Will the labour crisis teach Canada to respect foreign credentials?

By Sabrina Almeida

Last week the federal government announced a significant increase in immigration numbers with the goal of welcoming half a million permanent residents by 2025! Several Canadians weren’t happy with this news. They were concerned  about whether our struggling economy could absorb over a million more people in the next three years.

Is the labour crisis real or made up, some asked? Perhaps these are the fortunate few who haven’t struggled to find a family physician for months or waited for over 12 hours at an ER.

Yes, it’s definitely real if a family member is a burnt out nurse who has been called in to work on their off days for months. I know several young nurses who quit within a year because they couldn’t take the pressure. Many senior doctors have also retired because increased job demands during the pandemic took a toll on their physical and mental health. They didn’t think it was worth it. The result is a bigger burden on the health care professionals who stayed. And so, longer wait times have worsened the medical conditions of many patients.

The health care system has been struggling for years, the pandemic simply spotlighted its inadequacies and accelerated the decline. For instance, there’s always been a hospital capacity problem in Brampton. How can one hospital support the needs of a city with over 650,000 people? A friend who lost her brother to COVID-19 and several others who shared similar stories in the media had a heart-breaking first hand experience no one should have to endure. It took the pandemic to acknowledge Brampton’s severe health care problem.

Even though the pandemic may have eased a bit,  staffing shortages have worsened prompting fears of a total collapse if case numbers start rising again this winter. The panic is evident from the periodic shutdowns of overburdened ERs across Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador’s plan to establish a nurse recruitment office in Bengaluru to fill the gap. Meanwhile Saskatchewan is looking to recruit health workers from the Philippines and Ontario is speeding up the nurse and doctor accreditation process.

Isn’t it ironic that while hospitals struggle to staff their units, thousands of foreign-trained nurses and doctors have waited years for their credentials to be recognized? 

Several gave up their medical careers and accepted whatever jobs they could find, like driving taxis and trucks, to support their families. This is not just their loss but Canada’s too.

While health care staffing shortages are having the most visible impact, it is not the only industry that is struggling to fill vacant positions. A Statistics Canada (StatsCan) report published in June showed construction, manufacturing, accommodation, and food services were all experiencing labour shortfalls of close to fifty per cent. The problem was expected to continue for the next few months, according to the national statistical agency. Low wages were seen to be a major factor for the labour shortage in these sectors. Which brings us to the reason the labour market seems to have improved for new immigrants. It’s because many Canadians have refused the low-paying jobs newcomers are willing to accept.

“While economic outcomes of recent immigrants have improved, substantial challenges related to their skill utilization continue to persist,” the same StatsCan report acknowledged. “From 2001 to 2016, the percentage of university-educated recent immigrants working in jobs requiring a university degree decreased from 46% to 38%,” it stated. “In comparison, the percentage of workers in jobs requiring a university degree stayed close to 60% among young (25 to 34 years) Canadian-born workers with at least a bachelor’s degree”.

That explains why warehousing and manufacturing operations have a large number of new immigrants and international students on their rosters when compared to Canadian-educated employees. It also tells us that the federal government’s plan to increase immigration to fill gaps in labour is logical.

“More than 200,000 people have left the workforce since March, resulting in the labour force participation rate dropping to 64.7 per cent,” revealed an RSM report ‘The Real Economy, Canada’ published in October.

But as Canada opens its doors to more and more new residents, one hopes that it will be more respectful of their professional credentials. “Canadian experience” can be gained on the job, not from the sidelines. Let’s not use it as a tool to relegate them to low-paying jobs.

“For professionals trained abroad, the road to accreditation to practice in Canada is fraught with red tape, designed to stop and discourage rather than facilitate,” the RSM report pointed out.

The accreditation process must be streamlined to absorb this new talent and motivate more skilled professionals to make Canada their home. Until this happens immigrants will not be able to make a meaningful contribution to the labour force and economic growth that they were brought here for.

If immigrants are critical to the health and wealth of Canada, we shouldn’t devalue their credentials!

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