Canadian newcomers have bleak pension prospects

Immigrants unaware of their pension entitlements

Many new Canadians are uninformed about their Canada Pension Plan rights and the jobs that get them, which results in smaller pension earnings. Mark Reimer

When Mary (not real name) moved here from El Salvador 11 years ago with her daughter, she did not know she would be eligible for Old Age Security (OAS).

Speaking through a translator, Mary, 75, said she found out when the government sent her a letter in the mail telling her she was eligible.

“I was very happy to know,” Mary said.

Linda Lalande, executive director of the International Centre of Winnipeg, said she highly doubts newly arrived immigrants know they are eligible for OAS.

“We had seniors who attended a language class who didn’t know they could collect it,” Lalande said. “We helped them apply.”

The International Centre is an agency that provides programming and support to help newly arrived Canadians integrate into Winnipeg life.

Lalande pointed out most immigrants have no financial planning skills.

To be eligible for OAS and the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), a person must be a Canadian citizen and must have resided in Canada for at least 10 years after the age of 18.

The OAS is financed from federal tax revenues and employment history is not a factor. Workers themselves make contributions to the CPP through ongoing employment.

Yet both plans must be applied for – a fact many immigrants are unaware of.

Lalande thinks there should be a program to educate newly arrived Canadians about such programs, as well as provide ongoing information.

CPP government representatives could not be reached for comment before press time.

John Doyle, communications co-ordinator at the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said very few new Canadians have a good pension as a lot of them enter the Canadian workforce late.

“It would help if Canada got its act together of recognition of foreign credentials,” Doyle said, adding it would put new Canadians in a higher income bracket while in the workplace.

Doyle also sees a problem with the jobs new Canadians get.

“New residents usually take up non-union low paying jobs while they try to secure training to get into unionized work,” he said.

Unions include pensions in their collective agreements.

Only 35 per cent of the non-agricultural workforce is unionized, Doyle said.

In the meantime, Mary’s financial situation is not dire, because she lives with her daughter, who works at a school café.

She hopes her daughter will have a decent pension after paying into the CPP for 11 years – but it probably will not be as much as the pension of someone born in Canada.

Published in Volume 63, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 26, 2009)

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