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Proposed bill could help more skilled newcomers enter Waterloo region workforce

New legislation to remove barriers for skilled immigrants can help local economy and community

The Ontario government proposed legislation that it says would help remove barriers for skilled newcomers looking to get licensed in certain regulated professions.

The Ontario government proposed legislation that it says would help remove barriers for skilled newcomers looking to get licensed in certain regulated professions.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Katherine Holland

RCI

The Ontario government has proposed legislation it says would help remove barriers for skilled newcomers looking to get licensed in certain regulated professions.

Dave Thomas, the connector manager for the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre's WR Connectors program, says this is a good first step in recognizing the value of skilled immigrants.

I think we have maybe stumbled a bit in our ability to really appreciate the value of the skills and training and experience that people bring from abroad, Thomas said in an interview. It may be that the standards that other people meet really aren't that much different than ours.

Applying for Canadian credentials for foreign equivalent certificates is often a time-consuming and expensive process that many internationally trained workers can't complete, Thomas said. 

A lot of people who may have years of experience, solid education, licensing and training in those fields — they arrive in Canada, and often they have to face a lot of barriers before they're able to resume practicing at that level in those fields, he said.

Finding work harder for immigrants

Data shows that currently, immigrants have a harder time than Canadian-born workers finding jobs, despite often having higher levels of education.

According to the Region of Waterloo's 2019 Immigration Profile (new window), recent immigrants were twice as likely as established immigrants and Canadian-born individuals to be unemployed. 

In the region, similar proportions of recent immigrants and established immigrants (58 per cent and 61 per cent, respectively) participated in the labour force, which was below the rate for Canadian-born individuals (72 per cent). 

This is despite the fact recent immigrants have a higher level of educational attainment than established immigrants and Canadian-born individuals in Waterloo region. 

As well, 57 per cent of recent immigrants have a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree compared to 55 per cent of established immigrants and 51 per cent of Canadian-born individuals. 

Help to address labour shortage

In Waterloo region specifically, Thomas says he could see this potential bill helping the manufacturing and construction industries, which are the first and seventh biggest employment industries in the area, according to the regional municipality.

From what I've heard from a number of employers, there are shortages in the construction field and also some of the skilled positions in manufacturing, [and] that employers are really feeling the crunch because they're having difficulty just meeting production.

The region's 2019 immigration profile showed recent immigrants (16 per cent) were more likely to work in manufacturing and utilities occupations than established immigrants (12 per cent) and Canadian-born individuals (seven per cent).

Details of legislation

According to the government, the proposed changes would:

  • largely eliminate Canadian work experience requirements for professional registration and licensing.
  • reduce duplication in official language proficiency testing.
  • allow applicants to register faster in their regulated professions when there are emergencies (such as a pandemic) that create an urgent need for certain jobs.
  • ensure the licensing process is completed in a timely manner. 

Affected sectors include law, accounting, architecture, engineering, electrical. 

Many of the included sectors are facing labour shortages in the province and throughout the country. 

However, healthcare is not included in the bill. The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has stated it will work with the Ministry of Health to assess if these proposed changes can also be made for health professions.

Looking to the future

Martin Basiri, who was an international student from Iran, started ApplyBoard to help other international students find educational opportunities at institutions around the world. 

Two years ago, the company was at 300 employees and was hiring foreign-trained workers to fill vacant positions.

Now, the company has grown to 1,400 employees around the world. Basiri says 900 of them are in Canada, with more than 50 per cent of them being foreign-trained immigrants. And still, the growth hasn't been enough.

We have over 300 seats [with] positions that are open, said Basiri. [In] the current environment, even though we haven't recovered as an economy completely from COVID, the talent pool is very, very tight.

He says the bill is desperately needed to help attract workers into the country compared to other destinations.

This is a critical moment for Canada to decide — do we want the future to happen here or elsewhere? said Basiri, whose company is based in Kitchener. Because the rest of the world is not gonna stop for Canada to make a decision.

Basiri says he welcomes the bill and is encouraging the Ontario government to push for similar legislation for other sectors.

This legislation is a good step forward because it can help people from outside say, if I go and do ABC, I am going to be back in my career. We definitely don't want to bring a good electrician or a doctor and turn them into a security guard or an Uber driver, he said.

Thomas says he hopes legislation can also become more flexible in case skilled workers are unable to show documentation for their credentials, due to civil circumstances or access to technology.

It makes sense to have high standards. But I think we need to recognize that lots of other countries meet those standards or come close, and the goal should be to try to help people be able to practice as quickly as possible, Thomas said.

Vanessa Balintec (new window) · CBC News 

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