COVER STORY

MICRO FINANCING LENDS A HAND TO NEWCOMERS

Abhisek Chatterjee. Image courtesy:  WINDMILL MICROLENDING .

Abhisek Chatterjee. Image courtesy: WINDMILL MICROLENDING.

By MARGARITA ARBELAEZ

They came to Canada from two different countries and worked in two different professions, but Dr  Jamshaid Ali Imran and Sandeep Wadhwa have a lot more in common than you might think.

Dr Ali, an orthodontist with thirteen years of dentistry experience in Pakistan, arrived in Toronto in 2013. He has a bachelor’s degree in dental surgery and a fellowship in orthodontics.

Wadhwa arrived in Canada in 2011. He holds two bachelor’s, one in hotel management and another in commerce and is originally from India, where he worked for six years in supply chain.

In Pakistan, Dr Ali served as head of the orthodontic department in different colleges and had a private practice.

“I taught in the dental college in the morning, and my clinic hours were from 5 pm to 10 pm. My associates covered the morning sessions, and I covered the evenings.”

In India, Wadhwa started his professional career in the hospitality industry. “I also worked for different media groups. In both sectors, I worked in supply chain, as a buyer and purchaser.”

Both were lucky. Through friends who were working in their fields in Canada, they were aware before their arrival that they needed to obtain a Canadian designation. But as instrumental as their friends were in helping them know what to expect, both men still struggled as internationally-trained professionals, not only to find good jobs in their professions, but also to afford the training, licensing exams and Canadian credentials they needed.

Dr Ali and Wadhwa had arrived with savings in their pockets, but life in Canada is more expensive than in India and Pakistan. So, both ended up getting “survival jobs” to pay for their expenses.

Dr Ali worked as a security guard and Uber Eats delivery person, Wadhwa worked in a couple of restaurants and also got an administrative job.

Dentistry is a regulated profession in Canada, which means that even if you hold a degree and have experience working in another country, you must become licensed to practise as a dentist.

Even though supply chain is an unregulated profession, internationally-trained professionals find that a Canadian Supply Chain Management Professional (SCMP) designation is a must for many available positions.

To get his Canadian dentistry license, Dr Ali needed to complete three assessments: Fundamental Knowledge (AFK), Clinical Judgement (ACJ) and Clinical Skills (ACS), and one final examination.

To receive his Canadian supply chain designation, Wadhwa needed to pass nine courses before writing his final exam.

Both newcomers benefited from a unique microlending program provided by Windmill Microlending, a Canadian charity. Windmill offers low-interest loans for immigrants and refugees anywhere in Canada who need financial help to afford the costs of licensing or credentials. The program offers loans to newcomers who may not have access to other credit because they have low income or no Canadian credit history.

“I didn’t want to go back to school for more than two years and get a big loan. But the option I chose was still expensive because I had to pay for every exam,” says Dr. Ali. “I was planning on taking the Assessment of Clinical Skills, but there was already a funding issue. I learned about Windmill through a friend, and that changed my life. Windmill gave me a great deal of support that made my journey easy.”

“I was able to pay for most of the program with my savings, but I needed to take some of the burdens off my shoulders,” says Wadhwa. “Fortunately, while attending a job seminar in Edmonton, I found out about Windmill.”

It took Dr. Ali several years of hard work and studying, but he’s now an associate dentist in different clinics in Toronto, Mississauga and Brantford. With a license and Canadian dentistry experience, his next objective is to open his own practice.

Meanwhile, Wadhwa has completed eight courses so far and is planning on taking the last one soon, a six-week intensive course which will prepare him to write his final exam. He now works in Edmonton for Fat Franks as director of operations, and his long-term goal is to start his own business as an export and import in supply chain.

Both Dr Ali and Wadhwa have invaluable advice for other professionals like them who have educational credentials and work experience from overseas.

“If you want to work in your field, you need to get your credentials assessed and get your designation,” says Wadhwa. “It will pay off in the long run for sure.”

Dr Ali adds, “Never think about failure. Be focused, set a goal, weigh your options and follow a game plan.”

He and Wadhwa are grateful for everything that Canada has given to them and their families. They hope that by sharing their stories other immigrants understand that even though it is not easy to start from scratch when moving to a different country, and they will likely face some hurdles, in the end they will be rewarded in a big way.

Abhisek Chatterjee also got a helping hand from Windmill. He emigrated from India and landed in Canada in November of 2015 with a Bachelor of Commerce from Calcutta University, and a Master of Commerce from the University of Burdwan.

He specialized in accounting and finance at both schools and was equipped with the skills and knowledge to launch his career.

He began as an accountant with General Electric and Elsevier Inc. before taking on the position of senior financial reporter with the Bank of America. Before immigrating to Canada, he was working at HSBC as an assistant manager conducting financial regulatory reporting for over two years. 

With the sky-high prices of homes in Toronto, Chatterjee decided to settle in Mississauga, where housing was more affordable. He also knew there was a growing South Asian community in the area, and with his wife planning to join him in Canada, he wanted her to feel a sense of cultural identity. 

When he began his job search, he discovered that employers undervalued his abilities since he lacked Canadian credentials. “Employers in Canada do not generally value international experience. About five or ten minutes into every interview, call or consultation, the question of my Canadian experience and credentials would come up – it was a huge barrier,” he recalls.

Despite eight years of accounting and financial experience in nationally recognized banks and organizations, Chatterjee felt stumped. 

He discovered that having either a CPA or a CFA were beneficial, and he had neither. With his extensive accounting background, Chatterjee decided he would pursue the Chartered Professional Accountant certification.

He enrolled in a Seneca College program that helps students acquire advanced knowledge and competencies in accounting to ensure students are well prepared to complete the CPA Capstone courses and exams.

Chatterjee first heard about Windmill Microlending through the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP). “Windmill Microlending has a significant role in helping me get back to my career in Canada. Without Windmill, I would have had to spend a lot of money upfront to pay for my CPA. Funds were limited and I was focusing on applying for jobs.”

Chatterjee’s patience and determination to re-enter his field of work, coupled with a loan from Windmill Microlending, have enabled him to secure work as a P&L Risk Analyst with TD Bank. In addition to working full-time at TD, he continues to study for his CPA accreditation and plans to write his exams in the next few years.

“My advice to newcomers include adapting to change and being patient,” he says.

“Simple things are done differently here. You need to understand that if you come to Canada today and expect things to happen tomorrow – that most likely will not happen and that can lead to frustration. Having the mindset of accepting change is very important when someone is immigrating to a new place. You need to give yourself a dedicated amount of time to restart your life in Canada and get back on track to what you were doing in your home country.

“From the moment I landed in Canada, everyone told me that immigrants do not get equivalent work to what they were doing in their home country. With eight years of experience in my field, that was very hard to hear. I listened to them and I tried to analyze how I could focus my efforts on my end-objective. Learning and understanding new things in Canada took me time. After a couple of months of applying to jobs and hearing nothing back, I realized maybe I was doing something wrong. I learned that updating your resumé for every job you apply for is important. Adapting to all the small changes is difficult.”

 

  The costs of licensing and reaccreditation are increasing each year

 

To help bolster the economy as it deals with an ageing population, Canada is increasing immigration.

In 2017, Canada attracted over 270,000 immigrants, with plans to increase that number to 340,000 a year by 2020.

The 2016 census shows that immigrants to Canada are highly educated.

The percentage of all immigrants with a master’s or doctorate degree is twice that of the Canadian-born population.

They are also likely to be professionally experienced, as Canadian immigration policy prioritizes skilled workers who have potential to contribute to the economy.

Nevertheless, unemployment and underemployment of skilled immigrants costs Canada $12.7 billion a year, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

Obtaining Canadian credentials can be a significant barrier, as this process can be costly.

Without Canadian credentials, many highly-skilled workers are unemployed in low-paying jobs, making it even more difficult to afford the credentialing process.

Windmill Microlending is a registered charity offering a successful and innovative solution.

It provides low-interest microloans of up to  $15,000 to pay for education, training and other costs related to obtaining Canadian credentials.

“The costs of licensing and reaccreditation are increasing each year, and we need to keep pace in order to offer newcomers the support they need,” said Windmill CEO Claudia Hepburn. “Many internationally-trained professionals face Canadian licensing costs in the tens of thousands and need more from us.”

Over half of Windmill’s clients are in healthcare, a field that includes some of the higher costs for training, exams and licensing. Internationally-trained dentists, for example, may require anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000. Pharmacists and physicians may expect to pay between $20,000 and $35,000.

“We’re very proud to be able to increase our support for newcomers,” said Laura Wood, chair of Windmill’s board of directors. “Immigrants bring education, skills and experience that too often go to waste. Our role is to help convert the skills and experience of newcomers into prosperity – for our clients, and for Canada.”

Since 2005, Windmill has helped over 4,000 skilled immigrants and refugees restart their careers in Canada with over $22M in loans.

Its clients double or triple their income, on average, by the time their loan is repaid. 

Windmill Microlending is Canada’s largest and most successful microlending charity for skilled immigrants and refugees. It helps convert potential into prosperity by offering low-interest loans to help skilled newcomers obtain the credentials they need to restart their careers in Canada. Windmill is located in Calgary, with offices in Toronto, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Vancouver, and serves clients across the country. It is supported by donors, government, sponsors and granting agencies.

The organization is expanding to offer its service to many more newcomers across the country.

• 51 per cent of Windmill clients are in healthcare, including doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and medical technicians.

• 18 per cent of Windmill clients are in engineering and IT. 

• There are 105 countries of origin represented in Windmill’s loan portfolio.

• The top four countries from which its clients have immigrated are India, the Philippines, Nigeria and Iran.

• Clients of Windmill triple their income on average by the time their loan is repaid.

• Unemployment amongst its clients drops from 40 per cent to 10 per cent.

• The repayment rate for Windmill loans is 97.5 per cent.

• Many of Windmill’s clients are unable to access mainstream credit because they lack a  Canadian credit history or collateral.

• Under a specialized program, wherein interest in paid by donors, refugee clients are eligible for interest-free loans

More info at www.windmillmicro lending.org.

 

Jamshaid Ali Imran. Image courtesy:  WINDMILL MICROLENDING .

Jamshaid Ali Imran. Image courtesy: WINDMILL MICROLENDING.

WHEN MONEY PROBLEMS AFFECT YOUR HEALTH

 

From NEWS CANADA

Financial stress can affect physical and mental health. For many of us, financial worries are the greatest source of stress – greater than health, work or family obligations.

According to a study, 40 per cent of Canadians say they are overwhelmed by debt, while 48 per cent say they’ve lost sleep due to financial worries. And financial stress can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health.

The sources of this stress are many, and may include high debt levels, living paycheque to paycheque, managing household expenses and struggling to save money for short- and long-term goals. It affects Canadians of all income levels and age groups.

According to a research by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, if you are dealing with financial stress, you are:

• Twice as likely to report poor overall health;

• Four times as likely to suffer from sleep problems, headaches and other illnesses;

• More likely to experience strain in your personal relationships.

Financial stress can also lead to more serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. When you invest in your financial well-being by strengthening your financial knowledge, skills and confidence you will see many benefits: a sense of well-being; higher productivity; and  self-confidence.

There are free and unbiased resources to help.

More info at canada.ca/money.

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