ARCHIVED - Chapter 2 – The Settlement Phase: Credentials and Canadian Experience

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The settlement phase is a trying time for any immigrant. Settlement means looking for accommodation and completing essential administrative tasks such as obtaining a health card. For an immigrant family, it also means finding a school for the children and ensuring that everyone in the family weathers the experience of being uprooted and having to fit into entirely new social networks as smoothly as possible. For most immigrants this is a time when the financial clock begins ticking away.

Many bring a reasonable amount of money to survive for a limited period of time but the uncertainty over how long this period is going to last can be very difficult to cope with. At this point the community should play a role similar to that of a family physician and ensure that the immigrant's and his or her family's basic needs are being met. This includes help with housing, schooling for children, health services, and employment. For services that the community cannot offer itself, it should ensure that the family sees the "specialists," i.e. services only offered in the majority community. Immigrants need to be told, for example, where to go for majority language training. If such training can be provided within the framework of the minority community, it will provide an immigrant with additional confidence because he or she will be able to learn within a linguistically familiar environment. If, on the other hand, there are only majority language institutions offering language classes, the minority community can still play the vital role of ensuring that such training responds to the immigrant's needs.

 
One of the great tragedies of Canada's immigration policy is that we invite thousands of highly skilled professionals and trades people to immigrate from other countries and then we forbid them from practising their skills in Canada.

(COSTI, Toronto-based education and social service agency, 1998

Making Newcomers Stay: Moncton's MAGMA

Testimony

 "We have been able to keep more immigrants here this year compared with past years but the majority of our clients still move away." The director of Moncton's main settlement service organization MAGMA (Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area, Inc.) is glad to see the tide turning at least somewhat. She has seen many Francophone immigrants and refugees pass through her organization's doors. Unfortunately, many end up leaving the province, after sojourning in New Brunswick for a few months only.

"The biggest concern for all the staff is the large number of secondary migration. Last year only 2 families out of 11 families destined to Moncton remained in our community." (MAGMA 2001a)

New Brunswick needs Francophone immigrants but this province with almost a quarter of a million French speakers has the lowest percentage of Francophone immigrants in the country. In their search for greener pastures, many Francophone newcomers give in to the lure of moving to Quebec, forgoing many personalized services that a small organization like MAGMA can offer. MAGMA has, for example, set up a small daycare centre with a full-time childcare worker since many newcomer families have small children. As a result, both parents can come for English classes or employment orientation, while their children are being looked after just across the hallway. This type of integrated service offering is much more difficult to find in large urban areas where service providers are struggling with high rents and large numbers of newcomers. What is more, in smaller cities that are less familiar with immigration, the resident population is often more curious and willing to set time aside to meet with new families that have come to join their community. MAGMA's CIC-supported HOST program, for example, is an excellent opportunity for much needed personal contact between Canadians and immigrants. The program pairs up families from the local community with newly arrived families (MAGMA 2000). New immigrants understand their new environment by learning about it from the inside perspective of local residents and by establishing personal friendships. Local volunteers find it to be such a rewarding experience that they often ask to be able to help other newcomers when the individual or family that they are presently helping becomes sufficiently independent or, as is still all too often the case, leaves the province.

With respect to the three dimensions of immigration--language, employment and community--the immigrant first needs to be directed to appropriate language instruction to ensure that he or she attains a level of functional bilingualism as quickly as possible. Next, employment is the biggest hurdle to successful integration. Official language minority communities must be enabled to take "special care" of "their" immigrants. It is important, for example, that employment counsellors from the minority community inform and accompany the immigrant so that his or her professional qualification is recognized. This means that immigrants need to find out about credential assessment organizations and regulatory bodies in their province. It is also important that counsellors explain the difference between credential assessment and professional licensing. Credential assessment refers to the translation of documents and establishment of equivalencies for these credentials within the Canadian system. Credential assessment is non-binding and only assists employers when assessing a candidate's qualification. This is different from professional licensing, whereby an individual obtains the right to exercise a regulated profession such as nursing or engineering.9

Francophone Business Immigrants in B.C.

Testimony

"Some people just don't take the time to prepare themselves. They act without enough reflection," says René Digard, who is responsible for business and tourism at the Société de développement économique de la Colombie- Britannique (SDECB). He sees many Francophone business immigrants who do not properly prepare their business venture. Especially people who break their ties with their country of origin by selling all assets and moving to B.C. expecting to be able to start up their business with relative ease are often faced with a much harsher reality than they had anticipated. It is far better, he says, to test the waters first, work out a business plan with the help of SDECB before making the final jump to Canada. One positive example that René Digard recalls is that of an air transport entrepreneur who visited B.C. five times to ensure he had all proper flying and operating licences before making the final move to the province to set up his business. It is also an example of the major focus and growth sector for SDECB's activities, which is tourism. Of the out-of-country Francophone immigrants who come to B.C. to set up a business, René Digard estimates that 80% are from France, the rest mainly coming from other parts of Europe and the Maghreb. Many of these new businesses, which add to the existing number of roughly 4,000 Francophone-owned companies in the province, are active in the tourism industry. The role of SDECB is, in fact, not only to assist those Francophones who want to set up shop in B.C. but also to advise tourists and those working in the tourism industry to find out about the services available when visiting theprovince. To this end, the organization's website was launched in November 2000 (http://www.sdecb.com/External site) and a CD-ROM has been produced which allows the user to take an interactive journey through the province. Generating demand for Francophone services also generates demand for French speakers and René Digard is proud that it is now possible to organize trips throughout B.C. with most services being available in French.

Do successful Francophone immigrants in B.C. have any particular characteristics? René Digard replies that those who want to set up a business have an easier time because once they have taken the immigration hurdle, they are free to pursue their goals. Professionals such as doctors, engineers or architects find it much harder because they need to go through a long process of being recertified by B.C. professional associations. Some have the stamina to go through the process while others reinvent their career: a friend of his who used to practice medicine in France now runs a travel agency. Not an ideal situation but one which showcases the strong commitment of many immigrants to make life in Canada work.

Under current conditions, many immigrants eventually give up the attempt to have their qualifications recognized. Instead, they return to school to obtain a Canadian qualification. This often adds years of study to a person's life when they are already qualified professionals, not to mention the financial strain of tuition fees and lost revenue. Assisting immigrants efficiently in this matter may prove to be the single most important service official language minority communities can offer to immigrants.

The second often cited hurdle during the settlement phase is the reluctance of many employers to hire immigrants who do not have "Canadian experience," meaning a record of employment in Canada. As a consequence, many immigrants are forced to work below their qualifications or to engage in volunteer work in the hope of obtaining references, which can then be used as proof of "Canadian experience."  

Given the proper tools and commitment, the minority community would be able to assist new immigrants to find initial, basic level employment. Immigrants have to become integrated into the work force as quickly as possible, even if this happens at a level that is below the immigrant's qualification. Canadian employers put a premium on the ability to verify an applicant's workplace experience in Canada and are rarely willing to contact previous employers overseas, especially if there are additional language hurdles. Businesses owned by members of the minority community can fulfill an important bridging function here. Not only should they be encouraged to hire immigrants into their first Canadian jobs and thus act as a future reference on the immigrant's career in Canada, but given their language skills, they can also much more easily verify an applicant's prior employment record overseas if such verification requires the use of English or French.

The Power of Gentle Persuasion

Testimony

 "Is he from around here?" is a question that the employment coordinators at the Centre d'information 233-Allô in St. Boniface (formerly Centre de ressources communautaire) often hear as they try to place Francophone immigrants with employers in Winnipeg and the surrounding areas. Of course, they cannot force any employer to take the well-qualified candidates in their database. Commenting on the reasons why employers are reluctant to give immigrants a chance, one of them says: "Yes, there is a bit of discrimination in all that but it's mostly the fear of the unknown." So, gentle persuasion is combined with a touch of cunning to give unemployed Francophone immigrants a chance at getting a job. First, the coordinator will make sure that the résumé highlights professional experience truly relevant to the position. If someone has worked in senior management and is now applying for a junior position, the ability to work in a team may need to be emphasized more than his or her leadership skills. Another difficult hurdle is obtaining Canadian references for an immigrant who has never held a job in Canada. Initially, the Centre's policy was not to act as a reference for any prospective employers since they had no experience of the job seeker's professional performance and abilities. Realizing, though, how important it is for a prospective employer to have someone Canadian who could comment on the candidate's personality, the employment coordinators decided that they could, at least, comment on their experience with the immigrant. "I cannot comment on his or her professional abilities but I can explain to employers the determination that it takes to immigrate," says one of them. This already makes a difference to many employers and when the employment coordinator adds that the candidate has always been on time for appointments, the chances are much higher that a job interview will take place. While many Francophone-owned businesses initially still prefer someone with a traditional French-Canadian name, an increasing number of new and positive experiences with Francophone newcomers are slowly but surely changing employer attitudes.

Winnipeg's Success Skills Centre (SSC) also provides assistance to professional immigrants. A mainly Anglophone organization, its one Francophone counsellor explains that SSC's main objective is to ensure skilled immigrants obtain workplace experience. Manitoba's Ministry of Labour and Immigration has a program which fits this objective: the Credentials Recognition Program. It assists immigrants in gaining experience in their professional field in Canada by offering wage assistance, counselling and referral services to both immigrants and businesses. The province pays 40% of the gross wage per employee over a six-month period up to a maximum of $4,500. These positions must, however, be continued after the six-month period. Applicants must have completed at least a two-year post-secondary program outside Canada and be in a situation where their credentials and work experience are not formally recognized in Manitoba. SSC's Francophone counsellor feels that it is unfortunate that there is no program specifically targeted at Francophones. What is also disappointing to him is that few Franco- Manitoban employers have thus far shown an interest in the Credentials Recognition Program.

(Centre de ressources communautaire 2001)


9 Of course, qualification recognition is not an issue that is restricted to immigrants settling into official language minority communities but one that affects a large number of immigrants to Canada.

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