On Wednesday, June 10, the Uptown branch of Why Should I Care gathered to discuss a major issue affecting Canadian society – Canada’s failure to recognize foreign credentials. We were joined by special guests Art Noordeh, director of the Internationally Educated Professionals Bridging Program at York University, and Omar Lujan, a PhD candidate at Ryerson University studying Mexican immigration in Toronto from a policy and citizenship perspective. The evening’s conversation focused on how this issue is affecting internationally trained professionals and Canadian society, and what can be done to address the challenges.
What is the current situation?
The Value and Success of Bridging Programs
Art Noordeh kicked off the evening by discussing the bridging programs that York offers to help internationally trained professionals integrate into the Canadian workforce. Skilled immigrants are given entry into Canada because they have education and experience that the government deems useful to the economy; however, as Noordeh pointed out, many employers believe that internationally trained individuals are not familiar with the business culture, customs and law of Canada. Recognizing this issue, the federal and provincial government have established bridging programs to alleviate these perceived barriers.
According to Noordeh, many people enter bridging programs only to find a job in their field prior to completing the program. Others finish the program because they see completion as a valuable to employers. Overall, Noordeh said that approximately 60% of those enlisted in his bridging program have found jobs in their field – a notable success, given the job market in recent years.
“If they don’t like it, they can leave.”
Omar Lujan, a PhD candidate at Ryerson University studying Mexican immigration in Toronto, looked at the issue from a historical and cultural perspective. Lujan began by going over the changes that have occurred in Canada’s immigration policy and pointed out that immigrant workers’ skills have been chronically under-recognized. Canada has no problem attracting experienced and driven internationally-trained professionals; according to Lujan, the real challenge is that Canada has difficulty retaining them.
There is a perception amongst some Canadians that by permitting individuals to immigrate, we are doing them a favour. Lujan summarized this mentality with a quote that some of us may have heard before – “if they don’t like it, they can leave.” Lujan argued that this belief is illogical because it is Canadian society that stands to lose the most in this situation. Lujan’s research indicates that internationally trained workers are highly engaged in their communities and eager to contribute to Canadian society. Retaining skilled internationally trained individuals, he argued, is a necessary competitive advantage in a post-globalization world economy.
Questions from the audience, half of whom identified themselves as internationally trained individuals, led to some interesting dialogue.
Addressing the misconceptions
One participant asked what could be done to counter the belief held by some employers that foreign trained employees are “cheaper” than their Canadian trained counterparts. Noordeh felt that this perception should be addressed by educating employers.
On the other hand, Lujan emphasized that these perceptions are to be expected, as immigration is a process. Lujan pointed out how immigrant populations in Toronto, such as Italians, have overcome systemic barriers over time. Lujan believes this can be achieved by other immigrant communities by collaborating and maximizing resources to build organized networks of support.
Are there enough jobs for everyone?
Another major question was whether or not the Canadian economy could sustain locally and internationally trained graduates. Noordeh clarified that new graduates from local institutions and internationally trained individuals are not in direct competition for positions. Most internationally trained individuals are experienced workers that are aiming for mid-level management roles – openings that were supposed to be created due to the number of Baby Boomers that are retiring. Ultimately, everyone is being affected by the difficult job market, Noordeh said.
Finally, an internationally trained audience member expressed frustration with her experience in Canada. She has been unable to find work, despite having been educated in a high demand field and being fluent in English and French. She expressed a feeling that she had been lied to since the Canadian government’s website lists her skills as high demand. Noordeh and Lujan both responded that this is unfortunately the reality, given the economy and Canada’s dependence on attracting immigrants in order to grow the population. Lujan encouraged internationally trained individuals to be entrepreneurial and focus on building their communities.
Lujan closed the discussion with a grim observation. The United States, he said, is less welcoming to immigrants from the outside, but treats immigrants better once they get there; unfortunately, Canada does the opposite.