dish in India. Now they’ve washed hundreds at Tim Hortons.

Richu Binu Vadath, a radiologist, and James Paul, a business management graduate, laughed over what little responsibilities they had in Kerala, India. They never thought they’d barely be making ends meet when they came to Canada.

The two men share a room in Riverdale. In total, there are three men in a two-bedroom apartment. And they’re not the only ones cutting costs by living in sardine-can conditions.

They’re part of a growing trend of migrant workers in Whitehorse’s service sector industry who have bulked up two to a room to afford housing with their meagre salaries.

Although both men initially entered Canada with student visas, they now hold temporary work permits. When they found out they could be channeled into permanent residency through the Yukon nominee program, they moved to Whitehorse. Paul moved in 2011, Vadath arrived in June.

Paul and his other roommate used to each pay $500 rent before Vadath joined them.

“It was really hard,” Paul said. He would use his entire first biweekly paycheque just for rent and utilities, he said.

Now the three roommates pay $350 each for their housing, electricity and Internet. But that’s still barely enough, Vadath said.

And they’ve both stopped sending money to their families in India. “We’re spending more than we’re making,” Vadath said, laughing.

Luckily, their parents and loved ones don’t depend on remittances from them.

The Canadian dream

“Every child in India has a wish to study abroad,” said Vagath.

Despite their education and qualifications, they’ve taken a step down in the hopes of gaining citizenship in Canada.

With minimum wage salaries, they’re still better off in Canada. “If I work in a job like Tim Hortons in India, I would make 500 rupees per day,” Paul said. That converts to around $8.67 in Canadian dollars. Vadath made only around $300 per month as a radiologist in India, he said.

Still, the men, who are in their twenties, feel like they’re losing their skills. They both came to Canada to further their studies, Vadath pursued a certificate in brain scanning technology in London, Ontario. Paul studied hotel management in Vancouver.

But Vadath dropped his course hoping he would get permanent residency faster through the nominee program. He wants to volunteer as a radiologist soon to maintain his knowledge of the field.

Their challenges and sharing a room has bonded the two. They don’t have to sleep on the same bed because Paul works graveyard shifts while Vadath works during the day.

On the rare occasion they have the same time off, they would lay on the bed together. One would be on the phone, the other on a laptop.

“It’s not a big deal because in India we used to do the same thing. Four or five people would share a room, it’s like throwing fish altogether – something like that,” Vadath said, chuckling.

They remain positive despite their paycheque-to-paycheque lifestyle. “Money’s not going to bring you happiness. It’s secondary, always,” Vadath said, smiling.

An Asian pursuit of success

Three women who also work in Whitehorse’s service sector live the same way in an apartment just below Vadath and Paul’s.

They are also highly skilled workers who came to the Yukon with temporary work visas. One was a midwife, the other a biologist, and the third a nurse.

All of them are from the Philippines. They also each work two jobs.

Maria Gualves, the former midwife, barely had a day off this summer. She came to Whitehorse through the Live-in Caregiver Program.

She still hasn’t received her permanent residency, which is promised to nannies after they complete a two-year contract or 3,900 hours of work. It’s been four years and she’s still waiting.

Gualves opens up her home to other Filipina nannies on the weekends. Sometimes three or four of them sleep in the living room on those days.

“I do it because I know all too well what it feels like, to have nowhere to go on the weekends,” she said in Tagalog. “We nannies would hang out in the library because that’s the only place you can stay for a long time.”

Like Paul and Vadath, they’re used to cramming into apartments. “In the Philippines, that’s our culture,” she said.

Gualves doesn’t mind squeezing in more. “If we can be six in the apartment, why not? Our rent would be even less. But there’s just one bathroom. And how would we deal with that because we’ll all wake up at the same time to work?” Gualves said.

Paul, Vadath and Gualves have moved around for years, going where they would most likely get permanent residency depending on the immigration policy of the time. Paul moved from Vancouver to Calgary to Whitehorse in the span of four years. Vadath initially arrived to Ontario in 2011, then moved to Saskatchewan before making his way to the Yukon.

Gualves, on the other hand, has travelled all over the world in search of a better life since 1989. She worked as a domestic worker in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan before making her way to Canada.

“You just scrape and scrape, every day,” she said.

Contact Krystle Alarcon at

krystlea@yukon-news.com