Monetary gap exists despite these immigrants possessing the same university degree as other immigrants.

Members of Calgary’s Afghan community say language differences and foreign education credentials contribute to wage discrepancy when compared to other immigrants. 

Despite the government making efforts to solve this problem, some of those immigrants are considering leaving the country.

According to Statistics Canada, immigrants from Afghanistan and other Asian and Australasian countries earn $24,000 on average a year. By comparison, the annual wage for European immigrants is $35,000, while American immigrants make $60,000.

 The foreign credentials barrier

Part of the reason for that difference is that foreign academic credentials cannot easily be recognized Duglas Vale came to Canada from the United States to pursue a work opportunity with Shell Canada. Unlike other immigrants, his company walked him through all the validation’s paperwork to make the transition process smoother.

Photo by Ingrid Mir in Canada.

A good example is the experience of Dr. Wassay Niazi’s who came to Canada as an Afghani citizen. He graduated in 1985 from the Belarusian Medical University in Minsk and then worked at the Department of Infectious Diseases and Tuberculosis at the Kabul University.

“My family and I came to Canada in 2003,” says Niazi. “We had to flee our country after the Taliban came to power. After living in Winnipeg, we moved to Calgary in November, 2008.”

Niazi worked as a cultural broker in Canada during his first year in the country. Since then, he has been working as a support worker for a disabled client. The reason he can’t work as a doctor is because his credentials from the Belarusian Medical University are hardly accepted in Canada.

“If I want my credentials transferred in Canada, I have to pass three to four different exams,” he explains. “The total cost for these exams is around $7,000 to $8,000.”

He is not alone in that dilemma. According to Niazi, “Some doctors who cannot get their credentials transferred get diplomas as lab technicians or nursing as an alternative.”

By comparison, those with credential from North American institutions have an easier time. For example, Duglas Vale got his engineering degree in Manhattan College, NYC.

Vale and his family moved to Calgary and he started working for Shell Canada. The company did all the paperwork for him.

“I didn’t have to pass exams,” says Vale. “I just had to show the company my credentials and diploma, both obtained in the US. It was simple because the company got me through all the process.”

Malik Selemankhel, the president of the Afghan Canadian Association, says the difference is unfair.

“If a doctor comes from the States he or she will work as a doctor because it is easier for them to verify the credentials,” he says. “I know a case of one man who was a doctor back in Afghanistan. In Canada he had to go through a lot of difficult exams and, even though he passed all of them, the government said that he could only work as an assistant or a nurse.”

 The language barrier

Feng Hou, a principal researcher at Statistics Canada, says language is also a barrier to immigrants who want to earn a good income in Canada.

“Higher levels of education will have large returns only if the immigrant has good language skills,” says Hou.

Ogho Ikhalo, a public affairs officer with Alberta’s Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, concurs, saying, “Linguistic and cultural barriers may be greater obstacles for those coming from the Middle East or Africa, even for those with an academic education, than for those from the US and Europe.”

Niazi is an example: “I passed two of my exams and did everything else required. Now I’m stuck with the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test.”

According to Selemankhel, some newcomers have considered going back home due to their inability to get a job in their respective field. However, most of them feel too attached to Canada.

“They have children here, they go to school and that stops them from leaving. Family priorities make the situation more difficult.”

Sonia Lesage, a media relations advisor with Canada’s Department of Citizenship and Immigration, says the federal government is focusing on improving the job situation for immigrants.

“The Government of Canada is building a fast and flexible economic immigration system whose primary focus is on meeting Canada’s labour market needs,” she explains.

Ottawa also launched the Federal Skilled Worker Program for immigrants to help get their credentials approved.

Applicants are selected according to their capacity to meet Canada’s labour market, which includes knowledge of English or French, their work experience and their education.

Indeed, Ikhalo explains that it’s very important that immigrants use their skills in order to benefit provincial economy.

“Its crucial is to ensure immigrants will have the opportunity to fully use their education, skills and work experience for the benefit of themselves and the Alberta economy.”

imir@cjournal.ca and bphilipp@cjournal.ca