Immigration and foreign credentials

Pulat Yunusov

The federal government announced a plan to help immigrants get their foreign credentials recognized. At the heart of this plan is a deal between Ottawa and the provinces to speed up professional licensing applications filed by foreign-trained immigrants. Of course, the new rules will not force private employers to recognize foreign education or work experience, and even provincial licensing bodies will be free to deny any recognition. All the deal seems to promise is reduce wait times for processing of foreign credentials.

Under the Canadian constitution, immigration is mostly Ottawa’s prerogative, and regulation of professions is up to the provinces. So if you want to move to Canada from India, you have to apply to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. But if, on arrival, you want to work as an architect in Toronto, you have to apply for a license to a provincially-appointed body—the Ontario Association of Architects. In Canada, provinces are sovereign and independent from the federal government within their constitutionally set area of control. That’s why Ottawa cannot order provinces to recognize foreign credentials. And provinces cannot order Ottawa what immigrants to accept. A lack of coordination between the federal and provincial governments can leave immigrant doctors, nurses, or engineers driving cabs in Canadian cities. The latest deal is supposed to address this problem.

But this deal has limitations. Apparently, it covers only admission to regulated professions: architecture, nursing, engineering, etc. It does not guarantee admission to foreign-trained workers. Its purpose is to speed up processing of foreign credentials to see if they meet Canadian standards. Another limitation is that foreign doctors will not qualify for this program for up to three more years. And even if their credentials are recognized, foreign-trained doctors will still need to find internships, which are in short supply. The program doesn’t cover foreign-trained lawyers at all, although they can qualify for a separate arduous accreditation mechanism at least in Ontario.

Any news of fewer professional roadblocks is good news for immigrants. And the public interest certainly requires protection of Canadian standards of professional practice. But the announced program is a narrow step aimed at relatively few new arrivals. It will hardly help hundreds of thousands whose resumes end up in the shredder because of no “Canadian experience” or because their names don’t sound right. That kind of help requires not a government decree but a culture shift.

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