Published Thursday, October 22, 2009 6:12PM EDT
Behind the wheel of many Montreal taxi cabs are drivers with much more than just a license to drive.
Coming from abroad with degrees and high hopes, an increasing number of educated immigrants are forced to work below their capabilities.
A recent study by Quebec's ministry of immigration shows nearly 70 per cent of immigrants from Muslim countries are forced into receiving welfare their first year in Canada.
And it's not just new arrivals - those who have been here a decade are still struggling to find work in their fields.
"We have guys with masters' in engineering, we have pilots, and we have doctors, physicians," said Youssef Ataouni, an electrical engineer currently working as a taxi driver.
"When I finished my degree, I thought the door of success, the door of happiness was open," he said.
It's a serious wake-up call, said McGill University economics professor Jennifer Hunt.
"What's really striking is that the experience they got abroad seems to have no value in Canada," said Hunt.
In most industrialized countries, she said, immigrants face entering the workforce at square one, regardless of their education or experience.
"It's possible that foreign engineers can get engineering jobs in Canada, but they would have to start at the beginning or the entry level," she explained.
Mahmoud Mezhoud fled civil war in Algeria, arriving in Montreal with a baccalaureate of arts in philosophy and a teaching degree.
"I can not live with the salary that they gave me for that job, so I quit and I became a taxi driver," said Mehzoud, who has been behind the wheel for four years.
"I go to look for a job and there are two candidates, me and someone who is born here... there is nothing (I can) do," he complained.
The problem is cultural differences, said immigration advocate Stephan Reichhold.
"Obviously there's discrimination. You see it in Toronto and Vancouver as well, but here it's specifically from Islamic countries," said Reichhold.
Though Ataouni would rather be solving math problems than dropping off passengers downtown, the options just aren't available to him.
"You just immigrate to a new country, like I did, sometimes you have to give up on your career and do something that you wouldn't have done," explained Ataouni's customer Josephina Itela.
"I think it's a shame to not use people for their right qualities in their right job... my capability to do better is pushing, you know. I can't accept it."
While it hits a nerve with Ataouni, Mehzoud is more accepting, because he at least feels more fulfilled in Canada than he did in Algeria.
"For today, it's okay. For tomorrow, I'm going to find something else - maybe teaching. No, it's not definite situation," he said.