A new program is helping more immigrants in New Brunswick get their professional credentials recognized in the province and the country.
The Career Pathways Loan Program will provide loans of up to $15,000 for immigrants living in New Brunswick to help cover the cost of training, testing, licensing and living costs to have their foreign credentials recognized in Canada and New Brunswick.
The program is a renewal of a similar program run by the federal government from 2011 to 2015 with much success.
“We were one of the pilot sites in New Brunswick. The way the program worked in New Brunswick is we received funding for a loan loss reserve, which basically means we were given over $400,000 to put into a bank account which would guarantee against the risk of default. So we were responsible for 80 per cent of the risk and the financial institution was responsible for 20 per cent,” Alex LeBlanc, executive director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council
“When the pilot program ended, we still had $400,000 remaining. So essentially we have this loan loss reserve … We renegotiated our risk sharing agreement [with the financial institution] and as result relaunched the program and it’s [now] offered throughout the province.”
The loan program is in partnership with OMISTA Credit Union and funding from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). The New Brunswick Multicultural Council processes and approves loan applications based on eligibility criteria. The council also evaluates whether or not applicants have a clear plan for employment, if they’ve been accepted into their educational institution and general character.
“We’ll take references and so on because, in the absence of a credit history, we have to try and evaluate if there is a risk through other means. Once we approve the loan at the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, we essentially send that approval to the financial institution and they will issue the loan. We earmark the money issued against our loan loss reserve.”
Since the credentials of many newcomers for their previous field of employment are not recognized in New Brunswick, many become unemployed or underemployed, working low-wage jobs to make ends meet. This makes taking the schooling and programs needed to be able to work in their previous field that much harder.
“There are many dimensions to the challenge. There are the technical requirements in terms of passing exams and meeting certain educational standards here. There’s also the challenge of acquiring enough language to successfully work in that industry,” says LeBlanc.
“But part of that whole challenge is also access to the financial support that enables them to focus on that education or training to pay fees for exams or other certifications.”
The process of getting recertified to work in Canada is all too familiar for Fredericton resident Jael Duarte. Before she came to Canada in 2012, she was working as a lawyer in Colombia. The South American has different laws than Canada, so in order to practice law in her new home, she needed to go back to law school again. She says financial support programs like Career Pathways Loan Program are important for immigrants to reach their potential.
“To me, this loan is telling us immigrants that we are valuable. Just because we are immigrants, we don’t necessarily have to work in a low-wage job always,” says Duarte. “That’s not our destiny as immigrants. This loan is a help to be professional, to get the equivalence, to find the path for integration as professionals like we were in our home countries.”
Having unemployed and underemployed newcomers also has a big economic impact.
According to a 2015 report called The State of Canada’s Learning Recognition System, the Canadian economy misses out on up to $17 billion per year, because of under and unemployment of immigrants.
“It’s in all of our interests to help people connect with the workforce in areas where they can contribute their skills and fulfil their potential,” says LeBlanc.
Though financial support is part of the solution, it’s not the only one. He says both professional associations and employers in the province need to step up.
“At the end of the day, regulatory bodies and professional associations, dictate what the standards are in their industries. Each has to facilitate the process as well for internationally trained workers,” says LeBalnc. ”Then the industry has to be open to hiring people with international experience. Our employers in New Brunswick have less experience than other jurisdictions in hiring those internationally-trained workers. There’s a capacity building piece there as well.”
With immigration being touted as one of the big solutions to reviving Atlantic Canada’s economy, LeBlanc says providing financial support to help newcomers pursue professional work needs to be part of the plan.
“This has to be part of any strategy to integrate newcomers into our communities and our economy,” he says. “The program we launched today is an important ingredient in the solution, but it will take other efforts in partnership with regular bodies and professional associations to facilitate a faster re-credentialing process.”