An often untapped pool of skilled workers immigrate to Canada, and an upcoming summit at Okanagan College hopes to break down some common barriers and make connections.
WELCOME 2016, a summit put on by the South Okanagan Similkameen Local Immigration Partnership, begins with an opening reception June 17 at Okanagan College with a reception and continues throughout the day on June 18 concluding in a celebration in Gyro Park that evening, which the public is welcome to attend.
For Marisol Magyaya, who immigrated to Canada in 2010 after working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong, the summit will be an opportunity for her to connect with fellow immigrants from Philippines and help them overcome some of the barriers many face in a new country.
For her, it was isolation. Working as a caregiver, she didn’t tread much further than where she was employed.
“I didn’t know anybody here. I stayed with my employer for three months with no days off. I was scared to go out because I didn’t know anybody here,” Magyaya said. “I just stayed in the house because I’m scared, so I just stayed where I felt safe.”
She hopes to connect with newcomers to Canada and help get them in touch with local supports quicker, noting that South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services (SOICS) was the first place she would recommend.
“They will guide you on the right track,” Magyaya said.
She’s also attending the employer toolkit worshop to help her brother find employment in Canada as she is not able to sponsor him.
“Maybe I can come up with some way for him to come because he has good experience,” Magyaya said.
He works in the hotel industry, but Magyaya said many who have experience in the service industry as restaurant managers will work as entry-level employees at fast food restaurants.
It’s an issue many immigrants face according to Chris Hartt, who works in employment services for SOICS. Many immigrant’s credentials won’t be recognized when they come to Canada, he said.
“You might find someone who was a recognized nurse in India, they come here, it takes up to two years to become a working nurse in Canada. So a lot of those people work, for example, as a healthcare aid in a retirement home or something like that because it’s too costly and too time consuming to become a registered nurse,” Hartt said.
The main barriers an immigrant faces start first and foremost with the language barrier if they are coming from a country where English isn’t spoken frequently.
“If you can’t speak English and you have a masters in business administration, it limits what your possibilities are because you can’t communicate,” Hartt said, noting that is why SOICS offers free English language courses.
Lack of recognition of credentials from other countries is another barrier many face.
“There’s a feeling that credentials from Canada sort of supersede or are more important than other countries, when in fact Canada is 149 years old, most of the people who came here are from other countries,” Hartt said. “They’ve got dentists, doctors, you name it, have been doing it a lot longer than Canada. I think there’s a bit of protectionism too.”
Hartt acknowledged that it makes sense that businesses would look to give Canadian jobs to Canadians first, however there is an untapped talent pool waiting to fill highly skilled jobs.
“If you can’t fill the job and there’s someone who’s qualified I think you should be looking to immigrants to fill that job,” Hartt said.
Memberships to societies, associations and paying association fees, taking courses and getting re-certified is another barrier highly skilled immigrants face.
Having connections, like those Magyaya hopes to help with at the summit, is crucial to learning how to live and work in a new country, Hartt said.
“Having somebody here that can help you makes a big difference,” Hartt said.
The WELCOME 2016 summit will include keynote speakers, breakout sessions and cultural celebration. Dialogue will range from employment strategies, to regional history and future directions for immigration.
For more information call SOICS at 250-492-6299.