Immigrant Access Fund (IAF)
The mandate of the Immigrant Access Fund (IAF) is to relieve poverty by providing micro-loans to skilled immigrants in order to assist them in obtaining Canadian accreditation, upgrading, or training that will allow them to return to employment in their pre-immigration professional and trade fields.
Newcomer Success Story
Carlos came from Venezuela four years ago with his wife Lucia and two children. A well-respected physician for 12 years in Venezuela, Carlos worked as a nursing attendant at a low wage when he first arrived, but is determined to gain Canadian accreditation as a doctor. IAF granted him a loan to assist in paying the cost of the Part I Qualification Exam for medicine this spring and his Test of English as a Foreign Language.
Carlos must spend all of his time studying and Lucia is trying to support the family on her wage. At times they are so frustrated with the huge hurdles for Carlos to become a physician in Canada that they wonder if they made the right decision in immigrating. However, they love Canada and they know there is a huge need for doctors in the country. They refuse to give up hope that one day Carlos will be able to share his knowledge as a licensed physician and they will have a more comfortable lifestyle in their adopted country.
IAF provides a unique, community-based channel of access to credit for immigrants (citizens, permanent residents, and Convention refugees) who:
- Wish to return to their pre-immigration careers;
- Have a plan that will lead them to employment in their fields but do not have the resources to pay for it;
- Cannot access mainstream credit due to unemployment or low "survival job" income, lack of credit history in Canada, and/or lack of assets/collateral; and
- Are trustworthy and of good character.
Since IAF loans are character-based, applicants do not need collateral or a credit history in Canada. Interest for the loans is only 1.5 percent above the prime rate. The average loan is $5,000, but up to $10,000 may be borrowed. Applicants are required to provide personal references, demonstrate initiative, have a strong program plan in place, and be willing to repay the loan, which may be used only for purposes related to Canadian accreditation, upgrading, and training, including living allowance while completing the program plan.
Although loan recipients are not involved with the design of the IAF program, they do in fact help shape policies and procedures. For instance, as we connect with loan recipients as they are working on their application, completing their program plan, and/or paying back their loan, we learn about their reality and the difficulties they face, and use that information to better inform IAF policies and procedures. Efforts are being made to increase loan recipient involvement with the program. IAF will be launching social networking tools on its new website that will encourage loan recipients to share their experiences, mentor one another, and ask others for help. A Committee of Loan Recipients was created to help guide this process.
IAF is founded on a partnership of private and public sector support. One-hundred percent of the funds lent through the program come from the private sector - mostly through a $1 million line of credit that community/business leaders have secured with their personal guarantees. IAF receives 80 percent of its operating and program delivery funding from the Province of Alberta and Citizenship and Immigration Canada; the remaining 20 percent comes from the private sector. IAF is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors and guided by an Advisory Council.
IAF is accountable to its line of credit guarantors to ensure that the loans being approved have a good likelihood of being paid back. It achieves this by conducting strong due diligence on applicants and carefully considering each application on its merits. Public and private funders are provided with regular financial and program reports. The IAF board meets 10 times a year, and financial statements are reviewed/approved at each meeting. IAF has recently adopted micro-loan software that will considerably enhance the transparency of loan activities, strengthening oversight of IAF's risk.
From its establishment in 2005 to December 31, 2010, IAF has distributed 544 loans. Below are the other aggregate features of the loans:
- Loans approved: $2.7+ million
- Funds disbursed: $2.2+ million
- Application decline rate: 12%
- Average loan: $5,000
- $1 million principal paid back
- $155,000 interest received from loan recipients
- 17 loans written off (value: $54,000)
- 98% repayment rate
At the time they applied for their loan, 71 percent of borrowers were unemployed, 13 percent were underemployed, and 16 percent held survival jobs. In the post-loan period, 38 percent of borrowers were fully employed in their fields, 26 percent were ready to work in their fields, and 36 percent were still in the process of accreditation. According to a third-party study, IAF provides a significant benefit to society and produces a high rate of return on investment of public funds by providing micro-loans to skilled immigrants for their Canadian professional and trade accreditation. The study indicates that the loan program directly benefits Alberta society by providing annual real rates of return of 33 percent or more.
The IAF model is very transferable to other provinces. With support from Citizenship and Immigration Canada/Foreign Credentials Referral Office, IAF is developing an implementation plan to make IAF micro-loans available to skilled immigrants throughout the country. The structure for the expanded program will be decentralized, with IAF looking for communities to "own" the program in their area and being responsible for establishing an organization and leaders who will connect with applicants and review loan applications, fundraise, attract line of credit guarantors, and join other voices in their communities in advancing the issue of full employment for skilled immigrants.
- Service Providers
- Momentum and Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (Loan Delivery Partners)
- Government of Alberta; Citizenship and Immigration Canada; and foundation, individual, and corporate donors
- Across Alberta
- Year of Launch
- Languages of Delivery
- Newcomer Groups Served
- Newly arrived and pre-arrival immigrants
- Expected Results
- Labour Market Access (Newcomers obtain the required assistance to find employment commensurate with their skills and education)
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