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Systemic barriers keeping foreign nurses from filling shortages

October 24, 2021

By Toronto Star |

While the majority of foreign nurses in Canada hail from the Philippines, a significant number of them work as caregivers due to systemic barriers within Canada’s immigration policy.

It’s quite an open secret that migrant caregivers en masse are vastly overeducated and devalued in their work. In 2016, 43 per cent of immigrant caregivers admitted to Canada held a university degree, higher than the national average, based on figures provided to New Canadian Media by Statistics Canada. Of this group, 31 per cent did their degree in nursing or in other health-related fields.

And yet, according to a Statistics Canada report, 67 per cent of nursing graduates from the Philippines are considered to be overqualified for their current jobs. Among migrant caregivers, 45 per cent of university graduates in nursing or other health fields do not work in health care occupations at all.

“It is very much well-documented that women from the Philippines overwhelmingly have high levels of education,” University of Calgary assistant professor, Naomi Lightman, told New Canadian Media. “There’s certainly a high proportion of women who are coming with degrees in the healthcare industry.”

Some figures estimate that as many as 44 per cent of caregivers worked as nurses prior to migrating to Canada. Their expertise provides a window of opportunity to alleviate some of the pressure facing Canada’s understaffed hospitals.

Lesly, an immigrant from the Philippines whose full name has been withheld due to concerns of reprisal from her employer, has worked as a live-in caregiver for a Montreal family since 2018.
Prior to arriving in Quebec, Lesly worked as a nurse in the Philippines, Taiwan and Singapore for over a decade. Due to barriers in international nursing accreditation in Canada, she made the decision to temporarily leave her profession and take on caregiving, which offered an expedited immigration process for skilled health care workers like her.

Federally, foreign caregivers are eligible to transition from temporary to permanent status once they hold at least two years of work experience in their capacity as a caregiver in Canada. Permanent status allows caregivers to reunite with their families and gives them the option to work in other occupations. For Lesly, this change in status would allow her to return to her original job as a nurse once she receives her licence in Quebec.

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