Searching for Opportunities in the Great White North

International Man: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Andrey Dashkov: I was born in 1986 in the USSR in a country that, after going independent, became the Republic of Belarus. It hasn't changed a lot since Soviet times, however.

I attended an average high school after which I entered Belarus State Economics University. My major was International finance.

A couple of years ago I got married. On the career front, I have been working for four years as an analyst for Casey Research, an investment research company. I moved to Vancouver a couple of months ago and have so far enjoyed it very much.

IM: Under what program did you qualify to enter Canada?

AD: We immigrated via a professional program called Skilled Workers and Professionals. Each year Canada posts a list of occupations that are most demanded and if your education and work experience allows that, you can go through this program and immigrate. It's pretty easy, actually. It takes about a year, and if you successfully finish the program, you're issued a visa that gives you a right to settle in Canada.

The most important thing that made the whole experience smooth for us was that we hired very professional lawyers that specialize in immigration affairs. Basically, we turned to a company in Minsk that co-operates with several Canadian lawyers, including Inna Kogan, and had a couple of meetings with the firm's consultants. They outlined the whole process for us, including what documents we would need to submit and how much it would cost; everything seemed realistic. The lawyers' services cost about US$3,500, the visas US$1,000, the tickets - one way, of course, - another US$1,500. There was other miscellany to take care of - throw in another thousand. Total capital expenditure turned to be about US$7,000. I have to admit that it felt good to be able to cover the whole thing ourselves.

So we filled the necessary forms, gathered the required approvals and Belarusian government offices - general documents that confirm your education and work experience mostly. As part of the process, I passed an English test, called IELTS.

In total, there were about 20-25 documents to submit. They were all processed in Canada by our lawyers, which saved us a lot of time and effort.

We wanted to hit the target from the first attempt, which is why we hired them in the first place. The situation in Belarus was getting worse pretty quickly, so we had a good reason to lay the responsibility of this process on someone competent.

The company was very helpful, and most of the time we weren't involved at all. The guys did most of the work for us. They were great.

IM: How did the immigration process work with your wife? Did she have to apply herself as a skilled worker or come in under another classification?

AD: If you have a spouse, you can pick which one of you will be the main applicant. The main applicant has to score a certain amount of points, and the scores include education, level of English, and working experience. Whoever of the two scores the best will be the main applicant, and the spouse just goes through the process automatically.

Although she is a skilled professional, it was a bit easier for me because my English is a bit better than hers, and as IELTS is a quite serious exam, the chances of me scoring the required amount of points was a tad higher.

IM: And, just to confirm, she has permanent residence as well, correct? She can work here, study here, and live here, etc.

AD: Absolutely. What we got in the end was a special single-entry Canadian visa, and in the airport they registered us for permanent residence right away. Three weeks later we both got our PR cards by mail, which are valid for five years.

IM: Had you ever been to Canada before you both moved here?

AD: No. In 2009, however, I stayed in the United States for a month. Casey Research invited me to its annual Casey conference, that year they held it in Las Vegas. It was a great way to know more of my colleagues.

IM: Very good. Switching gears here, what do you like most about living in Canada from the experience so far?

AD: Surprisingly, one thing I first liked about Canada was that all the officials we had to meet for documents were really helpful. And it's been easy to make friends. We've felt welcome. We were expecting more challenges.

We were expecting a bumpy ride, especially the first couple of months, but no. To our great surprise, we found that everybody was willing to assist us, tell us what the next step is, and help along the way.

IM: Would it be a different situation in Belarus, dealing with the officials?

AD: Yes, but in a different manner. I can't say that people are not friendly in Belarus - they are (especially to foreigners, by the way). But the whole process is not as well organized as it is here. It's quite chaotic. The transition is not smooth and the system is not as polished as here.

IM: What do you like least about Canada, if there is anything at this point?

AD: My first April [editor's note: Canadian tax time] has yet to come. [Laughing] Paying taxes is not always pleasant, so I still have to go through that. But in all honesty, it's difficult to say. I can't say that I'm euphoric about my whole Canadian experience, but I can't really find anything to dislike either.

IM: Obviously, there's a difference in what one earns in Canada versus Belarus, but at the same time, a substantial difference in expenses as well. Do you find that Canada is a lot more expensive than Belarus in comparison?

AD: Absolutely. For example, in Belarus, my cell phone bill was about $7-10 a month and it's $130 here, so that's different. No good or service is less expensive here than it is in Belarus. The main reason everything is cheap is because the income level is rather low. The average salary in Belarus now is about $340 a month and is going down, in dollar terms, because of inflation and devaluation.

Canada is much more expensive for living, but the career opportunities seem brighter here. I prefer to focus on the revenue side, not the expenses side. Costs just happen. The reason we came here and the reason I still believe that everything is going to work out is the opportunities.

IM: Normally, most people think of America as the land of opportunity. What made you choose Canada versus the United States?

AD: The ease of the immigration program. It would be very difficult - next to impossible - for us to go through the same process in the US smoothly, predictably and quickly. Vancouver is also a great place to be for me as an analyst in the resource sector, because Vancouver and Toronto are two major centers where everything resource-related is happening.

IM: What are some of the biggest day-to-day differences between the life you lived in Belarus and the life you live now?

AD: To be honest, there are not a lot of them as I work from home and my weekdays often stretch into weekends, but of course now I have a mountain view from my window.

But there is one big difference overall: how multi-cultural it is here. In Belarus, there are very few foreigners. It's a pretty closed and isolated and, as a result, mono-cultural country. While here, you get to meet people from very different backgrounds and who have very different life stories on a day-to-day basis. This makes you more open. It feels comforting to think that there are other people who made the decision to move here and go through all the related problems, uncertainties, and fears.

IM: What do you miss most about living in Belarus?

AD: I can't say that I miss a lot of things, but I do miss my family. My mom brought me up all by herself and she stays back home. It was probably much harder for her to let me go than it was for me to leave, and I would like to see her more often, but it's quite costly.

Besides that, I don't miss anything about Belarus, really. I would like to have my family closer, and my friends too, but that's natural. Everything else is okay. We're really happy here.

IM: Maybe it's almost a silly question to ask, but can you ever envision going back?

AD: Here's a silly answer - probably. One has to be open to all opportunities that life can bring about and follow the wind. If the Belarusian economy ever starts modernizing and offering opportunities for investment and building business, I would certainly look at them. I have friends there to cooperate with.

Even though the current situation in Belarus was the major reason for us to leave, I would still be happy to see my hometown and Belarus in general do better.

It will be interesting for me to go back there for the first time after living here for a year or two and compare the differences. It's a good country. It has potential. If it uncovers it at some point, I'd seriously think about participating in that. As for moving? Probably no, but again, you have to be open to opportunity.

IM: Speaking of "going back", if you could go back and do the process again, is there anything you'd do differently?

AD: I would say that we learned from other people's mistakes. Perhaps that's an arrogant thing to say, but that might be the case. We were not the first couple to leave Belarus and from their experience the most important lesson for us was to hire competent people to take us through the process. If we hadn't, our whole experience would have been much more complicated.

IM: For people who are in your situation, would Canada be a good country to relocate?

AD: I think yes, on many levels. From the economic standpoint, certainly. When compared to Belarus, the economy so far is very stable. And there are many opportunities here.

IM: The original International Man, Doug Casey, who has spoken in your former area of the world, would likely be proud of the fact that somebody actually followed his advice and left his native land for greater opportunities. Do you have any words of advice for those who are looking to leave to a new country in search of opportunities, but are afraid of making the jump?

AD: One lesson I drew from our experience was that our own fear was the scariest thing about the whole process. We didn't expect it to be simple but it really was because we did our homework - it eliminated a lot of uncertainties related to moving to another country.

You have to build and understand your own skills. The importance of building personal value may be the best lesson I learned. It makes you more independent overall and allows to leverage the skills by moving to another country.

It is also great to have to have a network of contacts that can act as a "safety net" in the initial, the most vulnerable, time after moving.

Then, when you feel that you're confident enough about the decision, just hold your breath and jump.

I truly believe that being fearful about the life's uncertainties is a natural thing, but after some basic preparations are made, many things will turn out to be easier than you thought, some will even take care of themselves.

IM: Thank you very much, Andrey.

AD: My pleasure.

Tags: expat, canada, belarus,