As a volunteer with WoodGreen Community Connections, I have come across many newcomers who struggle with the challenge of getting their professional education recognized by Canadian organizations. The option of going back-to-school is a daunting and expensive task for many to tackle, compounded by their lack of financial history in Canada which prevents them from easily accessing reasonable sources of funding.
As a first-generation Canadian immigrant, I struggled with a similar catch-22 challenge more than thirty years ago. Despite the advice I was given, I was stubborn and did not want to apply for OSAP or bank loans figuring that I did not want my debt burden to balloon by the time I graduated. Instead I took on a series of blue-collar jobs to help offset the cost of my education. My list my jobs were varied and in many cases tapped my sense for adventure: I planted trees in northern Ontario, cut grass in Toronto cemeteries, refereed basketball and soccer matches, sold door-to-door, renovated a home soup-to-nuts, worked the line in a roof-shingle factory, was a security guard and a farm hand. The net positive result was that I graduated debt-free BUT consequently inherited a different problem: my accumulated work experience had me pigeon-holed as a “blue-collar” worker so I had to create a new strategy to overcome that professional bugbear.
Although I do not regret my personal journey through this early transition phase, I recently discovered an option that newcomers should consider, and one that did not exist when I immigrated to Canada – the Immigrant Access Fund (IAF). IAF was started by an inspired founder, Dr. Maria Eriksen, in 2005 and in that first year gave 7 loans to immigrants. By 2010, IAF was giving out 150 loans per year and by 2016 it had tripled in size again to 450 loans per year across Canada. In total, the organization has supported about 2,600 immigrants. Claudia Hepburn was recently appointed as the new CEO of IAF and her “ambition is to build awareness about IAF so that we can help thousands more newcomers each year realize their career ambitions and contribute to Canada’s economy. We want to raise the profile of problems with labour market access of new Canadians, become a voice in the development of sound public policy, and increase the opportunities for employers to access the skilled human resources their companies need.” The percentage of IAF loans granted to the number of applications it receives is 93% – that’s an encouraging statistic!
Valerie Smith, Supervisor at WoodGreen’s Community Connections Program, tells me that there have been several WoodGreen clients who have applied for an IAF loan to finance their own Canadian bridging strategy. IAF is different from commercial lenders because their goal is help immigrants succeed with their career goals in Canada, not to make a profit. Their loans are low interest (prime plus 1.5%), can be borrowed without collateral, and come with the advice and support of IAF loan facilitators – invaluable to immigrants juggling multiple stresses in a new country.
Claudia emphasized that “we attempt to help all immigrants who have a reasonable educational plan for reaching their career goals and paying back the loan. We don’t want to saddle anyone with unnecessary or unhelpful debt, so we always have the best interests of the applicant, as well as IAF’s sustainability in mind.”
The best way to find out more about what IAF can do for you is to check out their website or dial 1-855-423-2262 and connect to “Intake”.
Have you used IAF? What is your experience? Leave us a note in the comment section.
By Darrell Pinto, Community Connections Volunteer