One of the biggest challenges facing adult immigrants is the way professions are regulated in Canada. Provincial licensing bodies often won’t recognize foreign-trained professionals, which leaves them scrambling to find new careers in this country.
Ashton College in downtown Vancouver helps fill the breach. It offers accredited programs in a variety of fields—such as a diploma in interrnational business, certified financial planner program, diploma in human resources management, and certificate of business English—as well as its diploma in immigration consulting.
“In B.C. alone, probably over 50 percent of licensed immigration consultants graduated from Ashton College,” Francis Ng, the incoming chief executive of the Vancouver campus, told the Straight by phone.
For full-time students, it takes four months to complete the immigration-consultant course at Ashton College. Ng said that part-time students can get through in six or seven months, provided they pass their tests and complete 320 hours in the classroom.
“Once they graduate, they have many opportunities,” Ng stated.
Potential employers include Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Canadian Border Services Agency, the provincial nominee program, the Immigration and Refugee Board, nongovernmental organizations like the Red Cross or MOSAIC, and international colleges.
“That’s because all their student advisers need to be licensed nowadays,” he said.
Because Canada often makes changes to the rules around immigration, consultants have to keep an eye on the federal government website, because new policies aren’t always accompanied by official announcements. “It’s like reading bedtime stories every night,” Ng quipped.
Ng is a former deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, former director of the B.C. Trade Development Corporation, and former project coordinator for the United Nations Development Porgram. Over his career, he's been stationed in many countries, including the Philippines, Bahrain, Indonesia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and China.
This has given him deep insights into many cultures, which helps him in his job at Ashton College, given its diverse student body.
"Our students are like a mini United Nations," he said. "In one class, you will have seven or eight ethnic groups."
Ng said that many highly educated immigrants come to Canada and end up driving a taxi, working warehouses, or doing other jobs that might not require many skills. He feels that he can motivate them to rise higher, but it requires them to get their mindset out of the old country.
"You have to start fresh," he stated. "Forget your past. Then you just re-educate yourself and fit into the Canadian market and you're fine."
Ashton College was established in 1998 as a small private school focusing on English as an additional language. It slowly evolved into a career-training institute and forged relationships with various regulatory bodies that license professionals in Canada.
Ng said that the federal regulator won't allow anybody to to teach in the immigration-consulting program unless they have a minimum of five years experience in the field.
On occasion, the school has helped immigrants who don't have enough money to hire a consultant. According to Ng, this helps students learn from real cases. He's planning to create a clinic at the college to provide this assistance in a systematic way, which could be a first for a private college in Canada.
"We want to be able to help NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] like SUCCESS and MOSAIC because there are so many people who cannot afford this," Ng said. "We will help them by giving them consultation. At the same time, we want to make it like an incubator to train the new consultants."