October 25th, 2020

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Funding for skilled immigrants and refugees


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Windmill Microlending, a national charity, is looking to help newcomers to Canada with microloans of up to $15,000. The loans help skilled immigrants and refugees achieve professional success and avoid underemployment.

Dr. Maria Eriksen, a Calgary-based clinical psychologist and immigrant, created the program in 2004. At the hospital where she worked, Dr. Eriksen encountered janitors, porters and cafeteria staff who were internationally-trained professionals, many in the healthcare fields. They remained underemployed because of obstacles in licensing and accreditation. Together with a group of friends, she organized the first six loans to newcomers in Calgary. Today Windmill has helped more than 5,000 newcomers with over $30M in loans. This year alone, Windmill will support 1,000 immigrants and refugees.

“We are a charity micro lender, so we support immigrants and refugees who need financial assistance to achieve professional success in Canada,” says Mary Ellen Armstrong, National Director of Marketing and Communications, Windmill Microlending. “Our clients are internationally-trained professionals, many of them in healthcare, such as nurses, doctors, dentists and pharmacists. We support newcomers in business, IT, engineering, and many other fields. If they require a license, credential, or additional training or courses, we can support them.”

Microloans can be used to offset many costs related to a client’s career goals, including training and courses, exam fees, assessment costs, transportation, living expenses during a period of study, or even required tools or technology.

In Lethbridge alone, fifteen clients have been supported by Windmill – two currently progressing on their education plans, and thirteen former clients who have paid their loans in full. Most of the clients locally have been pharmacists and other medical professionals from countries such as Nigeria, India, Sudan, Nepal and Brazil.

“Financial stability and security are strong indictors for successful integration in Canada,” says Armstrong. “Our goal is to help skilled newcomers avoid remaining underemployed for the long term, especially as we face labour shortages. With the help of a loan, our clients typically triple their income by their time their loan is repaid.”

Many immigrants and refugees are unable to work in their desired profession because they require Canadian or provincial licensing or credentials. The process to obtain these can be costly and take a long time. Many take on “survival jobs” in the meantime, to make ends meet, and often those survival jobs become permanent.

“About half of our clients tend to be medical professionals, and the process to get Canadian licenses can take a long time, and it can be costly even if you have had a long career in your home country,” says Armstrong. “Even if newcomers arrive with savings, the cost of living here can be high. Once savings are depleted, it becomes very difficult – logistically and financially – to work one or two jobs, carry a heavy course load, and prepare to pass challenging exams. The barrier to their career goals can become insurmountable quite quickly.”

On average, Windmill clients triple their income by the time their loan is repaid. The loans are managed with the challenges of immigration and settlement in mind and with client success as their goal. The repayment rate for Windmill loans is 97%.

Windmill Microlending is supported by government partners (including the government of Canada and the government of Alberta) as well as investors, foundations, corporations and generous individuals. To find out more about Windmill Microloans and how you could qualify, visit windmillmicrolending.org.

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