Child care so costly immigrants sending babies back to China

TORONTO — Sunny Wu had just immigrated to Canada from China when she discovered she was pregnant. Overjoyed, Ms. Wu prepared for her baby’s arrival, never imagining that within a year, she would have to endure the agony and loneliness of being separated from her daughter.

Ms. Wu, a Chinese teacher, and her husband, a computer programmer, were squeaking by on minimum-wage jobs and could not afford to pay $1,200 a month for daycare. Ms. Wu, 34, also knew she would have to return to university if she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life as an overeducated, embittered immigrant, packaging groceries for $7 an hour.

Though the separation was devastating, the couple could see no other way out. They sent their baby daughter to China to be raised by her grandmother, who was already caring for the toddler they had left behind.

“I felt so guilty. This wasn’t how my new life was meant to be. I came to Canada to have a better quality of life, not a worse one.”

According to social workers in Toronto’s Chinese community, dozens, even hundreds, of recent Chinese immigrants have sent their infants back to China to spend their early years with relatives. They are separated from their own children due to financial constraints and unaffordable daycare in a country they came to, ironically, because they thought it would be a great place to raise children.

Canadians are, by now, familiar with the heartache Filipino and Caribbean women endure when they leave behind their children to come to Canada as live-in nannies. They end up parenting their offspring via long-distance phone calls and video cameras.

But the phenomenon of Chinese professionals immigrating here, and then sending their children back to China, is a new trend in what global experts call “transnational parenting.”

It raises troubling questions about how well Canada’s immigration selection model is working — and may help explain the recent decrease in immigration applications from China.

“We discovered dozens of professional immigrants from mainland China were doing this because they all asked us how to get passports for their babies,” said Florence Wong, a social worker with St. Stephen’s Community House in Toronto.

In 2002, Ms. Wong conducted a study of Chinese immigrants in five prenatal programs. Seventy per cent of the women said they were planning to send their children back to China to be raised by relatives. Social workers dealing with the community in Scarborough, Ont., confirmed the trend as well.

Ms. Wong decided the problem was severe enough that she produced a documentary profiling several Chinese newcomers who sent their children back home; she now screens the film for newcomers in an attempt to persuade them to keep their families together.

The Chinese women and their husbands interviewed by The Globe and Mail are all professionals in their 30s who came to Canada believing they would find jobs in their fields that pay well. However, instead of finding employment as civil engineers or meteorologists, they were forced to accept minimum-wage jobs. With family incomes of $1,000 a month, daycare often wasn’t affordable; yet they also did not qualify for subsidies.

“I have met so many immigrant women who want to send their babies back to China as soon as they are three months. I tell them not to do it. It is so hard emotionally,” said Faith Wu, an engineer who immigrated from Guangdong province in 2000. “I blame Immigration Canada. Chinese people are losing interest in coming to Canada because of this.”

As China’s economy has surged ahead in recent years, the number of immigration applications to Canada has dropped off dramatically. The number of Chinese applicants decreased to 19,000 in 2006 from a high of 40,000 in 2004, compared with 132,000 applicants last year from India.

Word has travelled back to China — the Canadian dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, said Sunny Wu. She would do anything to recapture those early years with her children. When she and her husband immigrated to Toronto in 1999, they were buoyed by their good fortune, dreaming of a new life in a clean, friendly country of wide open spaces.

They were planning to send for their older daughter once they got settled. “The immigration agency said Canada was the best place to live,” said Sunny Wu, an extrovert who speaks English flawlessly.

However, when her second child was born in November of 2000, her husband was still searching for work. Her mother came from China and flew back with the baby when she turned 13 months. “It was so difficult. I had breast-fed her and so we were very close,” Sunny Wu said.

Her older daughter came to live with them when she turned 2 and her husband finally had a job in his field, but her second child didn’t rejoin the family until she was 4.

“I found when I saw my second daughter again in the airport, she was like a stranger to me. I missed her so much,” Sunny Wu said. “She said, ‘where is my mommy? My mommy is a computer.’ She was so used to be talking to me via video camera.”

In China, it is the cultural norm for grandparents to help raise children (though they are usually together in the same house). Sunny Wu was raised by her grandmother, and only reunited with her mother at the age of 11. She could never overcome the estrangement, and remains more closely bonded to her grandmother.

Now that her two daughters, aged 6 and 8, have been reunited with their parents, Sunny Wu believes they are exhibiting signs of psychological damage from the separation. Her younger daughter always seeks out her grandmother, who also lives with them, if she is hurt or upset. She is a less confident child than her first-born, and tends to be clingy, Sunny Wu said.

“During her first week in kindergarten, she wouldn’t let us leave the room. It’s like she doesn’t trust us as parents any more.”

The family doesn’t discuss the separation because they fear it would upset the children.

“We try to let her forget about it. We also probably spoil the second one because we feel badly.”

Sunny Wu did gain one thing from all her personal suffering: she has now successfully retrained as an accountant and has a good job. But the price seems too high.

“In China, we really stress a good education and good job. A good job equals a good life. Now I’m not so sure,” she said.

“I think Chinese immigrants to Canada should be educated that sending their children back isn’t the best thing. We keep our fingers crossed there won’t be latent effects when they are teenagers.”

Judith Bernhard, director of the Early Childhood Education master’s program at Ryerson University, says the psychological damage of separated children who reunite with their families can be severe.

“The most common issue is that the parent loses his or her status as an authority figure,” says Prof. Bernhard, who has conducted research into transnational mothers from Latin America.

The children often feel resentful and may rebel by refusing to listen or accept their parent as a decision-maker. Prof. Bernhard recalls one child who refused to eat in front of his mother.

For mothers, the most common emotion is guilt, and they sometimes compensate by spoiling the child, which can lead to more disciplinary problems.

An immigration selection model that recruits professionals who end up being forced to accept blue-collar jobs is a flawed one, she says. “This story also points to the fact that Canada doesn’t have subsidized daycare, while countries such as Sweden, Finland and even China do.”

Marina Wilson, a spokeswoman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, says the department is acutely aware of the difficulties foreign professionals face getting their credentials recognized and is working closely with the provinces and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to address the issue. “We are also putting up a portal on the CIC website so prospective newcomers can assess themselves before deciding to immigrate. We don’t want to mislead them,” Ms. Wilson said.

Last month, Ontario passed the country’s first bill aimed at helping internationally trained professionals work in their fields. The bill requires the province’s regulated professions to ensure their licensing process is fair and transparent, and to assess credentials more quickly. A commissioner will look at eliminating barriers to entering professional associations.

This initiative has been applauded by agencies working with immigrants — although some say still more internships are needed so that foreign doctors and engineers may requalify here.

The change is also welcomed by Faith Wu, the electrical engineer from Guangdong. When she immigrated six years ago, the best job she could get was selling stationery in a Toronto Chinatown.

She had her first baby months later, and decided to send her to China as soon as she was weaned. “She was eight months. I felt so sad. But we couldn’t afford daycare, couldn’t get a subsidy and I had to go back to school,” said Faith Wu, a handsome woman with long hair who looks worn down and pale.

She spent many nights crying for her baby, yearning to hear her voice and smell her sweet scent.

In 2004, she gave birth to a second child, whom she also took to China to be raised by her grandmother. “When I flew back to Canada all alone, I felt so lonely. We never expected it to be this way,” she said.

In the meantime, Faith Wu, also re-qualified as an accountant and got a decent job. Her husband worked in a restaurant and then managed to start a small import-export business.

When their first-born turned 4, Faith Wu flew to China and brought her to their Toronto home, leaving behind her second-born. Her daughter could go to junior kindergarten, and Faith Wu hired a sitter to mind her after school. She is now pregnant with her third. “I will keep this child. I want to enjoy the milestones,” she says, massaging her belly with pride, and smiling for the first time in the interview.


1 Comment

  1. jackjia (Post author)

    Child care so costly immigrants sending babies back to China

    From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail

    The phenomenon of Chinese professionals immigrating here, and then sending their children back to grow up in China, is a new trend in what experts call ‘transnational parenting’
    Read the full article Post a comment Skip to the latest comment

    Ray Japan from Japan, Japan writes: The article seems to place a lot of the blame on immigration Canada. I’d like to see what some of the parents think about returning to China upon learning that the ‘Canadian dream’ isn’t what others have told them. As for possessing professional degrees, if I went to China (or Japan…) seeking a ‘better life’ because of the ‘growing Asian economy’, is there any expectation that I should have a better chance of getting a job than local Chinese, even if I spoke the language ‘flawlessly’? When you go to a new country, you accept the hardships of competing with the locals. I don’t see why having a professional degree should make this competition go away. I’m not sure how immigration officials portray Canada in China, but it sounds like Chinese in China are being misled?
    Posted 02/01/07 at 1:34 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Helen Pettingill from Canada writes: I have two main comments about this article. First of all, I don’t know how a mother could possibly part with her infant for such a long time & have it so far away. I know it’s painful for the parents. I scratch my head & wonder why they would choose to have a second child under the same conditions. I have sympathy for these people as they are intelligent & educated & led to believe that life would be great in Canada. I believe that they believe they are doing the right thing. Still, if it were me, I would go back to China with my baby & let Daddy take care of business in Canada.
    My second comment on this article concerns our immigration system. It’s so covered in flaws, it’s unreal. I have no idea why the gov’t enjoys letting qualified, educated immigrants hang on strings for years on end, wasting time in dead end jobs while they could be doing something they are trained to do. We NEED them here. Lord only knows how critically short we are of GPs for example. If these people could work in their trained professions, they would be making a decent income & by extension, paying a lot of taxes. You’d think that would be motivation enough to get the beaurocrats of their asses. But no, it’s not. OK, fine, maybe they need a year or two of Canadian training but they would go for that in a second. That’s what they’re looking for.
    Of course it makes too much sense for the feds to think sensibly like that. It’s much easier to let in a bunch of desperate people who will live on welfare for years & take away from our country as opposed to contribute to it. Ughhhh!!!
    Posted 02/01/07 at 1:37 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Rotten Robin from Halifax, Canada writes: Tough! Don’t recall any agency assisting me with child care costs or availability.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 2:15 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Always have an opinion? May Be!! from Toronto, Canada writes: So the point of this article is-?. New immigrants to this country or any where have always gone through unforeseen difficulties. Almost forty years ago I had to leave behind my daughter with her grandparents for the same reasons. I am neither a professional from China nor a domestic worker from Jamaica. My daughter joined me in Canada at the age of seven and have grown up to be an accomplished professional and a beautiful woman herself. This article seems to be a propaganda piece for the Liberal Child Care Plan compared to the alternatives. Even thought I applaud all the help new professionals are being given to help recognise their education etc. this should not be used for partisan polical reasons.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 2:30 AM EST | Link to Comment

    The Sage from Bay Street, Canada writes: These unsettling immigration stories all sound too familiar. Without being too judgmental, I suppose you can put the cause of the issue (which sounds better the word ‘blame’) on several fronts: inadequate due diligence by the candidates and their sometimes lofty expectation, inadequate resources and acceptance in our work force/society, flawed immigration screening process by the government, and lack of affordable child care.

    I have colleagues whose background are professionals in China. Just as the article reports, they have to accept lower-paid jobs because their credentials are not recognized immediately in Canada. It may be a waste of talent, yet I find that sub-par English communication skills and lack of initiative to embrace the Canadian society are significant hinderance in attaining their professional status in Canada. One person I know indeed opted to send her kid back to China for a year until things settled down.

    At least some of these immigrant parents have the option of returning their young children to the homeland for caring, thereby saving some expenses. Yes, I am sympathetic to the boomerang children. However, what happens to the Canadian-born single mothers or low-income parents who eke out a living but are not poor enough to qualify for welfare? Where can their kids go? What level of psychologic stress are these families experiencing?

    Therefore, I am generally annoyed by this kind of ‘investigative’ stories due to the compromise of objectivity. What irks me even more is to put the plight of these Chinese mothers in the same context as the Filipino maids who need to leave their children behind. Tell me where the relevance is please.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 3:04 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Spicy Doc from Canada writes: I’m missing something here. Is this a plea for ‘free’ day care? If so, shouldn’t minimum-wage-earning non-immigrants get access first? If so, are we actually prepared to pay the tens of billions of dollars a ‘Dryden-type’ plan would inevitably cost? Why don’t these people secure a job in their field BEFORE coming here? And why on earth do we pity people who ship their kids home? If the jobs stink, why doesn’t the whole family stay united and go home together? My wife would live in a box and eat dirt before she would go for 2 DAYS without seeing her kids. Off topic–there’s usually a good reason these ‘professionals’ can’t get the work they want here, and it’s not bureacratic. Ask the people who don’t hire them. Simple answer.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 3:12 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Clark Kent from Canada writes: ‘This initiative has been applauded by agencies working with immigrants — although some say still more internships are needed so that foreign doctors and engineers may requalify here.’

    We need this for Canadian graduates, nevermind immigrants.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 3:30 AM EST | Link to Comment

    balding geezer from Ottawa, Canada writes: I could not help but notice that nowhere in this piece does the journalist mentions the one-child policy in China, a policy often cited in front of the IRB. Is that an oversight? Poor incomplete research? Irrelevant to the point of having babies here and then moving them back to China? Should not the journalist have queried that angle?
    Posted 02/01/07 at 4:12 AM EST | Link to Comment

    John Davies from Canada writes: While it is of course sad to see a mother have to send her child back to another country please dont look to the Canadian government to have to look after these children. The ‘Canadian dream’ does not mean that the government will look after your children. If that was the immigrant’s expectations then obviously those immigrants did not do proper research before coming to Canada.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 4:12 AM EST | Link to Comment

    C C from Montreal, Canada writes: Sunny Wu says she would do anything to be with her newborn. Would this ‘anything’ include she herself raising her child in China? Why knowingly have more children when the parents know they will be sent away? Childcare is expensive for all Canadians. My question: Do these absent kids qualify for tax credits and benefits for their parents?
    Posted 02/01/07 at 4:19 AM EST | Link to Comment

    John McCaffery from Warragul, Australia writes: How ridiculous. One comes to Canada expecting the state to raise their children – not satisfied with the commercial arrangement, they hire another state at a much reduced rate. Does the average Canadian ever consider where these kinds of values will eventually lead the country? Over fifty years ago we had the brave hearts of our young men and women stand up against state totalitarian rule that would force the indoctrination of your children – it seems today we are so weak, selfish, greedy and docile that we will go to any length to hire the state to do our job.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 4:51 AM EST | Link to Comment

    mr. slave from Guelph, Canada writes: boo hoo, cry me a river. I love the G & M acting as a lobbyist for state run day care – sorry glob, I don’t agree with the government sucking up all my money to house other people’s little brats. Thank God we have a great PM right now.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 5:10 AM EST | Link to Comment

    dave srigley from Toronto, Canada writes: Instead of recognizing foreign credentials so foreigners can fill good jobs, why not re-invest in education so young Canadians can take them instead? And those $7/hr jobs that we seem to have a labor shortage for..doesn’t Canada still have millions of people on welfare?
    Posted 02/01/07 at 5:46 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Carson’s Army from Canada writes: Haven’t seen any comments yet but awaiting the scream of the Libs who want government paid day-care. The true problem is deeper in this article. Why are the immigration officials at the Embassies not informing these people that they can get their education evaluated by our institutes before they come and they will know if they are deemed to be of the same value or how much work is required to get to that level.
    More immigrants who have education that are aware of this and doing the appropriate steps to get ‘Canadian Evaluation’ of thier degrees means less who work as cab drivers, store clerks etc… and more who work as accountants, doctors, programmers etc…
    Posted 02/01/07 at 5:48 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Pierce Nettling from United States writes: of course harper says sorry out of luck to these people since his party is the only party that is against publicly funded child care.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 5:54 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Zoltan Manyoki from Kanata, Canada writes: Starting out low, that’s normal for immigrants everywhere. That’s what I did when I came to this country. I didn’t like it, but it did’nt hurt me either. Offloading my children would never occur to me. If these spoiled Chinese ‘overeducated’ newcomers can’t cope with the initial bumps, they should go back together with their children. It would be best for the little ones, for sure.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 6:00 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Paul F. from Toronto, Canada writes: We can thank the Harper government and it’s $100 a month ‘universal’ child support program for this. So much for family values.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 6:12 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Louis Pacella from Canada writes: Working poor Canadians and single moms on social assistance have voiced those concerns for years. Raising kids on miimum wage or social assistance impoverishes the whole family and is especially hard on children. It’s this state of affairs that creates child poverty. Politicians have been told time and time again about low wages creating millions of poor children. There is a dire need for free-day care centres for the children of working poor. Canada is an affluent country. Yet, Canada neglects children. Child exploitation is not only about child labor. Neglecting children of the working poor is part of an ideology tailor made to increase the gap between rich and poor on the back of children. It’s state exploitation of children. As much as framing child poverty in terms of ideology may seem exaggerated those conclusions cannot be run away from. By refusing to provide free daycare Canada is doing great harm to children as this story proves. I wonder if Haper will ever read this article. But it wouldn’t matter. Idealogues love to be in state of denial.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 6:15 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Stude Ham from Outremont, Canada writes: Sending your children far away to foreign countries is just one of the CHOICES of this harper con-job which destroyed national child care in favour of the beer and popcorn allowance. How many more such tragedies would we have to endure if we gave this right wing group any more time in government?
    Posted 02/01/07 at 6:22 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Youssi M from Canada writes: The real issue here is immigration policy disconnected from job market. At present, immigrants first get permanent residence here and then are supposed to look for a job. A more natural policy would be to give foreign workers landed immigrant status after they have worked here some time on temporary work permit. The entire problem of underemployed foreign professionals would disappear automatically: people getting permanent residence would be already matched with the job market.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 6:29 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Karl Junkin from TorontoTokyo, Canada writes: The Conservatives must think they are a bunch of prize-winning geniuses now for scrapping the Liberals’ daycare proposal in exchange for an absurd slap-in-the-face 100 bucks a month. Now look at the situation in this country, anybody with half a highschool education could have predicted this, tells you a lot about people who vote conservative.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 6:32 AM EST | Link to Comment

    MP’s are Saints faithful to electorite not party whips from Kincardine, Canada writes: Did China not have a one baby policy ? Rumours in the papers I read was that China demanded and was exempted from Kyota because of their contribution to birth control ?
    Globes stories are always so enlightening and full of filler .
    Posted 02/01/07 at 6:49 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Bev Jaremko from Calgary, Canada writes: It is tragic to hear of a parent not able to be with her child. However there are several solutions not just the obvious one daycare advocates hope to suggest of more free daycare. What about funding for raising a child, funding that enables the parent to be with the child herself for a few years and create that strong emotional bond? What about funding that enables the parent to bring the grandma over and have her tend the child here? WHat about funding that enables the parent to find a caregiver of her own values and language such as a Chinese sitter or dayhome down the street, someone known by the parent and trusted? It is important to give parents a range of options and creating a one-size -fits-all daycare network around the nation would not actually do that. It is a myth that having ‘access’ to this big daycare network would satisfy the criterion of ‘universal’ benefit. In fact I kind of find it sad that a parent with little money is forced to put a child in daycare, when she finds a ‘space’, run by people she does not know in a culture and language she does not necessarily prefer to be the first one her child learns. At least the babies sent back to China are able to satisfy their Convention on the Rights of the Child rights of being raised in a language and culture the parents prefer, and with someone caring for the child who actually loves the child.
    We have work to do on this issue. The answer is not universal free daycare. The answer is funding for children, funding that flows to the child.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 6:49 AM EST | Link to Comment

    J P from Spruce Grove, Canada writes: My wife and I raised 3 kids without any help from government or family. She worked for $7/hour nights while I tried to make a business. We were broke. It really was tough, but we did it. No one else raised our kids. Mom was home durning the day and I took care of them at night. We never saw much of each other, but we knew we were doing what was best given our circumstance.

    Now the kids are in school ,we still have one in kindergarden 2 days/per week so she now works as a server part time still at $7 tips and my business gets us by while growing daily. Life still isn’t perfect, but our kids have had both parents raise them and it shows.

    We both have degrees but because of our kids, we had to put our lives on hold so the children could be raised properly. Now to think I would have to get rid of my kids to survive? Ha Likely these people want all the nice things and can’t bear to live without impressing others. Hey, live in my old trailer. Its cheap, has a nice yard, nice neigbours. Maybe my wife could get you a job waiting tables. Whatever but don’t ship the kids away and say its because daycare is too much. Give me a break.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 6:56 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Pablo Carbajal from Canada writes: While the situation described in the article is certainly painful because of the short age of the children involved, a similar situation occurs with older immigrants whose children are at college age. Some Universities charge higher fees to students with study permits, even if they are the children of temporary skilled workers. In our case, our daughters went back to our country of origin to study, among other reasons due to the high tuition fees.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 7:08 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Rob Misek from whitby, Canada writes: So what did she move to Canada for?
    Posted 02/01/07 at 7:09 AM EST | Link to Comment

    Sue W from Canada writes: Interesting article. For a minute I thought I was reading the Toronto Star. “Canada doesn’t have subsidized daycare”…..But we do have subsidized healthcare and senior housing. Perhaps you could follow-up with a story on those Chinese professionals immigrating here who bring their retired, elderly parents who are entitled to these benefits instead.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 7:10 AM EST | Link to Comment

    J Law from Canada writes: I am not sure what the new immigrants from China expect Canada to do for them. A little more research on the job qualifications and the education expectations for canada might have helped. This is not a problem for Canada as far as I can see.
    I do see these things though; I see men and women here in Alberta from the east who do not see their children and families because they have had to leave them behind to find work in order to support them. They do not see their families for up to a year at a time. I have talked to some of them. They don’t like it, but they accept it as part of life and hopefully the decision they have made will make it better for them and their family in the long run. Hell, this has been a problem for Maritimers and Newfies since this country began, why such agony over immigrants?
    Posted 02/01/07 at 7:30 AM EST | Link to Comment

    R. Carriere from Canada writes: Another misleading headline that blames Canada and Canadians. Thumbs down!

    And whoa-wait a minute here! While this may appear to be a sad story, how the heck is Canada and its policies to be blamed here? Good for Ontario that immigrants can now start working in their fields of expertise-something every province should do

    A quote from the article. “Word has travelled back to China — the Canadian dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, said Sunny Wu.”

    Well Mr. Sunny Wu, you do have options and choice to stay in China or go to another country-you may get a big surprise that this country is a pretty good place. First and foremost, it is YOUR responsibility to educate yourself in several areas of Canadian policy and culture. 1) Did you ask if you can work in your field? 2) Did you believe that once you arrived that the state was responsible for you and your family from cradle to death as our NDP brethern dream of? This acute socialist mindset is mind boggling!

    This article is also subliminally pushing the Liberal agenda of national day care. While the CPC party’s answer of $100 a month is somewhat weak, a controlled national policy will be a disaster both ideologically and financially. Whatever happened to rugged individualism where people made decisions based on what child responsibilities are, what they can afford, and not what the state can provide? Don’t people sit down and discuss the repurcussions of starting a family any more? Work or stay home? Do we have the finances? Should we wait a year or two? Children are a monster responsibility and asking these questions after the fact or always DEPENDING on the state is totally wrong. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part people have choices.
    Posted 02/01/07 at 7:46 AM EST | Link to Comment

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