sydney’s story about finding work as a refugee.

by jessica grogan.

At Randstad, Diversity and Inclusion are paramount to our success as an organization. One of our core strategic goals is to make the world of work more accessible to people in our communities. We value and respect differences and are always looking for opportunities to learn, grow and build more inclusive communities. 

As Strategic Partnership Manager and co-chair of RISE, Randstad's Diversity and Inclusion Committee, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a diverse array of voices and have been given the chance to create meaningful change. I firmly believe that sharing stories and taking the time to listen to others with different backgrounds than our own is a key part of building a more diverse, inclusive society. One story that’s had a huge impact on me is Sydney’s, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of his journey. I’d like to share his story with you today.

sydney’s story about finding work as a refugee

Sydney pictured in 2020.

meeting sydney

It was 2017 when I met Sydney. A recent refugee to Canada, and a shining light of infectious positivity. Although I knew Sydney was a refugee, which by its very definition means he had faced hardships, made sacrifices and suffered immense loss, I never imagined what he had gone through, or what he had overcome and sacrificed just to be here, to be safe. As the world fights for equality and equal treatment for all, I asked Sydney if he would be willing to share his story, in hopes of inspiring more people to help those in need. In hopes of inspiring empathy towards Canada’s refugees who have faced so many challenges just to call this country home. 

arriving in canada 

“Coming to Canada, for me, it wasn’t a choice… not something I actually planned on,” Sydney explained. In 2015, Sydney found himself in a life-altering situation. Due to political unrest in his home country, Zimbabwe, he was forced to flee. “I kept having problems and problems. I am lucky to be alive.” 

Leaving behind his wife, 2-year-old son, and 6-year-old daughter, he was able to escape to the United States as a refugee. After living there for about 9 months, he was told there was more access to jobs and better opportunities in Canada, so in 2016 Sydney packed up and moved to Canada. With no family, no friends, and no one he knew at all, he was desperate to find work. He was offered a driving position by a man who ran his own business. This man took advantage of Sydney’s lack of knowledge about Canada and offered him $50 to drive him to Jasper and back (over 600kms). Struggling to find work, and people he could trust, Sydney found himself living at a shelter in Edmonton, Alberta. While there, he met someone who offered him a job as a cleaner. He was being paid under the table, making $10/hour, working 7 days a week. The minimum wage in Alberta in 2016 was $12.20, and employment standards state employees are entitled to a minimum of one day of rest per week.  

Back in Zimbabwe, Sydney’s wife and children were depending on him to pay for rent, clothing, food and medical bills. With Sydney’s wife not working, his family was entirely relying on him being successful on the other side of the world. 

“I’m actually living two lives,” Sydney explained, “All the bills and rentals and everything that I have here are the same things that I have at home.” At $10 per hour, Sydney did what he could, while also living in the shelters. It wasn’t until 2017 that Sydney was able to rent a small, one-room apartment. 

finding stable work in canada

Knowing he needed more, Sydney was constantly applying for jobs online and one day he received a call from Randstad. I still remember the day he came into our office for his interview. He was so happy, kind, and friendly. The interview and job offer process were seamless. When I asked how his experience with Randstad affected him he said: “it all changed when I started working for Randstad.” Sydney was given a position as a cleaner at a large distribution company. He was instantly one of the hardest workers we had. After a few months of work, we started discussing making him full-time. The company let us know that, due to his refugee status, it was not possible. So, unfortunately, we had to part ways with Sydney, while he found a construction job on his own. 

Sydney quickly climbed to the top of his new construction role as a supervisor. However, it was project work and the contract ended after just under a year. Instead of waiting for another contract to come up, Sydney knew he could come back to Randstad. 

So in 2019, Sydney started working for us again. He was once again, one of the hardest working and kindest people we had working for us. I asked his supervisor what it was like having Sydney there and he had this to say:

“Throughout his time with us, Sydney was a fantastic employee who displayed excellent professional conduct. He was willing to learn and assist with any tasks he was assigned and was able to quickly comprehend and follow work instructions. He started as a helper on our loading docks, and by the time we (unfortunately) had to release our Randstad employees, he was fully or partly trained in the safe operation of over half the equipment in our fabrication department.”

On a more personal level, Sydney always had a positive and friendly disposition, was very personable, and liked by everyone who worked with him. “In working together, I got to know a little of his background, family situation, and his volunteer work as well,” his supervisor explained.

border security steps in

All the while working, supporting a family overseas, and trying to create a life in Canada, Sydney was in the process of completing his immigration papers. He was on his final step of getting his permanent residency and finally having his family come join him.

Then in December of 2019, border security intervened, they said they thought he was a threat to Canada’s security. Why? Because when Sydney was a child he financially benefited from his mother being a part of a political party that Canada deems a potential threat. “Back home there is a political party,” Sydney explained, “a popular one that is in operation. They believe it has engaged in ecoterrorism. Unfortunately, my mom is a war liberator, and they are the ones who formed that party.”

As a child, he was entitled to education and medical coverage because his mother was a war veteran. Now the Canadian government is saying that he was part of that party. Everything was suspended pending a full investigation. Facing the risk of deportation, Sydney was forced to hire a lawyer. Although already working, his current wage was not going to cover the $12,000 legal bill he was about to have to pay. Sydney started a car detailing company to help cover the additional costs. 

fighting to stay in canada

Sydney was working two jobs, paying for two lives, and fighting for his right to stay in Canada and stay alive. It wasn’t until February of 2020 that he finally won his case. Then he needed to wait to see if the Minister was going to accept or overturn the decision. Through this process, his work permit expired. By March of 2020, Sydney was unable to work. The COVID-19 pandemic caused an extreme downturn in employment opportunities and created a lot of uncertainty. Yet Sydney was still required to continue paying for two lives, and fight for his right to stay in Canada. 

By the time Sydney was able to reapply for his work visa, he was told he would now need to wait another two years before receiving his permanent residency. Sydney left his family in 2015. By the time his wife and children are able to come here to be with him, to start a life as a family here in Canada, he will have not seen his children for 8 years. With nothing more than voice recordings sent back and forth to keep in touch with his children, now 6 and 11, and his wife. 

where is sydney now?

Through it all Sydney has remained positive. He says he has found new friends and people to call family. To this day the friendships he has made through his positions with Randstad remain strong. They still get together on weekends and stay in touch. Sydney attributes much of his success here in Canada to working with Randstad.

“When I started working with you, that is when I actually started having money that has value. Started actually knowing that, okay, I can actually work and have enough money. Everything started changing from there...Randstad had a great part in shaping my life”

While Sydney is grateful for what Randstad has been able to do for him, we could not be more grateful for what he has done for us. He has taught us the value of positivity, and the true meaning of gratitude and perseverance. He is a fighter, who doesn’t look for recognition or reward. All he wants is to be accepted as he is, and treated as an equal, and to hug his children again. We can all learn a lot from Sydney.

jessica grogan

strategic partnership manager

As Strategic Partnership Manager, Jessica works with community organizations, non-profits, educational facilities, and indigenous communities and organizations. Jessica helps job seekers overcome employment obstacles and take their next step in life. Internal to the company, Jessica builds awareness through community connection, education, and volunteerism as a means to promote D&I. She is now a Volunteer Canada Corporate Community Engagement Council member for Randstad and the Co-Chair of Randstad’s D&I Resource Group, RISE. There, she brings her leadership skills, and D&I insights to employees committed to inclusion at Randstad.