CANADA

Destination Europe

Canadians are returning to the Old Countries

PAUL KAIHLA April 6 1992
CANADA

Destination Europe

Canadians are returning to the Old Countries

PAUL KAIHLA April 6 1992

Destination Europe

Canadians are returning to the Old Countries

Like hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the middle of this century, Gudrun and Wilfried Leutelt abandoned war-ravaged Europe to seek a better life in North America. They settled in Toronto in the 1950s, bought a modem home in a middle-class neighborhood and put their three daughters through college. But early last year, their two older daughters—Andrea, 29, and Bianca, 25—took stock of their lives in Canada and returned to their parents’ German homeland. They now live in Weingarten, a 10th-century town on the edge of the Black Forest where their ancestors have lived for generations. Says Bianca, a former travel agent in Toronto who now arranges Mediterranean tours for German vacationers: “I appreciate having grown up in Canada, but this really feels like home.”

The Leutelt sisters are part of a wave of young Canadians who are reversing historic migration patterns by moving to Western Europe.

Many of them are ambitious, well-educated offspring of immigrants who made the same cross-Atlantic journey as the elder Leutelts. For some of the new Europe-bound emigrants, the twin pressures of Canada’s economic and constitutional problems tarnish the country’s image as a peaceful, prosperous haven.

“You have to think hard about what kind of future you want to leave your children— and I see a downward one in Canada,” declared Frank Calandra, a 25-year-old law student at Halifax’s Dalhousie University and the son of postSecond World War Italian immigrants. Added Calandra, who plans to move to Italy to launch a career in business at the end of next year with his wife, Daniela, a 26-year-old native of Milan: “Europe seems to have a mission. This country does not.”

Europe’s emergence as a destination for Canadian emigrants is clearly a watershed. Since European explorers first charted Canada’s shores in the 16th century, the flow of migration has been overwhelmingly westward. In the 25 years after the Second World War, about 2.5 million people flooded into Canada from Western Europe alone. But the number of European immigrants trickled off in the 1970s,

and last year only 22,000 people from that area moved to Canada. One reason for that decline was the rapid increase in the European standard of living. In 1961, Canada’s national income was the equivalent of $2,240 per person—about 50 per cent higher than West Germany’s. But 30 years later, the European country’s per capita income had risen slightly above Canada’s.

The dramatic rise in European living standards is reflected in the personal fortunes of

Calandra’s Italian relatives. When his parents left Italy in the 1950s, few people in their southern village could afford to take vacations, Calandra says, and a family car or television set was considered “a giant luxury.” He added: “Now we go back to visit and everyone’s got the latest televisions and cars, and they take a month’s holiday in the Alps or on the Riviera. They tell us, ‘L’America è qui—‘America is here.’ ”

By most accounts, only a few thousand Canadians are moving to Europe permanently each year. The federal government does not require emigrants to obtain exit permits, making it virtually impossible to track the trend precisely. As well, few European consulates in Canada maintain statistics on who is applying to immi-

grate. But although rules vary, most countries extend citizenship to Canadian-born descendants of former nationals (see chart). Andrea and Bianca Leutelt were eligible for German citizenship because their father was a German citizen when they were bom. And their German passports allow them to live and work in any of the EC nations under the community’s rules guaranteeing free movement of labor.

Moreover, the benefits of European citizenship are expanding. Next year, the EC and the European Free Trade Association—Austria, Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland—are planning to form the world’s largest trading bloc, with a population of 380 million. But Quebec francophones are less able to take advantage of any citizenship provisions. Unlike the European nationalities that arrived in this century in Canada, the overwhelming majority of French Quebecers

are descended from 17thand 18th-century settlers—and they cannot easily obtain an EC passport.

For his part, Douglas Pipe, a former Montrealer and a 28-year-old graduate of McGill University’s MBA program, acquired a British passport in 1989 on the strength of his father’s British citizenship. After working for a year at a small publishing company in Brussels, he obtained a job as a trade policy analyst there with the Canadian mission to the EC. Pipe, who speaks French and Spanish in addition to English, says that half a dozen of his McGill classmates have also moved to the city in the past two years, and that several more are on the way. “They’ve been drawn by the magnet of European integration,” Pipe says. “In career

terms, being here is a dream.”

Edward Wilson, 31, the son of a British surgeon who grew up in Banff, Alta., has held a British passport since childhood. A graduate of the University of British Columbia’s law school, Wilson moved to London in 1989 to pursue a career in international banking. He is now a manager in the equity syndicate department of S. G. Warburg Group, the United Kingdom’s largest merchant bank. In his spare time, Wilson makes frequent weekend trips to Paris to enjoy its restaurants and galleries, and he makes regular use of French ski resorts. Says Wilson: “The snow is very good in the Alps this year.”

While Pipe and Wilson say that they are optimistic about the future of the country they left behind, others still packing their bags are less enchanted with Canada’s prospects. Armed with an undergraduate English degree from Toronto’s York University, Nicolette Pheakos plans to move to Athens this summer with her husband, Dean, a Greek-born architect and Canadian citizen, and their three-yearold twin daughters to establish an English language school. The 28-year-old daughter of Greek immigrants complains that high taxes have helped to make the cost of living in Canada unbearable—and that the country has a “touchy future.” To her, Greece offers a strong national culture and a resurgent economy, reflected in skyrocketing real estate prices in the Athens area. “This is a wonderful time for Greece,” Pheakos declared, “especially with the EC merger.”

Many of the Canadians who are seeking a new life in Europe boast impressive credentials. Toronto-born Francesco Crispino, 26, the son of Italian immigrants, holds an undergraduate law degree from Oxford University and a master’s in law from the University of Chicago. Last year, he joined a New York City legal firm that plans to open an office in Milan. Crispino, who obtained an Italian passport in 1988 and speaks fluent Italian, says that he hopes to fill a position there. And while he notes that Canada has been good to his parents and other immigrants, Crispino says that the country’s constitutional debate has fuelled his desire to leave his family’s adopted land. “This renegotiation of Canada is essentially a French-English controversy,” Crispino says. “But where do I, and all the other minorities, fit in?” Crispino adds that he is drawn to Italy because of its long history and sense of national purpose. “It’s a cultural attraction which has become even

stronger now that the place of minorities in Canada has been sidelined,” he says.

Some European countries have rolled out a red carpet for the energetic new immigrants. Finland, for one, offers immediate citizenship to foreigners who have at least one Finnish

parent—and pays them a $2,700 bonus if they move to that country and find a job within six months. Last year, a government-sponsored magazine for expatriate Finns proudly cited World Bank statistics showing that Finland had achieved the world’s fourth-highest ranking in per capita income—behind Switzerland, Luxembourg and Japan—up from 15th place two decades earlier. Faced with a low birthrate and a shortage of skilled workers, the Finnish government plans to sponsor a series of seminars this year for would-be immigrants as part of a nationwide celebration of the 75th anniversary of the country’s independence. Called “Roots in Finland,” the massive event is aimed at about one million Finns living abroad— including the 90,000 firstand second-generation Finns in Canada. Says Risto Laakkonen, a top policy adviser in Finland’s labor ministry: “Thousands of Finns left their homeland because of bleak prospects, but now the country is in much better shape. Those people are an asset, and we are inviting them back along with their children.”

But those incentives had little influence on Elina Pilvet, 25, a Canadian of Finnish descent who moved to Finland last year. Pilvet recalled how she was carried across the ocean by a more timeless current—“I met this guy and fell in love when I came to Finland on vacation two summers ago.” A former office manager for a Toronto-based Finnish-language newspaper, Pilvet now lives with her boyfriend in the manor house of an old dairy in southern Finland, where she runs her own translation business. “I had always wanted to move to Finland,” says Pilvet, “but I didn’t think it would happen this soon.”

The timing of the Leutelt sisters’ European move was also unexpected. Bianca Leutelt left her job at a Toronto travel agency at the end of 1990 because of a downturn in the industry due to the recession. She convinced her sister, who now earns about $20 an hour in a junior position in a bank, to accompany her to Germany, where the unemployment rate is currently 6.2 per cent, compared with 10.6 per cent in Canada. In addition to offering more job opportunities than Canada, Bianca Leutelt says, Germany boasts better social benefits, such as free dental care and maternity leaves of up to three years. “With reunification, Germany has a more promising future than Canada,” she added. An increasing number of young Canadians appear to be arriving at similar conclusions.

PAUL KAIHLA

A TICKET TO EUROPE

Many Canadian-born descendants of Western Europeans are automatically eligible for citizenship in their family’s country of origin. In the case of the 12 European Community nations, that allows them to live and work anywhere in the EC. EC officials are now studying a proposal to extend those mobility privileges next Jan. 1 to citizens of Austria, Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. A survey of how some countries provide citizenship:

Applicants can claim citizenship if father was bom in Britain, or if mother was British-born and applicant was bom after 1982. Those who fail to meet either condition, but who have at least one British-born grandparent, can work in the United Kingdom—but cannot claim citizenship.

At least one parent must be Finnish-born. If neither parent was a Finnish citizen at time of the applicant’s birth, the applicant must first establish residency in Finland. Firstand second-generation Finns who immigrate from outside Europe receive $2,700 government grants— but only if they find employment within six months.

Citizenship granted if father was German when applicant was bom. People bom after 1975 are eligible if either parent was a German citizen.

Eligible if father was Greek, or if grandfather was Greek and father was not Greek at birth but subsequently obtained Greek citizenship. Children bom after 1983 are also eligible if the mother was Greek.

Can claim citizenship immediately if at least one parent is Irish-born. Also eligible if at least one grandparent is Irish-born, but application process takes up to two years.

Eligible if father was Italian citizen at time of applicant's birth. Applicants bom after 1948 are also eligible if mother was Italian. Can also claim citizenship if at least one grandparent was Italian when applicant’s mother or father was bom.