Working holiday visa holder on navigating pandemic

photo of Air Canada plane flying in sky

A lot has changed with COVID-19. For Canadians, it has meant not seeing their family members for months, losing their jobs or being stuck at home. Some people have been through the same, but far away from home. Florencia Lezcano is one of them. The 30 year-old from Newcastle, England came to Toronto in January 2020 with a working holiday visa that she obtained through the International Experience Canada program.

“The working holiday visa is for people who want to travel around the world and get a real feel for the place by living there, and being able to finance their trip by working,” explains Cassandra Fultz, an immigration consultant based in Toronto.

Lezcano came to discover Canada and meet new people, but also to be closer to her boyfriend.

“My boyfriend is from and lives in New York City. I was really excited at the prospect of being within a few hours of him rather than having to cross the Atlantic every 3 or 4 months,” she explains.

Photo of working holiday visa holder looking back at the camera from Niagara Falls
Photo courtesy of Florencia Lezcano

But the pandemic changed everything and now the future looks uncertain. She decided to visit her boyfriend for a weekend at the beginning of March, but the international border with the US was shut down. Lezcano ended up trapped in New York, the hardest-hit major city in the world at the time.

“Two days before my flight, Canada announced that they were closing the border. I decided not to take my flight back in case they told me ‘No, you can’t come in, get back to England’. So I stayed in New York for 3 months,” she says.

When she was finally able to go back to Toronto in May, the city was nothing like the one she left behind. The lockdown took its toll, and the job market was much more limited now. She applied for every position available, and she managed to eventually get a cleaning job.

“Unsurprisingly, not that many people applied for it, because no one wants to go to strangers’ houses during a pandemic and clean,” Lezcano says.

This experience made her question her choice to come to Canada.

“I thought, why did I leave a good paying job, my family and a nice home, to travel the world and scrub someone’s disgusting toilet? Sometimes I would just cry while cleaning,” she remembers.

Fortunately, things started to turn around. While it’s not her dream job, she managed to get another job as an executive assistant.

“Is it better than cleaning? 100 percent,” she adds.

Now she just accepted the situation and tries to make the best of it.

“With the pandemic, I can’t go anywhere or have any fun. So why not just suffer through, save up some money and see what happens?” Lezcano says.

For the young people who still want to come to Canada using International Experience Canada, 2021 will be complicated and the requirements to get a Working Holiday Visa much harder.

“The whole program was closed for basically the past year. It’s going to reopen in March. However, now you need a job offer to get the visa,” explains Fultz.

Listen to the full story of Florencia Lezcano in the episode below. This is the first in a four-part series exploring the experience of newcomers to Canada navigating the pandemic.