BY TAMARA CUNNINGHAM, DAILY NEWS JANUARY 11, 2012
Ping Hui was an established environmental engineer with more than 25 years experience when she came to Canada from her home in China.
She expected a smooth transition into a career in Nanaimo, where her daughter studies criminology, but Hui has been at a loss to find even an entry-level job.
She teaches calligraphy at the Nanaimo Chinese Language and Arts Centre and picks up the occasional seasonal work folding clothes at department stores, but can't seem to find a permanent job. She's been looking for two years.
"They wanted me to pass an ESL test and get training and certification in Canada (for environmental engineering) and for that I have to go back to school," she said. "For me, that isn't an option."
Hui is not the only immigrant struggling to find work.
Canada attracts skilled foreign workers seeking for a lifestyle change or the chance to be closer to family. But when they get here, they face barriers to getting a job in their related fields because foreign education, training and accreditation is often not recognized. Some people remain unemployed while others pick up jobs they're overqualified for or minimum wage "survival" work, said Nanette Leather, director for the Nanaimo Immigration Centre.
"Engineers have to get a new license, become a part of the professional association, complete accreditation assessments and testing - and with all that work some decide it's better to just be a technician," she said.
A job shortage doesn't make the process of settling into a new community any easier. Although unemployment rates improved to 7.5% in December from a high of 16% last spring, experts say the job market is still limited and immigrants are hardest hit.
"It's unfortunate but when there are lots of unfilled positions, employers are willing to overlook or deal with challenges around language or culture," Leather said. "At the moment that's not happening."
The Immigration Centre saw more than 200 people between March 2010 and March 2011 access employment programs and services hoping to find work; with the majority of people coming from China and the Philippines.
Cedrik Ignacio, 35, immigrated to Canada from the Philippines nine months ago where he worked as a physiotherapist and ambulance attendant. It was his "dream to move to North America and establish a career," but was told when he arrived his credentials didn't apply. He would have to re-train.
"It was difficult to hear I'd have to go back to scratch," he said. "That could take a long time."
Ignacio found seasonal work for the holidays and now plans to train as a care attendant.
Helena Eskiltsen of Denmark moved to Nanaimo eight months ago with her Canadian husband to be closer to his family. She can afford to search for the right job because her husband works, but says the search is harder than she expected. She has a master's equivalent to business marketing and tourism.
"It's hard for everyone, but for immigrants you lack a network and your references are not always understood," she said.
"I haven't had any interviews yet, but I am not giving up."
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