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TORONTO – The Maytree Foundation’s Immigrant Loan Program, which currently serves Ontario, seems like a natural for other provinces with large populations of newcomers to Canada, for example British Columbia. Stephanie Saunders, Maytree’s communications coordinator, agrees the effort may indeed expand into other areas. But first the backers want to make sure the program is operating well. So far progress is very encouraging. Since 2002, 57 loans have been issued. Thirty-five of the recipients have completed their training, and 20 have found jobs in the field for which they trained. No loans have been written off There also has to be a market or need for the program, and Toronto – a major magnet for immigrants – seemed like a good starting point. The 2001 census found immigrants made up 44 percent of the population in Toronto. More than one in six people in Canada is an immigrant. The program here is operated in partnership with Metro Credit Union. The basic idea is neither Canada or immigrants themselves benefit when doctors, nurses, engineers or others with needed skills find themselves waiting on tables or taking other jobs outside their profession. Often the key is simply additional training or certification that will allow an immigrant to establish credentials in Canada. One barrier to that training is the fact immigrants aren’t eligible for government student loans in Ontario until they have lived here at least one year. In addition, many have no credit history or collateral, and may even be unemployed. Seeing this need, Maytree approached Metro CU, which has been recognized for social responsibility. “We figured, knowing the credit union and the way they act, they would `get it,’” Saunders says. Maytree guarantees 75% of the loan and Metro the remaining 25%. Applicants must have permanent resident or refugee status. They supply information explaining the training they want to take, how long the program lasts, the cost, and their expenses and income. Maytree does the initial screening. “We ask them for references,” Saunders notes. “That can be difficult for some of these people because they’re still new to the country. So we ask for the name of their landlord – that’s always a good reference. “We run a credit check, even if they’ve left everything blank on how much they owe on a credit card. A lot of them have absolutely no credit history, but some people do start establishing their credit fairly soon.” Maytree helps each applicant assess the institution where they want to train, and also provides advice on financial details such as interest and the impact of repaying the loan in establishing credit. The maximum loan is $5,000, which can include books and uniforms. Interest is 9.7%, with the borrower paying only interest during the actual training and for three months after that while finding a job. Metro handles the financial paperwork, and makes the check out directly to the training institution. The average loan is $3,500, to be repaid in three years. The immigrants bring a wide range of skills to their new country. “We’ve done nursing, pharmacy, accounting, truck driving, financial analysis, media design, midwifery, marine engineering, travel and tourism, computer administration, marine engineering and medical laboratory technology,” Saunders says. “A pharmacist completed a program, obtained her Ontario pharmacy license and is working in a Toronto hospital. A welder from Pakistan earned his welding certificate and has a job as a welder. One person took some information technology classes and is employed by the provincial government. A nurse took courses and is now works for a very large hospital in downtown Toronto. A nutritionist is a dietitian in a long-term care facility,” she adds. Kimberly May, vp/marketing and communications at Metro, says the biggest challenge is getting the word out about the program to Toronto’s growing immigrant population. “Metro has been putting a lot of emphasis on diversity. We’re here to serve our community, and the face of our community is changing. We have to accommodate that. It’s such a shame when we see doctors driving taxis,” May says. “This is not a handout by any means. It’s a good opportunity for Metro, because it introduces them to the credit union. It’s not a big risk.” [email protected]

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