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Canada needs to speed up the integration of skilled immigrants

April 11, 2021

About 18 months ago, I met Ashraf, when he responded to my click for an Uber. His sunny disposition was striking in contrast to his story. Ashraf had been a successful dental surgeon in Sudan for years before the dictatorship issued a death warrant and he’d been forced to flee with his pregnant wife and daughters.

When I met him that morning, Ashraf had just started his shift, after spending the night in the ICU with his new baby. Ashraf made light of his hardships, and the juggling required to put food on the table, with a sick child, in a new country. “I can’t practice as a dental surgeon in Canada, so my only option is driving. My wife teases me because I only know how to do two things, driving and dentistry.”

Most of us have met someone like Ashraf — a highly skilled immigrant who isn’t able to put their talent to work in Canada.  It’s time we changed that.

Each year, Canada welcomes hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the majority of them skilled. But too often, newcomers can’t put their professional skills to work here, even when they are needed to fill labour shortages in health care and other sectors.

Before the pandemic, an RBC report estimated that the underemployment of immigrants cost Canada about $20 billion annually in lost productivity. Today, the costs are felt acutely not just in economic terms but also in human terms: missing skills in hospitals, care homes, pharmacies and laboratories.

Before the pandemic, Employment and Social Development Canada  projected a shortage 160,000 registered nurses between 2017 and 2026, a shortage that has worsened over the past decade and is dire today. COVID-19 has created a shortage of professionals able to administer vaccinations as well as medical technologists to keep pace with the need for laboratory testing.

Too many immigrants who have these skills — or could quickly acquire them — are driving cars, cleaning homes and working retail.

We need to ensure that newcomers who aspire to work in health care and other licensed professions have the skills to match Canadian standards, but also to ensure that the costs of meeting those standards are not needlessly high.

If newcomers don’t attain Canadian credentials, their prospects are bleak.

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