By Gurmukh Singh
TORONTO: Quite a few Punjabis have made it big in the corporate world in Canada, and Pankaj Mehra is one among them.
As director for multiculturalism for south Asia with Canada’s top Scotiabank, Mehra’s job is to reach out to new immigrants from India and south Asian countries and help them build a new life in Canada.
“`Each year Canada gets over 250,000 immigrants from so so many countries around the world. Starting a new life in a new country is a very difficult thing. So we come in the picture to ease new immigrants’s life in Canada by offering them guidance even before they leave their shores to come to Canada,’’ says Mehra at his office at the Scotiabank headquarters in downtown Toronto.
As the bank’s director for multiculturalism who looks after India, South Asia and the Philippines, Mehra says, “For newcomers and international students from India and other places to Canada, we are not just a bank, we are there to hold their hands and guide them to start their life in this country with a plan called the Start Right programme’.’’
This programme, he says, helps new immigrants and international students take their steps in Canada. “And this first step in this direction is that even before a new immigrant leaves India for Canada, he can go to our bank branch in India or the branches of our affiliates (Kotak Mahindra Bank in India) and open an account. He can transfer money to Canada. No need to carry cash or bank drafts or travellers’ cheque. And the moment the new immigrant lands in Canada, he has his bank account, credit card and cash ready for him.’’
Such schemes have definitely eased life for new Indian immigrants to Canada who previously had wait for weeks to get their bank drafts and cheques encashed.
“The very fact that there is close to a million-strong Indian diaspora in Canada, it makes sense for us to reach out to new immigrants before even they reach Canada. We work with and sponsor various settlement agencies so that new immigrants find their feet quickly in Canada,’’ says Mehra.
Further, Mehra, in collaboration with the Canadian High Commission in India, has introduced the so-called Scotiabank GIC (Guaranteed Investment Certificate) Programme for Indian students coming to study in Canada.
This programme has helped plug a big loophole. Whereas previously Indian students wishing to study in Canada had to just show enough money in their account (by borrowing or whatever means) in India, now they have to actually transfer money to Canada. “We worked with the Canadian high commission in India on this programme. What this programme means is that once an Indian student’s admission is confirmed by a Canadian institution, we get all the documents from him and open a GIC account in which the student will have to deposit $10,000 from India. Once we get the money, we send a confirmation to India. It is on the basis of this confirmation that the Canadian high commission in India issues study visas,’’ says Mehra.
Interestingly, Mehra’s Scotiabank had tried to buy the Bank of Punjab in the 1990s because of the huge Punjabi diaspora in Canada. “We want to tap into the huge Punjabi diaspora here and its roots in India. That’s why we tried to buy the Bank of Punjab.”
As the bank’s director for multiculturalism for South Asia, Mehra has also been instrumental in promoting Indian and Punjabi cultural activities in Canada.
“We sponsor the Sikh Film Festival in Toronto. We sponsor the Sikh Centennial Foundation and the Punjabi Community Health Services. As well, we sponsor various cricket tournaments in Canada. So our connections with the Indian diaspora in Canada go very deep,’’ says Mehra. (This article also appeared in the Times of India)