Calgary Herald: Loans provide immigrants with access to success

December 28, 2009

By David Parker, Calgary Herald

Too many immigrants are doing quite menial tasks here although they are well-educated and, before moving to Canada, were skilled tradesmen or qualified professionals. It is a tragedy as well as an embarrassment.

Some are not able to find equivalent work here because of problems communicating efficiently in the English language; but too many are hampered because of a lack of funds to enable them to take the time to study and afford the costs of taking exams to acquire the necessary accreditation.

Maria Eriksen, who passed away last year, recognized the problem while working as a psychologist at the Calgary General Hospital in talking with immigrants who were working as cleaning staff. She is quoted as saying of immigrants, “The first degree you have to get in Canada is one of humiliation.”

She decided to do something about it and began talking about launching a fund to help new Calgarians get the right tuition and be able to pay for expensive examination fees.

Money was raised, grants received and in late 2005 the Immigrant Access Fund (IAF) was established. In June 2006, Dianne Fehr, who at that time was a fund development officer with the Calgary Foundation, was hired as its first employee in her role as executive director for the provincial-wide organization.

Since then, it has helped immigrants with loans totalling more than $1.6 million at an average of $4,670. And the repayment rate is 98 per cent; of 400 loans, only eight have been written off.

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