By Laura Truesdell, Blog Writer

Of all the categories of immigrants accessing the Immigration Loan Program (ILP), approximately 98% are Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) or Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs). A study of the program between 2008 and 2012, prior to the influx of Syrian refugees to Canada, shows that:

  •         43.7% of loan recipients came from countries in West Central Asia or the Middle East; and        
  •         34.6% came from countries in Africa

Between this period, Iraqi nationals accounted for 27% of loan recipients, followed by Afghans with 10% and Ethiopians with 9%. For many of these newly arriving refugees, there are barriers such as  limited job prospects and lack of knowledge of local languages, in addition to the daunting task of paying back their ILP debt  – which can reach totals numbering in the thousands of dollars plus interest. Accordingly, refugees are forced to prioritize gaining low-paying entry level employment in order to pay back their loans  – instead of taking advantage of other essential settlement needs, such as language and job/skills training. The long-term impact of prioritizing loan repayment on these newly arrived families can be significant. As refugees, most arrive in Canada with nothing except the painful memories of past persecution, yet are eager to settle in and contribute to their new home.  Their ability to gain meaningful employment or pursue further education or skills training is compromised, and there is an increased risk of depression and other serious mental health concerns.

Settlement workers who assist immigrants across the country are increasingly spending their time helping refugees renegotiate their loans. They are finding in most cases that it is only the interest that is being waived. There are provisions forgiving ILP loan debt written-off when it is deemed to be truly unrecoverable. Annually, approximately 2,200 loans are requested to be written off. The majority of these were for small outstanding amounts owing (under $25), while other cases included instances where the recipient could not be located, where the measures for collection had been exhausted, or where the recipient was bankrupt, indigent, disabled or deceased.

It has been argued that in addition to waiving the repayment of health examination and travel loans for Syrians, the government should be extending this to refugees of all nationalities residing in Canada who are struggling to repay their debts. With urgently needed reform of Canada’s Immigration Loan Program not forthcoming, it is essential that refugees are aware of and accessing means to alter their repayment schedule or have their loans forgiven entirely.

STAND Canada has nearly doubled its original signature goal for our e-petition demanding that the Government of Canada look into revising the ILP. Help us reach our next target by January 28 by attaching your name to the petition here.

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