Students and staff at a culturally diverse Edmonton college say many who come to Canada for work often face challenges to advance their careers.

The students and staff at NorQuest College, who rallied together Thursday to speak out against racism, say the downturn in the economy is making some employers think twice about hiring immigrants.

“When you think about the downturn in the economy, the reality is that sometimes those hidden prejudices kind of come to the surface on a more global basis,” said Elaine McPhee, a NorQuest co-ordinator.

About 60 per cent of the school’s students are from outside North America and dozens of languages are spoken in the halls.

“We know (the challenges) are a reality for students who come here,” said McPhee, who added there are a number of programs available to help newcomers in Edmonton.

“In order to have healthy markets, we need to be utilizing our newcomers to their full potential.”

A new report from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities suggests immigrants to Canada are highly educated, but will never meet their potential.

The report says working-age immigrants are twice as likely to have degrees, but are four times more likely to be unemployed and are less likely to benefit from their education.

“Racism doesn’t exist — it only exists in a person’s mind,” said NorQuest student Ammad Jutt. “Once a newcomer comes to Canada, their education is suddenly different. I have known people, who were doctors in Pakistan, but they come here and they’re nursing assistants.”

The federation is urging Ottawa and provincial governments to do more in recognizing foreign credentials.

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