by Mike Raptis
With a wife, a new baby, and a steady job, foreign worker Said Koumachi is making the most of his new life in Regina. But there was nothing romantic about the young Moroccan’s journey from Casablanca to Canada.
“I met a Canadian woman who was a recruiter – and she told me they needed workers in Canada, especially in the kitchen of restaurants,” he said. “A boss of a restaurant from Edmonton was in Morocco and I spoke to him,” Said added.
“He said how restaurants are different in Canada than in Morocco – but I decided to take (the job).” Despite an offer from Walt Disney World to work for a year, Said travelled to Edmonton in early 2006 with six other Moroccan foreign workers with contracts in hand.
They soon learned that even in this country, a contract can still be just a piece of paper.
“I was surprised in many ways,” he said. “We signed a contract in Morocco that was supposed to (include) many things: settlement into a furnished house, food for 15 days, even our first payment – but (the restaurant) didn’t provide any of that.”
“So we took care of ourselves... it was difficult.”
Keeping his integrity intact, Said eventually quit his job – a tough thing to do after marrying a Moroccan woman in Edmonton and with a baby on the way.
Said went to immigration services in Edmonton and contacted a Francophone placement agency for help. They found Said a cooking position at The Cottage Restaurant in Regina. It was ultimately the goodwill of the restaurant’s owners, George Agelopoulos and his family, that allowed Said to finally settle his young family into Canadian society.
“When we came here, the (Agelopoulos) family gave us a place to stay, helped me find an apartment, and helped me with money,” Said said.
“When Said came here, he needed some help, and we wanted to help him,” explained Agelopoulos. The Agelopoulos family also helped furnish Said’s new home, though it is tough to get the Agelopoulos’ to admit to their generosity. Instead, Agelopoulos wanted to talk about adding an additional foreign worker to his kitchen staff.
“We are working with a couple agencies to find us another foreign worker, either from the Ukraine or the Philipines,” he said. As hard as he has had to work to stay afloat in Canada, Said credits his new life in Saskatchewan to The Cottage’s owners.
He is also happy about the support he is getting from a provincial government keen on attracting, and retaining, foreign workers to alleviate a labour shortage.
Last year, Saskatchewan’s Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP) was expanded to include and the hospitality workers like Said into the program. Through a federal-provincial agreement, the SINP now allows foreign workers who have worked a minimum of six months for an approved employer to apply to the SINP for landed immigrant status – giving the now 26-year-old Moroccan another reason to call Canada home.
Though he hasn’t applied just yet, Said plans on raising his new son, Maysson, right here in Regina with his wife Touria. “My plans are to support my baby to grow up in Canada, and to become a Canadian citizen as correctly as possible,” he said.