March 30, 2010
Toronto Star

Nicholas Keung

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Gurmeet Bambrah, a foreign-trained civil engineer with a doctorate and 20 years’ experience, couldn’t get hired for entry-level jobs in Canada.

Despite years of promises by the McGuinty government, immigrant professionals in Ontario are still finding it nearly impossible to crack through regulatory barriers and find jobs in the fields for which they were trained and for which they were accepted into Canada.

It’s so bad that 1 in 10 has simply given up trying to get a professional licence, a groundbreaking study done by the province’s Office of the Fairness Commissioner shows.

Skilled immigrants earn less than half, on average, of what their Canadian-educated counterparts earn.

Only one in four manages to obtain a licence in one of Ontario’s 37 regulated professions, compared with 60 per cent of Canadian grads. And that licence may take two years to get, compared with less than a year for native-born Canadians.

Those findings, to be released Tuesday, put some hard numbers on the deep frustration many newcomers experience.

“The sticky point was the one year of Canadian work experience (required). I applied to some companies but they said I was overqualified for the entry-level jobs,” recalls Gurmeet Bambrah, who came to Canada from Kenya in 2001 with 20 years of civil engineering experience and a doctorate from the Loughborough University of Technology in England.

She immediately began licensing applications, completing a course and the professional practice and ethics exam with ease. But no luck. “I kept following up and eventually just gave up.”

Bambrah ended up working as a coordinator for the 2,800-member Council for Access to the Profession of Engineering, an advocacy group for internationally trained engineers.

The province set up the fairness office in 2006 to ensure that regulatory bodies like those governing the engineering profession would have “transparent, objective, impartial and fair” licensing practices.

The study obtained by the Star, which involved detailed surveys and focus groups, is the first to paint a comprehensive picture of the contrasting experiences of professionals trained in Canada and internationally.

Some 3,784 people in Toronto, London and Ottawa in all 37 regulated professions were contacted; 2,442 responded, two-thirds of them immigrants, and 90 per cent had arrived here after 2000.

“Internationally trained individuals (ITIs) need to be better informed prior to arriving in Canada of the importance of having all of their required documents as these are more difficult to obtain from within Canada – leading to a longer and more frustrating application process,” says the 143-page report.

“The requirement of some regulatory bodies for Canadian experience is perceived as a particularly difficult challenge for ITIs … if regulatory bodies require Canadian experience, there should be a requirement of employers to provide it.”

Each year, Canada accepts 250,000 immigrants. Of those, 64 per cent come in under the economic class: skilled professionals, entrepreneurs and investors.

Among the foreign-trained professionals surveyed – everything from audiologists to foresters, lawyers and veterinarians – 26 per cent were unemployed.

That was triple the number of those trained in Canada.

Almost one-third of these skilled immigrants earned less than $25,000 a year.

Ironically, in a province facing a shortage of health professionals, people in health-related fields were less likely to complete the licensing process (just 18 per cent) compared with those in engineering (28 per cent) or other non-health fields (33 per cent).

One out of 10 surveyed had stopped the licensing journey because the process was too long, complex and expensive.

Seventy-one per cent of Canadian graduates had three years of Canadian experience in their fields, but only 31 per cent of immigrant graduates did.

“I think that the problem with (international) work experience is that it’s not recognized; and it is not recognized because there is not objective criteria behind it,” said one focus group member.

“I was a straight-A student in law school. I took all the classes, the same core classes that every Canadian law student takes … I don’t know that anybody actually looked at the stack of paper I sent them. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. There is no transparency there.”

About 13 per cent of foreign-trained professionals completed a career-bridging program to fill their gaps in knowledge, skills and experience, though 35 per cent didn’t think they needed it.

Fairness commissioner Jean Augustine plans to release recommendations Tuesday that will go to regulatory bodies, credential assessment agencies, the province and immigrants with a background in a regulated profession.


Reference: Toronto Star