IAF is a grassroots effort started in 2003 by a group of community builders led by Dr. Maria Eriksen who saw the need to help newcomers who face many barriers to employment in Canada.
The group collaborated with the Alberta Network of Immigrant Women to research the issues around immigrant employment. It was determined that:
- Immigrant women require flexible credit, particularly for licensing, upgrading, and training.
- There was no existing micro loan facility in Alberta to serve this need.
- Immigrants also require training, support networks, and information to help them succeed as newcomers to Canada.
Though women were the focus of the study, additional information revealed that immigrant men also require this type of service.
Their study concluded that satisfying the requirements of professional associations, regulatory bodies, and apprenticeship boards present considerable obstacles to immigrants trying to obtain Canadian licensing and training. Most immigrants need to find work quickly to cover living costs and cannot afford expensive re-qualifying programs, nor to repeat their formal training.
In addition, their lack of credit history, collateral, or suitable employment limits their access to traditional credit sources. Since student loans in most provinces in Canada support those who are enrolled in full-time studies, they are usually not an option for immigrants who need only to take part-time studies or write qualifying exams.
The group determined that a micro loan program designed specifically to help immigrants fund the licensing and training they need to securing employment in their profession or trade, would address a key gap in services for immigrants and respond to an immediate and growing need for skills in Alberta.
Though immigrants faced other more systemic obstacles to licensing, removing the financial obstacle moves them one step closer to success, and to ultimately making their best possible contribution to the economic and social success of Canada.
The name Immigrant Access Fund was chosen for the project. The IAF opened its door in Calgary in 2005 and expanded to Edmonton in 2007. As the need for loans elsewhere became apparent, the program expanded to Saskatchewan in 2012, and became Canada-wide in 2014. This expansion was accomplished through three affiliated organizations, IAF Alberta, IAF Saskatchewan and IAF Canada.
In the spring of 2014, the IAF family carried out a strategy review, which led to the decision that the IAF program, and the people it lends to, would be best served if IAF’s structure were unified and its governance streamlined.
As of April 1, 2015, the three IAF organizations—Immigrant Access Fund Society of Alberta, Immigrant Access Fund Saskatchewan Inc., Immigrant Access Fund of Canada Inc.—amalgamated.
The IAF program is now delivered through a single entity under the name Immigrant Access Fund Canada.
So far, IAF has approved about $17 million in loans to 2,700 immigrants in different occupations across Canada. The loan program has been proven to help improve the employment outcomes for individuals it has helped. A recent survey of IAF loan recipients reported that 88% of those who completed their program or training plan are working in their field at the same level or above what they had before immigrating to Canada.
IAF is made possible by the generous support of provincial and federal governments, private donors and line of credit guarantors who are committed to helping Canada’s skilled immigrants find work that matches their skills and experience.