O Canada

Monday, February 5, 2007

The suffering, tribulation and debasement of (immigrant) social work professionals in Canada

I am grateful to Peter Vambe, for sharing his experience at this blog…

Peter Vambe is a Toronto based practicing social worker, who immigrated to Canada from Zimbabwe. In this article he is trying explore the folly of ‘Canadian experience’ and the misconception of ‘transferability of skills’. You can reach Peter at pvambe@rogers.com

The suffering, tribulation and debasement of (immigrant) social work professionals in Canada: Peter Vambe

But while to say the true word - which is work, which is praxis - is to transform the world, saying the word is not the privilege of some few persons, but the right of everyone”. Paulo Freire

This paper, though adapted from my experience as an Internationally Trained Social Work Professional (IESWP), a message to employers. The gist is to enable employers to critically reflect on their hiring practices and the ultimate goal is not only to convey the rationale for according IESWPs equity, fairness and justice in the job market but also to influence social justice in the wider spectrum of the profession. In any case, it is mundane for these values to be assumed and actually practiced rather than merely being lip symbols or abstract terms that do not find a place in reality. These are the core values of the profession which just like it are based on humanitarian gestures and wellbeing fundamentals. In general, the paper decries the unfair treatment of IESWPs and does not demean efforts by some individuals and agencies to ameliorate the situation and circumvolute the negative practices that have handicapped professionals. I am against a culture of injustice that is synonymous with political persecution and has led to an implicit and overt suppression of IESWPs’ personalities and work. The IESWPs have been forced to redirect their energy to seeking justice instead of getting involved in the war against social ailments that hamper wellbeing.

This article is important to me because it is a subjective piece of work that draws much from my tribulations as an IESWP who decided to stay in Canada. At the same time, it is also objective because by so doing we can effectively address the issues that have not only inhibited personal, professional and social development in Canada but have been detrimental to the sustenance and even survival of the social work profession in this country. (Freire 1972) talked about the difficulty of dichotomizing objectivity and subjectivity. He states “….one cannot conceive of objectivity without subjectivity. Neither can exist without the other, nor can they be dichotomized” (Freire 1972:32). In any case, objectivity and reality are power laden and depend on who has the power to control not only the acceptance of that reality but the discourse as well (Dewees 2001, Foucault 1980). This draws us to the subject of oppression which I find very relevant to what is happening in the social work realm. One of the most characteristic and ubiquitous features of the world as experienced by oppressed people is the double bind – situations in which options are reduced to a very few and all of them expose one to penalty, censure or deprivation (Frye 1983). I find Frye’s sentiment very relevant as it portrays a true picture of the experiences of IESWPs in Canada. The most painful part about this scenario is that it is perpetrated by the custodians and soldiers for social welfare; namely social workers. Fellow colleagues in turn look at the discourse for sources of power and areas of weakness in order to resist the oppression, (Foucault 1980) gain justice and an equitable distribution of societal resources.

It is true that there are systemic just as there are individual barriers to the employment of IESWPs in Canada (Yee, Wong & Janczur 2006). The important thing to note is that neither of them is insurmountable. However, we have to take heed of this optimism. This is in light of the fact that some of the barriers and impediments are ideological and thus psychologically entrenched factors (Dumbrill and Meiter 1996, Dumbrill 2003). These are difficult to deal with but they have to be at least acknowledged so that work on them can begin. This is where self-awareness and honesty are found to be valuable attributes of true professionals. All the same, self awareness should be followed by critical intervention if we are to achieve a transformation of the status quo (Freire 1972). An example of lack of critical awareness and intervention (or mental colonization) was that the mere presence of “Ryerson University” on my resume changed the way that employers treated me. It sort of gave credibility to my existing credentials. Actually, some employers unveiled their subconscious thoughts and fixation on Canadian credentials by thinking and expressing that they thought that my BSW was acquired at Ryerson University. That confession may point to how significant Canadian credentials are to hard beat supervisors and other influential people in the hiring positions. In my other paper (unpublished), I have argued how employers have negated to be abreast with international trends in the education institution and have been accomplices in the demise or lack of progressive development in the Canadian social work profession. I am not qualified to make that judgment but the opportunity costs lost in the fixated and not very sound idea of associating IESWPs with subsidiary and irrelevant qualifications is in itself fatalistic and thus impedes any efforts at professional development. It is against the humanitarian ideals of social work that are anchored in social justice and respect for fellow human beings. Tempering with such ideals is tantamount to murdering a profession that grew out of those considerations and finds motivation and justification for action from the stated values (IFSW 2005).

The other area of concern has been that employers ask for relevant experience. In essence, they are asking for Canadian experience. They say that they consider experience from volunteering and honor diversity. It makes me wonder if these terms really carry the same meanings to employers as they do to academics. When one is being pre-screened for an interview, he is asked questions related to “paid employment” and references that are aware of their true professional competencies. Some of the volunteering and other programs do not offer one the opportunity to portray his true professionalism as there are limits to what one can do as a volunteer. The mentioned values (honoring diversity) run parallel with the wider national and political values embedded in universalism, diversity and multiculturalism. Employers have thus developed not only impressive phrases in their mission statements but convincing harangues that have seen IESWPs unleashing their resumes not knowing that the mental and institutional structures of these agencies have not undergone a respective transformation to suit their stated and standing statements (clearly and neatly written for that matter).

The requirement for Canadian experience has also been camouflaged by calling for transferability of one’s skills. In reality it’s “transferability of foreign skills”. In Zimbabwe, I was reading Western literature, American and European social work books just as much as we had emerging reference books that were written by Africans like Osei-Wedie, Kaseke, Mupedziswa and a host of other renowned African scholars. We also studied courses like social anthropology to enable us deal with various cultures. We had diverse clientele. Now, it’s either one has a social work skill or not. It’s not about transferability of skills but learning the procedures of the job. Thus, just as much as I need induction into a job in Zimbabwe, so would I here. The point here is that the issue of asking or requiring one to be able to transfer skills is tantamount to exclusion. The worse point about it is that it is a ploy that is veiled in false understanding, consideration and solidarity. In reality, the ability to show the transferability of skills is still aimed at pathologizing foreign trained professionals and also making a point in the line of individual barriers. It is a way of hiding systemic oppression and discrimination or more appropriately transferability of social work skills thereby giving the view that social work theory and practice is differentiated by geographical location.

The transferability argument takes me to my strongest belief in the universal nature of social work. With regard to the skills, it’s either one has them or does not, period. There are similar trends in the knowledge base and academic standards. What is different is the context of practice. However, there is also the physiology of social work training that equips professionals with some form of adaptability and flexibility. For example, there are people who trained before the advent of AIDS but have been geared to deal with this problem on a daily basis. Therefore, taken from any context, the pervasive factor is the universal nature of social work which enables it to transcend geographical, cultural, racial and religious or any other boundary that one may think of. How special then is the Canadian system? Surprisingly, Canada is a multicultural country whose professionals come from varied geographical locations just as much as the clients do.

The above sentiments should not be taken as a request for affirmative action or what some may term positive discrimination. We don’t whimper for affirmative action to gain access to the labor market when we can be in those positions if there was fairness and justice (Harris and Holdt 1997). I am therefore calling for justice, fairness and equity. I am not seeking for employers to employ us on the basis of our disadvantaged social location but for consideration, appreciation of my value as a social work professional and an acknowledgement that credentials that are not acquired in Canada are not subsidiary to Canadian social work qualifications. They are just acquired in a different geographical location and have to be molded to suit the Canadian way of doing things that has been deemed static and thus unparalleled by any other qualification.

To conclude, the suffering, tribulation and debasement of social work professionals in Canada has a lot to be desired. The system of this debasement is so entrenched in Canada such that even fellow IESWPs who have gone through some problems if not pathologies to get to authoritative positions have internalized the oppression. They are also calling for Canadian experience and have called for transferability of social work skills thereby giving the view that social work practice is differentiated by geographical location. In reality we have the same theories but it is how we implement them that are different. Therefore, teach me the procedures here and you will find that we are still implementing the same theories that I was implementing in Zimbabwe. The final word is that we request a heart in the hiring practice, some conscience and pragmatism.

Click here to see Reference

Saturday, January 6, 2007

After all isn't Canada a multicultural wonderland of maple leaves, diversity and of course, equality?

This letter was written by a new immigrant to a prospective immigrant.
Edited to protect identity of persons.

Dear ******

We are happy that you are coming to Canada. This is a very nice country to live and particularly the schooling, child care, medical attention, social discipline etc are commendable.

Again every one came here because Canada advertises itself overseas, to great heights. After all isn't Canada a multicultural wonderland of maple leaves, diversity and of course, equality?

But when it actually comes to practicing what you preach, Canadian employers practise their biases informally, privately, even quietly. That's what is behind a lot of job seeking frustration stories. Then, not finding a decent job in Canada as immigrant is their own fault - most Canadians will tell you that. Because, the only reason they can't get a job is either they don't have the qualifications or the experience, not because Canadian employers dislike them.

At the end what we learn is that Canadian equality is just for brochures; a facade that politely covers the unequal access to mainstream jobs to most of us. In reality it is a very closed country in one sense as they are not recognising any qualifications or experience gained from out side North America. Engineers (Except IT and Computer) from India is suffering a lot as their degrees are not equalised here. (I don't know about IIT engineering degrees). In normal scene we can see qualified engineers working in factory as mere casual labourers. It is stressful for an experienced professional to start from the scratch.

You can find more about recognising the qualification of engineers in Canada by searching the following Web Pages http://www.peng.ca/english/profession/ , http://www.peo.on.ca/ (for Ontario province).

Most of the experienced engineers from rest of the world opine that it takes 3 to 5 years to get P.Eng qualification. Some people can afford that, but I am not sure about you. Those who studied here gets preference to job. Job market is competitive,and it requires a lot of God's grace to land into a suitable job.

Their is subtle racism in the job market (a hidden discrimination). As they are unsure about our past performance, our education, ability - the employers are afraid to take a risk. Again at your age (aged 52) it is obviously strenuous to find out a job here. For ******(child 1), he can make up here as he is young, so to ******(child 2). Your wife (with the present B.Ed) needs to get a license to teach here, please visit the following Web Pages http://www.oct.ca/. Again to get a job takes time say one year. If interested, she may do some volunteer work till that time.

Second factor is health care.

Here medical consultation, hospitalisation (base) and emergency life saving medicines are free after 3 months through government plan (OHIP). But for prescription and non-prescription medicine you have to pay and it is expensive. You need an insurance to survive here (again, once you get a full time job, you will get insurance through the employer).

Third, Education

- up to school (12th) the education is free and the university studies are highly expensive. Here it will cost average CAN $15,000 an year for a university student (day scholar).

Fourth, Housing

- rent is a major expense (say for two bed room apartment cost$1200 a month (all inclusive), your monthly income will be 1200 or so initially. If you opt for buying one, you need to shred out a quarter (¼) of cost as down payment. The average cost of 2 bed apartment is $ 1,80,000 and townhouse(2,25,000) and independent house (3,00,000) (in the suburbs of Toronto). The monthly mortgage is 1200, 1400, 1600 respectively. Apart from that we have to pay property tax (in some cities higher) and water + electricity charges (say 300 maximum per month).


- It is very good public transport! But once you started going for job, you need a car. It is not expensive to buy a car, but maintenance and insurance are expensive. Insurance for a new driver will be around $ 300 per month, if we opt for an old car.

Sixth, it is expensive

- if you go for any purchase, remember the actual price is 15% more than advertised price. It is tax. However, there is no tax on groceries except ready made (packed) food. Here we say 'In Canada everything is expensive plus 15% more expensive'. If you earn 3,000 a month you get nearly 2400 after deduction, if you earn more, you pay more taxes and retirement contributions. For a salary of 1, 00,000 the take home is around 60,000.

Lay off is another phenomenon here. After a day's work, your employer will kindly and with a full smile say that your services are no longer required since the company is doing not so well!!!

But all these ill effects are related to one reality that is money - a job that brings money. Rest is nice here. A peaceful country, with very diversified population. You feel happy.

What some families do is this. Husband or Wife (usually husband) continues work in the home country, while the other and the children settle here for their education.

Since we arrived in the summer, we feel better adjusted. Apart from the heat, I think summers are better on the whole than the coming 3 months (about winter)!!! January is the coldest, so we have been told. December and February are less cold, and in March, it will be better. Spring starts by April till May-June, summer-July, august-sep, autumn-September to October-November....so the cycle goes. It snowed once in December, after that till today no snow. But it’s very cold. But ok, since it is not windy. (talking about year 2003). But on the whole, we like it here. Once we settle with our own professions,I think life will be much more easier. Right now, we can just afford our expenses. I started work only 50 days back, but I already feel a lot better,even though I am working in the factory, as I can manage our own expenses, like car, internet, rent etc. All these are affordable even to a person with my income!!!

I hope to study MSW by next fall, provided I get admission. I plan to take student loan (OSAP), which we can apply for after one year stay in Ontario. The economy in Canada seems to be boosting, although it is much shorter when compared to US. So, we can hope for more positive changes within the economy. Our son is doing well in school. We had a chance to witness their class sessions for one day, and we are impressed. And for the first time after landing in Canada, we felt happy that we have come here. About the higher grades (classes), we still have to find out more.

I think I will stop now. Only after receiving your replies, will I be able to better clarify things for you. I may not be able to reply immediately, but try to reply ASAP.

With love and prayers


Friday, January 5, 2007

Nothing is free

This advertisement was a real surprize for me... If you buy salad, you get water free...

Am I really outdated? I was thinking that 'water' and 'air' are free for all humanbeings!!

In most part of the world.... if you buy food, they give you water..... it is always free and no gimmicks....

Who is who in Harper’s Cabinet

The cabinet expanded from 27 members to 32 members.....

Who is who in Harper’s Cabinet – updated as on January 5, 2007

  1. Stephen Harper - Prime Minister
  2. Robert Nicholson - Justice and Attorney General of Canada
  3. David Emerson - International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics
  4. Jean-Pierre Blackburn - Labour
  5. Greg Thompson - Veterans Affairs
  6. Marjory LeBreton - Leader of the government in the Senate and Secretary of State (Seniors)
  7. Monte Solberg - Human Resources and Social Development
  8. Chuck Strahl - Agriculture and Agri-food and wheat Board
  9. Gary Lunn - Natural Resources
  10. Peter MacKay - Foreign Affairs
  11. Loyola Hearn - Fisheries and Ocean
  12. Stockwell day - Public Safety
  13. Carol Skelton - National Revenue
  14. Vic Toews - President of the Treasury Board
  15. Rona Ambrose - Intergovernmental Affairs and Western Economic Diversification
  16. Diane Finley - Citizenship and Immigration
  17. Gordon O’Connor - Defence
  18. Bev Oda - Canadian Heritage and Status of Women
  19. Jim Prentice - Indian Affairs and Northern Development and federal interlocutor for M├ętis and Non-Status Indians
  20. John Baird - Environment
  21. Maxime Bernier - Industry
  22. Lawrence Cannon - Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
  23. Tony Clement - Health
  24. Jim Flaherty - Finance
  25. Josee Verner - International Co-operation and Minister for La Francophonie and Official Languages
  26. Michael Fortier - Public Works and Government Services
  27. Peter Van Loan - Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
  28. Jay D. Hill - Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip
  29. Jason Kenney - Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity)
  30. Gerry Ritz - Secretary of State (Small Business and Tourism)
  31. Helena Guergis - Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport)
  32. Christian Paradis - Secretary of State (Agriculture)


The following is my presentation to the Standing Committee on their deliberations on Bill 124, Fair Access to Regulated Profession Act, 2006 (November 21, 2006)


I would like to thank the Hon. Minister of Immigration Mike Colle and South Asian Women’s Centre, Toronto and its executive director, Kripa Sekhar for this opportunity to make a submission on this important topic.

My name is Prasad Nair; I immigrated to Canada in July 2003 with my wife and our 4 year old child. We both have MSW and LLB degrees from India. Before coming to Canada as skilled immigrants, we were both working in the field of Social Work.

I would like to use this opportunity to share my personal experience of surprises here in Canada.

I came to Canada in summer 2003, the moment I stepped out from the Airport, I fell in love with this country, and the brisk air just passed me assured me that I found a good place to live.
After initial settlement, we started our job search... We came to know that the social work profession is controlled in Ontario by Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers. And to be recognized and to practice as a social worker, a registration with OCSWSSW is mandatory. The internationally trained social worker’s qualification is to be assessed by Canadian Association of Social Workers as equivalent to that of a Canadian qualification. Both of us submitted our applications for evaluation.…..

We started our job search also… within a short span of two months, I had generated around 14 interviews…. I got selection as a child protection worker with London CAS and they asked me to provide the CASW equalization….Seemed like life is easy…

Then came my next surprise, my application got rejected and no equalization was granted and the other surprise,….my wife got equalization…. They said in their letter that my qualification is not equal to Canadian social work degree…I have a MSW…. And that not even equal to Canadian BSW…. And no suggestion was given to me about how can I regain my qualification. I called the CASW office…. They said CASW assesses each application separately and independently. That time, I thought it may be because of my electives for MSW are different from my wife….I started asking other immigrant social workers and , I came to know that CASW had given equalization to one of my seniors previously and to another junior later with my same degree and electives.” I pointed this out to CASW authorities; the response was that ‘it may be an honest error’ and they asked me to prove the allegation rather than proactively looking into the matter. How can I do that, I am new to the country… new to the system…. How can I gather evidence against a professional organization? My fellow professionals were not ready to help pointing out that since CASW is saying about honest error… testifying for me may put them at risk of loosing their accreditation. CASW did not provide me any information about how I should challenge that decision. I was wondered at that time ‘‘if CASW has not given accreditation earlier why should they say that it may be an honest error?’’ And as I started studying about the issue, I understood that the independent and separate evaluation of each application creates, at times, dissimilar results for those who studied the same course with the same institution. In my case I lost my hard earned qualification… Again to my surprise, my qualification rejected by CASW was accepted by University of Toronto, York University and World Educational Services as equivalent to a Canadian social work degree.

Agreeing to the terms of fate or destiny…. I started working with a temporary agency in night shifts…day time searching for better jobs… baby sitting…. Cursing my decision of immigrating to Canada.. I saw Engineers, Doctors, Chartered Accountants and other esteemed professional around the globe, sweeping the factory floors, lifting and sorting in our warehouses…and trying to recreate their shattered dreams in this Promised Land.

In many occasions on the past three years, I felt an alienation from this society. I had brought my life savings to this country and I felt that I lost it. Back home I had bank deposit, land, a house and everything and in other words “I never thought about my next day’s food…but here, yes I was afraid about my ability to provide food for my children”. Thanks to the local food banks and their generous help… I stood in their queue for three hours after a whole night’s job to get a basket of food for my children. I was earning 9 dollars an hour and paying a rent of 1200 dollars and a car insurance of 300 dollars per month (a bonus rate for a new immigrant). My wife who was in her third trimester gave birth to our second baby… Another surprise… The odd jobs, unfamiliar work, sole supporter of the family and moreover the trauma of loosing my well merited qualification, my health is on stake…I lost my energy…Me and my wife argued with each other about my decision of immigrating to Canada… At times, we both thinking of ending our lives….Now looking back I know may be we were depressed and our skills as counsellors and social workers may have helped us to overcome that crisis… Now I am thinking about others who may be in other professions….

During that time we decided to pursue studies… here in Canada… For me honestly, I only know social work and the second best I know is to study…. We prepared out applications amidst this stress, the night jobs and job search… The next surprise… York University offered me an admission to their prestigious MSW program…But money..? I applied OSAP… applied for all scholarships, bursaries, started working part time…I spend all my bank balance… I even borrowed money from my relatives… planned to finish the master’s within eight months…. We planned it and we implemented the plan…. I was so interested to take an elective about family mediation… but since it was offered during summer… I had to compromise and had to take an elective in the winter in order to finish the course by summer…. Drove my car alone to the classes in the evenings… and from class room to midnight shifts…

My wife…. Started job search…. As usual not able to find the job… even after her MSW being recognized… she joined with the then newly offered bridging program for the social workers at Ryerson University… Both of us studying… betting ourselves against odds of destiny…. With the support of good friends… we both completed the programs successfully…

My next surprise…. After spending hard worked eight months and life savings…and a total debt of 10, 500 dollars, thanks to the Ontario Student Opportunity Grant… I got job as a child protection worker… the job that I was selected 2 years back and lost because of an unfair assessment….

I made it... but at what cost…. A seat in the University for an Upcoming Professional to do the MSW…. My life savings that I may have invested here otherwise…..The taxes that I would have contributed to the national and provisional exchequers… My time….my energy…. My belief towards the fairness of the system…and the haunting memory of the faces that I met in the factory corridors…. Warehouses….driving seats of taxicabs… further the anger and frustration to know the estimation and reports of agencies like conference board of Canada that not recognizing immigrants' learning and credentials costs our economy somewhere between $3-billion and $5-billion annually..

I am taking this opportunity to congratulate the Honorable Minister for his initiative on Bill 124 to ensure Fair Access to Regulated Professions and thereby helping aspiring immigrant professionals to better integration into our society.

For more information about the new Act visist: FAIR ACCESS TO REGULATED PROFESSIONS ACT, 2006