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Feds expand immigrant internships

The federal government announced a new initiative yesterday that will give skilled Canadian immigrants experience working in federal departments and agencies.

The Federal Internship for Newcomers program will place immigrants with previous education and job experience into select positions, enabling “a smoother integration into the Canadian labour market for program participants,” according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

The program has been piloted by CIC and Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) for the last two years and will now be expanded to offer internships with Health Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency, among others. This fall CIC and HRDC offered 60 intern positions in addition to a further 29 in the last year, according to the release.

New Democrat Party (NDP) immigration critic Olivia Chow told the Ottawa Citizen that the internship program is “barely a step forward” in addressing unemployment and underemployment among skilled immigrants.

In an official response to the Conservative initiative, Chow reiterated the NDP’s focus on “pre-departure credential recognition, loan programs for newcomers to enter credential recognition programs and expanding mentorship, bridging and internship programs and providing financial incentives for small businesses to hire newcomers” as viable solutions to immigrant underemployment.

From where she works in B.C., Manpreet Grewal, manager of the multicultural and immigrant services department of Abbotsford Community Services, sees the internship program as a great addition to what is already going on in her community.

Her department runs a successful mentorship program that pairs skilled Canadian immigrants with public and private sector professionals in their field. Through the community-based program, clients gain valuable professional experience in a Canadian workplace.

Grewal knows that immigrant employment issues require a multi-pronged approach, so she welcomes the government internship program. But in her experience, “no strategy can work without having a true engagement with the private sector,” said Grewal. “That’s where our folks get hired.”

The program is a small step, considering notable problems immigrants to Canada have with credentializing foreign education and having skills and experience recognized, but it’s an important one, says Peter Hall, an associate professor in the urban studies program at Simon Fraser University.

Hall told the Tyee that a likewise internship program should be expanded to provincial ministries and agencies. However, he’s concerned that other employees could be displaced and conflict could arise if attempts were made to establish a similar program in private sector companies.

“If (private sector employers) really want someone, they should take them on full time or permanently,” said Hall. “Maybe there’s a role for the private sector…but I think one would need to be cautious.”

In British Columbia, 74.8 per cent of very recent immigrants aged 15 and up with an education above a bachelor’s degree were found to be employed compared to 52.6 of those without any post secondary education, according to B.C. Stats survey figures current to Jan. 22, 2010.

The same survey found that 33.5 per cent of employed very recent immigrants were working in sales and service occupations.

Justin Langille reports on the landscape of work for The Tyee.

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