Overcoming Barriers: The Mentorship Initiative for Foreign Trained Professionals

Akbar Durrani

Akbar Durrani arrived in Canada with his family last year. Working as a lawyer for the Supreme Court in Pakistan for 21 years, Akbar believed that his extensive experience in Law and Human Rights advocacy would allow for an easy transition to the Canadian workforce. However, after arriving in Canada, Akbar began to face many barriers in accessing employment, particularly in his chosen field. Beyond the need for his foreign credentials to be recognized, Akbar found it difficult to even secure entry-level positions. Employers demanded ‘Canadian experience’ despite his portfolio of qualifications and the 21 years of professional work in Pakistan.

After visiting some community agencies to seek assistance in overcoming these barriers, Akbar was referred to the FCJ Refugee Centre for volunteer work. A settlement worker was familiar with the programs at the Centre and thought it matched well with his needs. And they weren’t wrong. Upon meeting the Centre’s co-directors, Loly Rico and Francisco Rico-Martinez, Akbar felt the underlying philosophies of the Centre were well aligned with his values of human rights and social justice. A week later, Akbar began the Mentorship Initiative for Foreign Professionals, a new program funded by The Law Foundation of Ontario.

This program allowed Akbar to gain competency and develop a deeper understanding of issues affecting immigrants and refugees in a Canadian context. It allowed him to develop his previous experience and identify its relevance in Canada. Akbar spent five months attending workshops and conferences, learning how to navigate the Canadian immigration and refugee systems, and support clients through these processes.

As a result of his proficiency and level of professionalism in this program, Akbar was recently hired as an Intake and Case Management Worker at the FCJ Refugee Centre. He feels that this is the perfect transitional job to help him reach his future goals. Akbar plans to continue to develop his skill sets within a human rights framework, while waiting to take his exams to receive a certificate of qualification, and eventually take the Bar exam. He feels that this position in a community agency will allow him to diversify his skills and expose him to different areas of the law that relate to immigrant and refugee populations. Without the Mentoring Initiative for Foreign Trained Professionals, and the generosity of the Foundation, Akbar would probably not be on the same trajectory to success.

The FCJ Refugee Centre is training internationally-trained lawyers, counsellors, and social service workers as part of its Immigration and Refugee Mentoring Initiative. Once trained, in addition to providing services at the Centre, volunteers will be placed in partner organizations such as the Barbra Schlifer Clinic and settlement agencies.