To obtain a licence to practise in any regulated occupation, newcomers to Canada need to have their foreign credentials recognized by a responsible provincial regulatory body. Although the situation differs from province to province, the process is widely recognized as unjust, expensive and lengthy.

Various provincial and federal initiatives have attempted to resolve the issues since the 1980s.

For example, an evaluation of the federal foreign credential recognition program that aimed to simplify and coordinate foreign credentials recognition and provide loans concluded that skilled newcomers still face a long and complicated process.

Applicants are often forced to spend years in the process. In some cases, they become desperate and take low-skilled jobs to support themselves and their families. Many eventually give up on obtaining their licence and restarting their professional careers in Canada. The problem also hurts all Canadians by effectively reducing the economic contribution of newcomers and their capacity to fill gaps in sectors hard hit by labour shortages.

There is a need to cut down processing time, simplify the application process and make the Canadian work experience more accessible – essentially addressing many of the previously identified barriers encountered by highly skilled newcomers. Those barriers do not only harm the Canadian economy, they contribute to newcomers earning significantly less than the Canadian-born, which harms their mental health, life satisfaction and desire to remain in the country.

An attempt to close a catch-22

The most recent attempt to help solve this problem is the International Credentials Recognition Act, introduced by the B.C. government in November. Premier David Eby says it is intended to fast-track applicants to help fill at least one-third of the one million expected job openings in the province in the next decade.

Andrew Mercier, minister of state for workforce development, describes the legislation as a great advance, saying “We’re making the process fairer and more transparent, so all qualified professionals can work in their chosen fields.”

However, despite some innovative characteristics, the legislation still leaves a lot of loose threads hanging and provides relief to only a small number of professions covered by fewer than half of existing regulatory bodies.

To understand the scope of its limitations, we must first go through the five main changes that the act has introduced.

First, the legislation creates the position of superintendent of international credential recognition, whose job will be to promote fair credential recognition, monitor the performance of regulatory authorities and enforce compliance with the new legislation.

Second, regulatory authorities will have only 14 days after making a decision on credentials to communicate that decision to the applicant – a provision that creates a strict timeline that did not exist previously.

Third, the act attempts to close a “catch-22” by forbidding regulatory bodies from requiring Canadian work experience before approving an applicant’s credentials.

Fourth, the act confronts the issue of overly strict proof of language proficiency by allowing the acceptance of test results up to five years old.

Finally, the legislation requires regulatory bodies to reduce the higher application and certification fees they had previously charged to newcomers to the same level as they charge Canadian-born applicants.

(However, newcomers may still be charged additional fees for any supplementary administrative services they may need.)

These five measures address some of the longstanding flaws of the current process and have the potential to provide better conditions for newcomers.

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Ultimately, the legislation’s modest changes will apply to a list of only 29 occupations which include lawyers, engineers, social workers, architects, notaries and biologists. Additionally, out of more than 50 professional regulatory authorities in B.C., the legislation applies to only 18. The government has not explained why some professions were chosen and others excluded.

One more important limitation is that anyone who submits an applications before the legislation comes into force this summer cannot benefit from it – a provision that excludes many highly skilled migrants who are in immediate need.

There are solutions

To achieve its goals concerning transparency, clarity and fairness, the International Credentials Recognition Act should at least cover all the regulatory bodies in the province and all the regulated professions.

Then, new legislation that effectively fast-tracks credential recognition, reduces processing times and simplifies the application process should be passed.

Allocating one-on-one funding to newcomers in the certification process is also necessary and was highlighted by newcomers as a missing link.

Furthermore, it is crucial to make the Canadian work experience more accessible by providing incentives for companies to hire newcomers and promoting the creation of entry-level regulated positions devoted to foreign-trained professionals.

Although the International Credentials Recognition Act is a small step in the right direction, it unfortunately leaves behind a lot of newcomers who otherwise could join the Canadian labour force faster while experiencing fewer unnecessary complications.

By not making bigger changes, Canada and B.C. are acting against their own interests. Both certainly can do better to effectively tackle these prevalent and well-known issues.

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Nadya Zezyulina
Nadya Zezyulina is a fellow with the Concordia University research chair on the politics of immigration, as well as a research assistant on the Migrant Integration in the Mid-21st Century: Bridging Divides project. She holds bachelor's degrees in business management and psychology.

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