Saturday, March 24, 2007

Immigrants upset over credentialing process

Globe and Mail
21 March 2007
The lack of a new agency to assess skills is a broken promise, support groups say


OTTAWA — Stephen Harper's government has abandoned its promise to create a federal agency to examine and recognize the work credentials of newcomers and will instead set up an office to direct immigrants to provincial bodies that assess their skills.

The reversal, outlined in Monday's federal budget, could hurt the Conservatives in immigrant communities, where the Tories hope to gain support in the next election.

"I am disappointed," said Joshua Thambiraj, president of the Association of International Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which represents more than 5,000 foreign-trained doctors in the province. "We find that there is a kind of dissonance between acknowledging the problem and finding a solution. That dissonance has manifested again."

Mr. Thambiraj, a native of Malaysia, has been trying for five years to get status as a pediatric surgeon in Canada. But while he passed all the exams required in Ontario, his credentials have yet to be recognized, he said.

During the last election campaign, Prime Minister Harper pledged to speed up that process for Mr. Thambiraj and the estimated 350,000 immigrants in similar situations. The Tories said they would create an agency to assess and to recognize credentials at the federal level. They enshrined that promise in the 2006 budget and buttressed it with a $18-million investment over two years.

But Monday's budget said that instead of assessing and recognizing, a new foreign-credential office will "provide immigrants with pathfinding and referral services to identify and connect with the appropriate assessment bodies."

The funding for the initiative for this year also fell from $12-million planned in 2006 to $6-million.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Diane Finley denied the government was breaking any promise, even as he acknowledged that foreign-credential assessment recognition is a provincial responsibility.

"Foreign-credential recognition is a complex system in this country," Mike Fraser said. "Our new office will provide newcomers with a clear path to where to get their credentials assessed."

Opposition critics lambasted the proposal.

"A campaign promise made is not a promise delivered," said Olivia Chow, the New Democratic Party immigration critic.

"They have just decided to create a storefront to pass the buck," echoed her counterpart in the Liberal Party, Omar Alghabra.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates as many as 350,000 immigrants have taken jobs below their qualifications, which is costing the economy between $3-billion and $5-billion a year.