Lower hurdles for foreign professions

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Mon Apr 05 2010

It makes no sense that an engineer with bachelor and master degrees has to locate a transcript from a high school in Africa before he can be licensed to work in Ontario.

Anecdotal cases such as this have long served to illustrate the lengthy, costly and unnecessary difficulties foreign-trained professionals face in getting clearance to work in their fields here.

The real value, then, in the report released last week by Ontario’s fairness commissioner is that it goes beyond anecdotes and quantifies the depth of the problem.

Jean Augustine’s report, Clearing the Path, clearly shows that, despite promised change, Ontario’s 37 regulated professions – from doctors and nurses to accountants and engineers – are still throwing up “too many hoops to jump (through), too many barriers.”

The result: only 44 per cent of foreign-trained professionals are currently employed in their fields compared with 76 per cent of their Canadian-trained counterparts.

The time for change is long past overdue. Canada urges skilled immigrants to come here; our immigration points system is skewed toward professionals and assures them that their skills are in demand. Ontario, with a shortage of skilled workers and an aging population, needs skilled immigrants to find places in their professions.

Yet when they get here, many of them hit a wall of bureaucracy in the form of professional regulatory bodies, which have little incentive to admit newcomers.

Some of Augustine’s 17 recommendations echo previous calls for changes in the onerous demands for Canadian work experience and for faster decision-making. If implemented as a package, her recommendations would result in real improvements for skilled immigrants and for our economy.

One recommendation would cost nothing: that clear information be posted on regulatory body websites about the average length of time the licensing process takes and the fees involved.

It would also make sense to allow immigrants to clear some regulatory hurdles before they even arrive in Canada.

Augustine also calls for stricter oversight of the third-party assessment agencies that are often used to determine whether academic credentials are equivalent, to assess skills, and to run exams. These agencies directly affect the outcomes for foreign-trained professionals, so they should be held accountable.

In introducing legislation to establish the office of the fairness commissioner in 2006, Premier Dalton McGuinty declared: “We’re on the side of hardworking newcomers who want to work in their fields of expertise.” There have been some improvements made since then. But skilled immigrants still face unnecessary barriers to get licensed, and they earn far less than their Canadian-educated counterparts do. Some are so disillusioned they say that, had they known how bad it would be, they never would never have come.

Augustine rightly calls that an “alarming” message that Ontario cannot afford to ignore.

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