The streets in Vancouver were cold and windy when newly arrived immigrant Nick Noorani was questioning his decision to come to Canada.
That was in November 1998, when Noorani came from Dubai with 23 years work experience in advertising and marketing with brands like Coca Cola and BMW. He came to find a new life near his brother who had moved to Vancouver two years before him.
But Noorani didn’t expect it would be so hard to find a job.
He eventually found work, just not in his field. He got a job as a telemarketer making $8 an hour. He worked from 3 p.m. until midnight, and spent his mornings job hunting. Noorani is a self-described Type-A personality who said it took about four months to find a more suitable position for his skills at a publishing company.
But he says he knows that not everyone is like him. Since then, it’s become his mission to help other newcomers avoid the employment barriers he faced.
Noorani started the Canadian Immigrant magazine in the basement of his home in 2004, co-wrote a book with his wife Sabrina for immigrants called Arrival Survival Canada, contributed to the government’s official Welcome to Canada guide for new Canadians, and in the past five years he has run a company that focuses on pre-arrival assistance helping immigrants find a job in their field within six months.
“The best time to talk to an immigrant is when they are in their home country. Otherwise what happens is they land here and they get that deer in the headlights look,” Noorani said.
It may come as a surprise to some, but pre-arrival training is a relatively new program for immigrants coming to Canada. The government started a pilot project pre-arrival service called the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) in 2007, and by 2010 it decided to turn it into a full-fledged program.
Partnering with other immigration services across Canada, like Noorani’s Prepare For Canada, CIIP connects with future immigrants online while they wait in their country of origin before departure.
Rather than spend that time wondering about life in Canada, they begin the process of learning about where the jobs are, how to get their credentials recognized (one of the biggest barriers for people coming from regulated professions, such as doctors and engineers), and basic cultural orientation.
CIIP has helped nearly 30,000 clients from 2007 to date. But according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 940,000 economic or skilled immigrants came to Canada between 2009 and 2014, so only 3.2 per cent accessed the pre-arrival services during that period.
The data below shows the gap in employment rates between university graduates who were born in Canada and those who have recently immigrated and received their degrees in another country.
In Vancouver, an immigrant settlement service called MOSAIC just finished its second pilot online pre-arrival program. The people it has assisted overseas are now arriving in Canada.
Director of employment and language programs at MOSAIC, Joan Andersen, says the service is working, with some newcomers finding work in their field within four weeks.
“Part of the problem is that people have been coming on the basis of being awarded points for the education and experience that they have. Then they come here and realize they were considered good to get into the country because they were a doctor, but now that they’re here it’s useless,” Anderson said.
Economic immigrants such as doctors, nurses, engineers, and IT professionals are desirable for their much-needed skills. This year, the government plans to accept a minimum of 172,000 skilled workers – an increase from last year — as part of an economic growth strategy.
Noorani, who says he is also an advisor on immigrant matters to the federal government on top of running the pre-arrival program, was put to the task.
In Sept. 2014, Noorani chaired a panel with seven other experts to research the barriers newcomers face when they come to Canada. The panel delivered the results to the government in April 2015, showing that newcomers are getting lost in the complex processes of finding a job that matches their qualifications, or getting their credentials recognized.
On April 13, the results of the panel were announced at the Canadian Immigration Summit in Ottawa. Minister of Employment and Social Development Pierre Poilievre earmarked over $7 million to fund two projects to help foreign trained doctors and engineers have their credentials processed within Canada in a more efficient way.
“All levels of government need to adopt more common-sense approaches that help newcomers take on meaningful work more quickly,” Poilievre said in a press release to encourage provincial governments to work towards creating a national standard for qualifications.
The 2015 federal budget, released on April 21, included $35 million over five years to make a Foreign Credential Recognition Loans pilot project permanent, but it’s not clear if there will be funding for pre-arrival pilot projects as well.
The government says it will take all the recommendations from Noorani’s panel into consideration to help immigrants reach their full potential. The next step towards improvement may be for the government to expand pre-arrival programs to reach more than just three per cent of skilled immigrants coming to Canada.
“It’s up and coming and it’s a great value to the professional immigrants,” said Denise De Long of the newcomer employment service called the Connector Program, in Halifax. “But there’s a lot of other things that come together to make the experience of coming to this country successful – it’s not just one silver bullet.”
De Long is the project manager for the Connector Program, which started in 2009 and has since been replicated in 19 different cities across Canada, and even a few cities in the U.S.
The Connector Program will soon begin working with a pre-arrival program run by Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) to help connect newcomers to jobs in cities where their skills are needed.
“I know from being on panels that people with pre-arrival training seem to have an edge, the same way as if you had any sort of pre-training before you started a job,” De Long said.