BY SCOTT LARSON, THE STARPHOENIX FEBRUARY 23, 2012
Babar Sultan listened intently to the announcement that he might be eligible to receive up to a $10,000 microloan to help pay for the costs associated with obtaining Canadian accreditation for his accounting skills.
"After getting my credentials recognized and getting my licence, I can jump into my field," said Sultan, who recently arrived in Saskatoon from Pakistan.
On Wednesday, the federal government announced that Immigrant Access Fund (IAF) of Saskatchewan will receive $1.7 million dollars to fund micro-loans given to internationally trained professionals to help finance the costs of having their credentials recognized in Canada. IAF also received $450,000 through a multi-year agreement with the Government of Saskatchewan and $100,000 from the Morris Foundation.
Sultan graduated from a two-year commerce program followed by a two-year master's degree majoring in finance back in his native country. He needs to get those qualifications accredited before spending another two years at the Edwards School of Business.
"When you are looking to get your credentials recognized, you feel anything you have to pay is out of your pocket and that may not be successful," he said. "(The loan) can be the source of my inspiration to get into the field of my choice."
The IAF lends to skilled immigrants who cannot access suitable mainstream credit because they lack a credit history in Canada, have no collateral and/or have low incomes. Skilled immigrants may borrow up to $10,000 to pay for costs of accreditation or training such as exam fees, tuition for short-term training, books and course materials, professional association fees, living allowance while studying or other related expenses.
Loan recipients pay interest only while going through their accreditation process, to a maximum of two years, and then principal and interest for two years until the loan is paid back
The IAF funding is part of the Foreign Credential Recognition Program that will see $18 million invested in projects across the country over the next three years.
"Too many Canadians with international training are doing jobs that are far below their real capabilities and that can't be productive for them or us," said Ed Komarnicki, MP for Souris-Moose Mountain, in making the announcement at the Newcomer Information Centre in Saskatoon.
"A small loan can make a world of difference to a new immigrant," he said.
Wendy Morris, chair of the board for IAF Saskatchewan, said the loans are character driven.
"Participants in the program do not require collateral, a credit history or minimum level of income to access loans," Morris said. "They must have a strong learning plan, agree to repay the loan and have a reasonable chance at employment in the field.
Irene Gannitsos, executive director for IAF Saskatchewan, said the program comes at an opportune time.
"It is reflective of the recent surge of immigration here," she said. "It really comes to the forefront in terms of the volume of immigrants and the growth in the Saskatchewan economy that is creating this demand for skilled labour."
She said the program will complement other initiatives to help newcomers find employment in their field of expertise.
"Access to finance is not the only barrier," Gannitsos said. "Skilled immigrants also need resources from professional associations, support from employment and settlement agencies, but I do believe that this is removing that financial barrier that might have held people back before."
Gordon Wyant, MLA for Saskatoon Northwest, said the program will help find the 75,000 to 90,000 skilled workers the province will need in the next five years.
"This pilot project will help align newcomers with jobs in their field of study and provide employers with more skilled workers to meet demands of our growing labour market."
A similar program has operated in Alberta since 2005 and Morris said 70 per cent of those who have finished the program in Alberta have found work in their field.
She said the Saskatchewan program will benefit from the learning curve
"We didn't have to come here and start from scratch," she said. "We had a very well-developed program to launch here in Saskatchewan."
For Sultan, it is a chance to continue to work as a skilled professional.
"I came here to strengthen my knowledge in finance.," he said. "I am looking forward to going to the Edwards School of Business to enhance my education."
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