The 6 Biggest Immigration Challenges and How to Cope with Them

Last updated on March 7th, 2024 at 01:55 pm

By Maria Barillaro for Remitly

Making the decision to move abroad for a better future for yourself and your children is a noble choice, but that doesn’t always mean it’s an easy choice. As a first-generation Canadian, I know the struggles my own family faced when they made the decision to sail to a land they didn’t know, filled with people who spoke a language they didn’t understand.

The idea of moving away from family and friends was dreadfully scary, but as my grandmother used to say, “Calabria is beautiful, but it doesn’t give us any bread.” The bottom line was she and my grandfather wanted more for themselves and their family.

Immigration presents many difficulties, but future generations will thank you for it. If you have recently moved to Canada or the United States, you may be facing some of these challenges. Here’s what I’ve learned about them; I hope these tips are helpful to you, too.

Immigration Challenges - father & son

Learning a New Language

When my grandparents left Italy and came to work in both New York City and Montreal, they stuck out like sore thumbs. They barely understood English, and to be fair, they couldn’t even read their own language. All four of my grandparents were illiterate. They were often criticized for being unable to communicate. Of course, the locals only knew how to speak English. However, my grandparents persevered.

All of my grandparents learned to communicate in English with the help of a support system. They found other Italian immigrants, and each family helped one another out. They told them where to get English lessons, how to say certain key phrases, and where they could still use Italian. Before they knew it, they were bilingual, raising bilingual (and trilingual) children and grandchildren.

Tip: English courses are plentiful and often low-cost or free. There are also various English Second Language (ESL) classes you can take online before and after you move. Ask others from your community if they have recommendations. Inexpensive language-learning apps are great, too.

Helping Children in School

Are you a parent who was able to immigrate with your children? You might find that helping your children with homework in your new country is a huge challenge.

Rest assured, children adapt quickly. Their sponge-like brains absorb language easily, and they will eventually become self-sufficient in the homework department. Don’t worry about whether your children can be successful if English isn’t their first language. The truth is that multilingual skills are in demand, and research shows being multilingual is good for your brain over the course of your life.

Tip: In a pinch, you can turn to tools like Google Translate to help decipher their homework. Also, look for tutoring programs at your child’s school or in your neighborhood. Again, that support system made up of fellow immigrants can help.

Adjusting to Climate Differences

I realize they came here for a better life for us, but couldn’t my grandparents have found a warmer spot? Our family left the sunny southern Italian coast for Canada—known for icy temperatures and dreadfully long winters. To make matters worse, they actually sailed into Halifax for the first time in the month of January!

Because they had some friends here already, they had asked them to please arrive at the port with winter gear for them. Sandals and shorts just didn’t cut it. My father told me when he felt the burst of cold air for the first time at age 11, he cried and wished he could somehow teleport back home.

Tip: The differences in weather can take some getting used to. The best way to navigate this change is to read up on the climate of the country you’re moving to before you actually arrive. Find out what items you may need, and ask others you may know there to recommend essentials.

Immigration Challenges - a couple

Communicating with Loved Ones

The hardest part about moving away from the only home you’ve ever known, even if you know it’s the right thing to do, is missing family and friends. When my father boarded the ship to Canada in 1960, his grandmother cried. He asked why she was crying and told her he’d be back again soon. Her answer was sad but true: “My son, one day you will come back, but I won’t be here anymore.”

After more than 60 years, he still remembers this moment clear as day. To make things worse, they had only one means of communication: letters. At the time, sending letters back and forth took months. There were no phones in the village my father was from. News of his grandmother’s death made it to him by letter, several weeks after she had died and been buried.

Luckily, today, communication is simpler.

Tip: To minimize the sadness of being away from those you love, set them up on devices before you go. Show older relatives how to use a cell phone or tablet, install whatever communication apps you can to make it simple to get in touch, and teach them how to make video calls. Nothing can compensate for the real thing, but regular communication can help you feel so much closer.

Finding Employment

Finding a good job is difficult from overseas, but it’s usually easier to secure access to a new country if you have a job lined up. If you hold a degree in your country, inquire about the equivalency exams you’d need to be qualified to work in the country you wish to immigrate to.

You can also find jobs through university programs or large corporations that relocate employees all over the world.

Tip: If you have friends in the country you are immigrating to, ask them if they have any leads on employment. Even if the first few offers aren’t exactly what you were hoping for, you can get your foot in the door and start building your career path one day at a time.

Taking Care of Loved Ones Back Home

When you move away, you leave a piece of yourself behind. If you left close relatives like siblings, children, or aging parents, you’ll likely be concerned for their welfare in your absence. What’s more, you may feel the desire and the obligation to help support them.

When my family made the move to Canada, sending money home wasn’t easy. My grandfather had actually come to Canada the previous year and worked here all by himself before physically bringing his earnings back home.

Tip: Thankfully, that isn’t the case anymore. You can safely send money back home to loved ones—and it’s very easy with a money transfer app like Remitly. This is a huge relief for millions of immigrants.

The journey of an immigrant is complex. It can be filled with difficulties, but with the right support system around you, immigration can be a beautiful story, too.