Two key concerns of immigrant communities addressed in federal budget

posted on April 21, 2015

By Stephanie Levitz, Edmonton Journal | Link to Article

By Stephanie Levitz, Edmonton Journal | Link to Article

Two long-standing concerns among immigrants to Canada were addressed Tuesday in the federal budget, one about how they can do better here and another about how they can better help their families back home.

The budget announced that a pilot program launched three years ago to help internationally-trained people get their skills up to Canadian standards via small loans will become permanent in a bid to get newcomers better jobs.

At the same time, the budget announced the government also wants to help immigrants have safer and more reliable ways to send some of the income from those jobs to their home countries.

The loan program dates back to the 2011 election campaign, when the Conservatives promised to do more to help internationally-trained workers find jobs in their field once they arrived in Canada.

Or, as the Tories often put it, to ensure that doctors don’t come to Canada and end up driving cabs.

An often-cited problem was the fact that many immigrants didn’t have the financial means to take the exams or courses required by Canadian regulations and lacked credit history to get bank loans to cover the costs.

The loans provided by the government are allocated through community organizations and can be used for anything from covering tuition for training to the price for licensing exams — even child care if it means a person can go back to school to upgrade their skills to match Canadian standards.

The program gives loans up to $15,000 to help cover costs associated with upgrading credentials. The government said that in the first two years, nearly 1,500 loans worth $9 million were given out.

An additional $35 million has now been set aside for future loans over the next five years.

An estimated 24 per cent of foreign-educated immigrants work in regulated professions for which they were trained, compared to 62 per cent of the Canadian-born population, according to a presentation on the program by the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation.

The federal government has been working for over a decade to try and close that gap but the challenge for Ottawa has always been that most regulated occupations are overseen by provincial governments, not leaving a lot of room for federal action.

Once new immigrants arrive in Canada, they send more than $24 billion a year back to their home countries, according to World Bank estimates. No Canadian agency actually keeps track of the data, something the budget says will change.

But the costs of sending those remittances varies widely and there have been calls for the government to step in and regulate the sector; at the 2011 G20 meeting, Canada did sign on to an international pledge to help reduce the costs and numbers have come down since.

The budget sets aside $6 million to continue to deal with the issue over the next five years.

“Remittances represent an important source of income for families in the development world and can help pay for essential needs such as nutrition, education and health care,” the budget says.

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