By Claudia Hepburn
Talent is in short supply globally and countries that prioritize the attraction, development and labour market integration of qualified workers will be best positioned to compete.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of them highly skilled, choose to make Canada their home. However, far too often they struggle to find work in their chosen professions and face significant financial and regulatory barriers. This not only impacts their ability to fully integrate into the Canadian labour market but also slows down the economy in sectors where their skills, training and experience are desperately needed.
This policy short sightedness not only affects real people and their families, but puts a damper on growth. Thankfully, new Ontario legislation may help speed up the process to licencing for skilled immigrants—but many feel it does not go far enough.
The prohibitive costs of relicensing
I recently met Moez, a qualified pharmacist who immigrated from India to Canada back in 2015. Despite working two jobs and packaging orders at restaurants in Calgary, Moez was unable to save enough money to pay for the high cost of the relicensing that would enable him to practice pharmacy.
Sadly, his story is very common among immigrants to Canada. We have all heard or personally met internationally trained doctors, nurses and engineers who make a living driving taxis, doing domestic work or waiting tables because they simply find it too difficult to acquire their Canadian re- certifications.
At the same time, our country is facing severe generational labour shortages in critical sectors such as health care. We need doctors, nurses, pharmacists and many other skilled professionals across the country. According to Statistics Canada, one out of five vacancies posted in the first quarter of this year was in the health care and social assistance sector. Many other sectors of our economy are facing similar growing labour shortages.
A move to faster employability
It goes without saying that the pandemic has played havoc with vital health care occupations and caused additional delays in application processes, the conducting of clinical practicums and the offering of exams. Today we are at a critical juncture with our ability to employ skilled immigrants to fill these gaps becoming increasingly essential to our economic recovery post-COVID-19.
The good news is that recent legislation in Ontario amending The Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act will significantly reduce barriers for skilled newcomers. This first-of-its-kind legislation in the country will help eliminate the current Canadian work experience requirements for certain professional registrations and licences along with reducing the duplication of official language proficiency testing.
While this legislation is a positive step forward, we also need to continue addressing the financial barriers many newcomers face in the process. Relicensing costs are often too high, and documentation can take years to complete. Prior to the proposed changes, the process for internationally trained nurses to get relicensed in Canada would take up to five years and cost up to $15,000, while internationally trained physiotherapists could be forced to spend upwards of $25,000 over three years to achieve their independent license to practice.
The happiest of endings
Let’s return to Moez. Fortunately he was referred to our national charity, Windmill Microlending, where he was able to obtain both the advice, and the financial support, to get the certification he needed to become a pharmacist in Canada. He is now employed by Public Health Alberta and works specifically in COVID-19 case investigations.
Organizations like ours can help newcomers by providing affordable loans, coaching, mentoring and help them get the credentials they need to jumpstart their careers here. In fact, over 50 per cent of the workers who ask for support end up employed in the health care sector—a windfall for Canada and a windfall for newcomers.
A national call to action
It is time that we all do more to support innovative solutions to ensure skilled immigrants and refugees can put their talents to use where they are critically needed. The new legislation tabled by the Government of Ontario is certainly a good start in the right direction.
Claudia Hepburn is CEO of Windmill Microlending, a national charity that empowers skilled immigrants to achieve economic prosperity through microloans and supports.
Over the past 16 years Windmill has provided over 6,000 loans to immigrants, newcomers and refugees across the country and facilitated their labour market integration, helping them more than triple their original incomes on average, when they gain full-time employment.