In 2014, Suman Baskota, a statistics professor from Nepal, arrived in Canada. Unable to go back to school or find a job in his field, Baskota found himself working full-time as a security guard to support his family in their new home. However, those long hours immediately disqualified him from accessing immigrant-support programs that could help him get a job in his field.  

Baskota may not be the only one facing this problem as several employment programs in Alberta only accept workers who are unemployed, underemployed, or on Employment Insurance — an eligibility requirement set by the federal and provincial governments.

Arrival to Calgary

It was a cold snowy night in October when Baskota and his wife, Sharmilla Ranabhat, arrived in Calgary along with their two children, Swyoyuja and Swaras, who were just 12 and one year old at the time.

Only knowing two people in the city, the family settled in a basement that one of their friends purchased.

The “basement was so new for us,” Ranabhat explained as she recalled the limited area with small windows.

“‘Oh my God, where am I now?’” the former university lecturer thought to herself. “I [felt] so bad for my children.”

False resume

In the midst of settling down, Ranabhat started looking for a job and chose to walk into Costco to hand in her resume — a “false resume” that detailed Canadian retail experience.

“I never worked in a store before,” she said. “[My friends] told me don’t tell that you were working in a university.”

“If they think I have [worked] in this field, I will never get a job and I was desperately looking for something.”

Ranabhat worked as a professional warehouse demonstrator, handing out food samples and showing customers how to handle equipment.

While working for Costco, Ranabhat got in touch with the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and ended up taking a six-month office administration program.

Eventually, Ranabhat left Costco and worked full-time as a program assistant at the Bredin Centre for Learning – a non-profit organization that provides educational programs for unemployed or underemployed Albertans. This became an opportunity for her husband  to upgrade his education.

“I feel like maybe this is my responsibility,” she said. “I will do this [job] and I will let him go for further education.”

Job rejection, university rejection

At first Baskota, who spent 17 years as a university lecturer, was optimistic about finding a job within his area of expertise.

“I started to search for some jobs related to research where statistics is used,” Baskota explained.

He never got called for an interview.

In response, he applied to the University of Calgary’s graduate statistics program to top-off his master’s degree in statistics from Nepal.

“I was quite optimistic that I will get the admission.” – Suman Baskota

“I made contact with one of the professors there [and] I showed him everything that I have done,” he said. “I showed him my publications, my research works, everything.”

“‘Yeah, you are an experienced guy. You have been teaching all these subjects so it’s not difficult for you to get the admission,’” Baskota recalled being told by the professor. “I was quite optimistic that I will get the admission.”

Unfortunately, Baskota was not accepted.

As he tried looking for an explanation, he discovered his age could be a reason for the rejection as many younger graduates were also aiming to get seats in the same program he applied for twice.

“People don’t have many options,” he said. “So if they want to study statistics, University of Calgary is the only option.”

Left with no other options, Baskota took a  full-time job as a security guard for Garda, unaware this decision came with a cost.

“I am not eligible for the program”

In a conversation with a Canadian Employment Skills program personnel, Baskota learned  the program would not be available to him because of his full-time employment.

Baskota was stunned when he realized the program was for individuals on government support.

“That means if I have tried those organizations before working full-time just after moving to Canada, they should’ve provided me those programs,” Baskota said. “I’ve got children, dependents, I needed to buy a house, everything. Now they are saying that I am not eligible for the program.”

The unemployed or underemployed eligibility requirement

The YWCA discontinued their employment skills program last year, but other immigrant-support programs still implement the same policy.

According to the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association website, unemployed or underemployed clients with previous accounting training are eligible for their government-funded bridging program, which helps newcomers gain Canadian experience in their field of expertise.

Three other bridging programs from the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers have the same requirement wherein applicants have to “be unemployed, underemployed; or on Employment Insurance.” Two of these programs are for foreign-trained engineers and accountants.

“I’ve got children, dependents, I needed to buy a house, everything.”  – Suman Baskota

Similarly, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society has an information and technology bridging program with the same requirement. Other than being unemployed or on Employment Insurance, applicants must work part-time or “less than 30 hours per week” to be eligible for the program, says project manager Mehrzad Eftekhar.

As to why these conditions exist, Kate Toogood, press secretary for the ministry of advanced education, said Alberta delivers the programs through funding given by the federal government — who also happens to set the eligibility criteria, one of which requires applicants to be eligible for Employment Insurance.

“Our government believes that everyone should have access to education they need to go back to work or move forward in their careers, and these programs help unemployed or marginally-employed Albertans get the skills they need to do just that,” Toogood stated.

However, Beatrice Fenelon, a spokesperson for the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada , confirms that the Canadian government funds service providers but does not fund the specific programs nor have they been consulted about them.

What now?

According to Toogood, there are circumstances when a full-time worker may be able to leave their job to access government-funded training programs, but it depends on the individual’s circumstances.

Meanwhile, Baskota still continues to work full-time while pursuing a financial certificate from SAIT, without program support.  

rdesouza@cjournal.ca

Editor: Andrea Wong | awong@cjournal.ca