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Ottawa Improves Efforts to Recognize Foreign Credentials

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Immigrants represent an untapped “pot of gold,” the executive director of the Catholic Immigration Centre says.

Carl Nicholson said yesterday “there’s a pot of gold waiting for us if we reorganize ourselves to take advantage of this.”

And that gold will last well into the future, he added.

“What we’re trying to do is to publicize this, get a lot more public understanding of this.”

In an interview, Mr. Nicholson said there must be a way to rate immigrants’ qualifications.

A forum was held yesterday to introduce a report by the Internationally Trained Workers Project, a partnership of United Way/Centraide Ottawa, the Canadian Labour Business Council and Local Agencies Serving Immigrants (LASI)/World Skills.

Following that forum, Michael Allen, president of United Way Ottawa, said: “More than half of those who immigrate to Ottawa have a university degree. Yet new immigrants are four times more likely to be unemployed or underemployed. As a city, this is an issue that concerns us all and one that we must address.

“We just don’t think about it as an issue, or even as an opportunity,” Mr. Allen said. “Part of the job is to try to get people to think about it differently.”

According to the business council, 7,156 immigrants moved to Ottawa in 2002, about three per cent of all immigrants entering Canada. Between 1991 and 2001, the city’s labour force increased by 41,000, with 84 per cent of those being immigrants.

About 51 per cent of those who immigrated here in 2001 held a university degree, the group said. Those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, 2,820, numbered only slightly fewer than the 3,163 granted by the University of Ottawa and Carleton University that year. Immigrants with a doctorate, 572, almost equalled the 596 receiving PhDs from the universities. However, many of these immigrants cannot find jobs equal to their skills and training.

Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli said the under-employment of immigrants is not a new problem, but something he saw while chair of the former regional government.

“For us to deal with the issue, we must communicate it to the public,” he said. “We must work harder and smarter as a community to benefit from the immigration. Integration is critical to future economic development in this city.”

John Kelly, president of NextInnovation Inc., who spoke as a representative of the business community, said that with the draft report now in and a final version due in March, it’s time for action.

“It’s within the cities that the immigrants who are, in many cases, highly trained, are not able to utilize their skills,” Mr. Kelly said.

Cities must motivate the provincial and federal governments as well as the private sector groups that are interested in the under-utilization, he said.

The report called for a leadership council to pursue the initiative.