Many immigrant seniors `penniless’

Posted by admin on Oct 9th, 2008

Toronto Star. October 09, 2008. Nicholas Keung

At 73, Balkar Singh Bajwa cares for his two grandsons, taking them to school, parks and doctors’ appointments. At times, the Brampton man, a retired principal from India, gets calls to work as a certified Punjabi translator. The little money he makes is his sole income. “Many of us, immigrant seniors, are penniless. If you need money, you have to put your hands out and ask your children for money,” sighed Bajwa, who came here in 1999 under his son’s sponsorship and is a naturalized citizen.

Unlike their Canadian-born counterparts, most immigrant seniors are not entitled to government income supports, such as old age security or the guaranteed income supplement, until they have lived in Canada for 10 years.

In order to receive the maximum monthly benefits of $1,100, elderly immigrants must have lived in Canada for 40 years and arrived by the age of 18 to qualify.

Immigrant seniors from the 50 countries that have reciprocal agreements with Canada are not bound by the residency limit, but most of today’s newcomers are from the developing world and lack any social safety net. About 2.3 per cent of Canada’s annual 250,000 landed immigrants are seniors.

A research paper released yesterday says financial hardship makes these seniors vulnerable to poverty and social isolation – especially during economic recession.

“Compounded with other intersecting issues, like language barriers, cultural differences, ever-increasing cost of living, lack of affordable social housing, immigrant seniors are often entrapped in social isolation and financial dependence,” states the report, titled: “Citizenship Matters: Re-examining Income (In)Security of Immigrant Seniors.”

The study was conducted by sociologists from the University of Toronto and McMaster University and commissioned by the Toronto-based Alternative Planning Group, which includes members of the Chinese, South Asian, African and Hispanic communities.

Access to affordable housing and public transit are key issues for immigrant seniors.

Kifleyesus Woldemichael, 75, and his wife live on a $1,341 monthly welfare cheque, of which $900 goes to rent. “We have to think twice before buying anything. We can’t go out much because the TTC isn’t cheap,” said the retired judge, who fled Ethiopia for Canada in 2002.

“I looked for jobs, but no one would hire a 75-year-old.”

Andalee Adamali, of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, said seniors contribute tremendously on the domestic front, and as volunteers. Getting them out and about improves their mental and physical wellbeing and reduces future health costs, he added.

A private member’s bill aimed at reducing the old age security residency requirement to three years died when Parliament was dissolved. It would have to be re-introduced under the new government.


Comments are closed.