It looks like any special dog but this was a little special. His owner is a wheelchair-bound septuagenarian who depends on the beast for nearly everything. The dog has been trained to pick up the receiver when the telephone rings. It cannot cook but it can cater for the laundry. It is able to disengage the lock on their door when they pop out for the routine morning walks.
All these are quite normal with specially trained dogs. What fascinates everybody is how this dog operates the ATM while its owner relaxes in his wheelchair. While we wondered as we wandered around Oxford Circus, the pet snatched the bank card from the old man with his teeth, slotted it into the machine and waited for the money. With some dogged impatience, it grabbed the cash and handed it over to the old man. How about the pin numbers? The old bloke typed them in.
Marry a dog
Strange things happen abroad. My roommate in London was a professional dog groomer. She had an MBA before she migrated to Britain when her country joined the expanded EU. Anytime she saw me writing, she was reminded of the skills she had abandoned. She didn’t seem particularly happy with the job that fed her and her son in Prague. She had to pay some huge money to qualify as a dog groomer. She often asked herself: is that all I could do? She had come to Britain hoping to work with her degrees.
The more terrible jobs often pay better. Most care workers earn more than trainee lawyers. How about being asked to marry a dog. My housemate was asked by a rich man: “Do you love my dog?” The courteous lady answered in the affirmative. Then the owner posed the big question: “Do you want to marry him?” She came home a broken woman, regretting the day she left her respectable job in her country to settle in the UK. Every day, she toyed with the idea of going back, but the thought of going to start all over again haunted her.
Many western countries have programmes for the highly skilled migrant. Canada is presently wooing professionals from around the globe to immigrate to the country as permanent residents. It is a laborious process that requires notarised certification of all your achievements. The UK also has a similar arrangement. Like the Canadian scheme, it is points-based and favours the young. Australia and Austria have similar facilities for the educated immigrant. The various schemes promise permanent stay, but not permanent jobs. Getting a dream job may remain a dream until you wake up in your home country.
It is one thing being skilled for a dream job, and another being highly skilled. Even if you were highly skilled before immigrating, there is usually the need to do a course or two to fit into the new system. You cannot outsmart the system. There are a lot of things to worry about: the host who is beginning to frown; the driver’s license that you haven’t sorted out; the new variant of English that you are struggling to understand and the New Jerusalem that is so new to you. You know you are about conquering the system the day you buy your first house.
So, what are the kinds of jobs available to the highly skilled migrant? Years ago, I met an old Vandal at a wedding ceremony at Stratford who introduced himself as a Tally Executive of a huge manufacturing company. What could he be tallying? The title of his position was so intriguing, but I didn’t want to sacrifice decorum by quizzing him on his responsibilities. It sounded important to me, because just beneath the title were his degrees and the professional bodies he belonged to.
I didn’t have a card, because my job was not very important. To tally is to add up, so a Tally Executive will be adding things up. But what does my friend add up in his office? I was disappointed to learn that he was a warehouse staff who calculates the hours people work to facilitate payment. They are sometimes called Hourly Call Executives. They are paid the same wage as cleaners.
Not all skilled immigrants are caught in this web of disguised unemployment; most of them do get opportunities to pursue fantastic careers. Some rise to become high-flying executive directors of multinational firms. Even as upper middle-class metropolitan elites, they feel marginalised and dispensable in capitalist America. They are quick to acknowledge that their adopted country has made them better people. To save yourself the trouble of finding something to say whenever folks quiz you about career, go back to school.
Do rich countries need our skills that much? Will their industries struggle without skills from poor countries? What kind of skills do they really look for? The world cheered with France when a Malian immigrant climbed a high-rise building to save a child. He was offered French citizenship as a reward. Years ago, the story of Bangura, a skilled Sierra-Leonean national, who played for Watford Football Club, UK, made news when the British Home Office decided to deport him. His footie skills saved him. A life-saving surgeon would not enjoy this honour.
When I commute on the London underground, I am reminded that my brothers dug the long, deep trenches that today guarantee comfortable transportation for millions of people. Are these the kind of skills they need? When they advertise for skilled workers, they are looking for hard technical skills that could be deployed in practical roles. Before you go, get a skill. When you get there, be skillful.
Tissues of the Issues with Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin
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