Carla’s Story: Getting involved with the community to create changes in the system

When Carla Carvalho decided to immigrate to Canada with her family, she didn’t anticipate having major job search problems. Originally from Brazil, Carla and her husband were confident that this decision would benefit them and their son.

As a Registered Clinical Counsellor with English proficiency and over 20 years of experience, both in Brazil and the UK, Carla’s settlement and career outcomes seemed very promising. Before landing in Vancouver, she started tapping into her professional network, built throughout her international trajectory.


She got a job connection from a former supervisor from London, England, who referred her to a colleague in Canada. Shortly after they connected, she got a volunteer position at a private school for special needs students. The school was seeking a counsellor like Carla, who practices psychological theory in a way that is not common in Canada. She volunteered for about eight weeks and was later offered a full-time job as a school counsellor. “It was a typical case of being at the right place at the right time,” explains Carla.

Four years later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Carla got laid off, which took her back to square one in her job search. Her previous position was the closest to what she had aspired for her career. Carla recalls that her initial professional goal was to work as a counsellor within the Canadian public-school system, but to do that, the minimum requirement is a teaching certificate. Due to the program length and costs, she ended up not pursuing this path.

As Carla went through a new job search experience, she noticed that she had to rely heavily on networking and referrals. Her experience abroad, coupled with her four years of tenure at the school, didn’t count as much. “This has been such a bumpy road in terms of settling as an immigrant, because situations like mine make newcomers feel like none of their previous experience is worth anything in this country. I wish immigrants didn’t have to rely on professional networking and references, because these are not always easily available.”

When asked about the worker shortage faced in British Columbia, Carla suggests that employers take a deeper look at the immigrants that are in this country to begin with. “They do have skill sets to offer.” She also questions the need for Canadian experience, “What can be so different from their experience abroad?”

Carla felt overlooked over the course of one year, when she was applying to several positions and got called for a few interviews, but with no success. “My international experience was never taken into account in this country.”

With her support network close by, Carla has been focusing on strategies to gather momentum, until she is able to reach her career goals and become a well-established and recognized professional in her field. Through word of mouth, she landed an interview and was hired at a private clinic as a part-time registered clinical counsellor, where she now feels valued.

In addition to pursuing her career goals, Carla would like to see more immigrant women succeed, with the support of accessible child care and a more humanized, caring health system. “The system needs to be urgently reviewed.” She believes there is a great amount of professional women who could be contributing to society, but are at home looking after their kids instead. “We might overburden the mental health system, because these women suffer from an overload of psychological struggles,” adding that children, parents, and schools are greatly affected by this system that views immigrant as numbers, more than people. The bottom line: newcomers need extra support, and women newcomers need twice as much support.

The story is a project of the Immigrant Women’s Advisory Committee (IWAC) supported by PIRS (Pacific Immigrant Resources Society) and funded by the Fund for Gender Equality which is supported by a collaboration between Community Foundations of Canada and the Equality Fund, with support from the Government of Canada.