Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
- - Meetings on Foreign Credentials - -

NUMBER 035    |    1st SESSION   |    38th PARLIAMENT

Thursday, April 07, 2005

[Chinwe Okelu and Dianne Nielsen of Alberta Long Term Care Association presentations on foreign credentials.]

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
(0920)
[English]

(1527)

The Chair (Andrew Telegdi): We're going to start with our last panel for the day.

I want to welcome everybody. This is an important topic, and we really appreciate your coming and giving us your time and being part of this process.

The way we start off is with presentations of five minutes, and after them we go into questioning. So please try to keep the five minutes in mind; I'll be giving you hints if you're running over.

Anyway, let's start with Mr. Okelu.

Mr. Chinwe P. Okelu (As an Individual): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

[Translation]

I want to thank you once again for giving us the opportunity to address this committee on this issue which is very important and very serious for immigrant men and women.

[English]

Let me begin my presentation by reiterating what I presume you have heard numerous times during your cross-country consultations.

Numerous very qualified and experienced immigrants are suffering untold hardships as a result of their unemployment or under-employment. Many of these people are eminent in their various professional areas, and several of them have actually held very important positions in their countries of origin. It is very disappointing and frustrating for some of them to come to Canada and find out that they're not regarded as alike, that they're not humans any more.

There have been a number of senseless arguments, from my point of view, put forward by what I call vested interests. These are some of the professional organizations who are protecting their turf. They are self-regulating and they're almost playing God. They decide who comes in and who goes out. So I'm suggesting in my presentation here that the federal government has to play a larger role.

I will take an example from what is happening in the country already. There is the agreement on internal trade, which has been organized here in Canada. All the provinces and territories, including the federal government, are participants in that negotiation. This has been going on since 1995 -- and I'm sure I'm not telling you what you don't know. I refer you to article 701 of chapter 7 of the Agreement on Internal Trade, which states in part that:

The purpose of this Chapter is to enable any worker qualified for an occupation in the territory of a Party to be granted access to employment opportunities in that occupation in the territory of any other Party ....

I'm trying to extrapolate from this, but let me finish the second part of it. The second part of this in the same chapter 7 of the Agreement on Internal Trade states:

Article 708: Recognition of Occupational Qualifications and Reconciliation of Occupational Standards ...each Party undertakes to mutually recognize the occupational qualifications required of workers of any other Party and to reconcile differences in occupational standards in the manner specified....

As I said, I'm going to extrapolate from this and suggest that the federal government should centralize the evaluation of all qualifications. I know that you can't legislate what is happening in other provinces, because education is a provincial and territorial responsibility, but the federal government is a participant in this particular agreement and should centralize this and have the people who come here send whatever they have, their résumés or experiences, and have a mutual body, with a selection of people from the various professions participating in it, setting standards of measurement.

While I sat here this afternoon, I heard somebody say that someone came here and claimed to be an engineer, but in their own evaluation he was a technician. I almost stood up then, because I wondered what criteria could have been used to evaluate who is an engineer and who is a technician when we don't have some guidelines determining that. I submit that some of these guys who are claiming all of this and are playing God, as I said before, forget that some of these guys read the same textbooks as they did. Some of them have published in international journals, and they come here not to be recognized for what they are.

Yes, there are ways to deal with this. They may not be used to the Canadian style and practice. Some of us, when we first came here, had some problems communicating with some of the people. Eventually, you get to know and communicate very easily and be understood. Why don't we have some mentorship program, where some of these guys are given a chance to grow from there, and eventually come up to the level they are expected to be at? It may not necessarily be that they don't have the knowledge; it may be because they are not able to communicate what they know. This could apply in any profession.

(1530)

And I have some difficulties when you say, for instance, that people who come from some part of the continent are better than others, while they have practically the same level of education and the same standards. I don't want to name names, but if you want I will do that.

I will stop at this point.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Ms. Nielsen.

Ms. Dianne Nielsen (Executive Director, Alberta Long Term Care Association): Thank you, Mr. Chairman and honourable members.

My name is Dianne Nielsen and I am the executive director for the Alberta Long Term Care Association. I also have been brought here by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, and I've been working with the Alberta chapter.

Our association primarily consists of employers, and the employers are of the public sector, the private sector, and the voluntary sector, which is the non-profit, religious sector.

One of the reasons I'm here is that our association has worked with Alberta Health and Wellness and educational institutes to help with the bridging of people with international qualifications. We have realized through this work that there are a number of people who have immigrated to Canada with a knowledge base derived from their immigration officer. I think they have been in many cases misled, because they have been told their qualifications were transferrable in many cases related to health care workers and other tradespeople who work in our industry.

I only have five minutes. I believe you've already heard about the issues related to the barriers, and we concur that those barriers do exist. The regulating bodies are strict. I think many of them are trying to overcome these barriers but haven't gone quite far enough, especially with health care workers. The AARN certainly have, and we've heard that presentation today.

I think the federal government has a responsibility, when new immigrants come, on access to information. The portal you're talking about is excellent, but we need to go that one step further on access to information.

New immigrants really do not understand our qualifications compared with theirs. In every country around the world they have very valuable education, which we really haven't taken advantage of. They have different cultures, and we're experiencing that, particularly in the health care field, as the sick have many cultures.

With elder care we are now experiencing an older workforce. We really don't know where we're going to get the next-generation workforce. We have the baby boomer workers right across Canada growing old, and the bubble is going like this.

We need the federal government to have immigration laws that encourage the provinces to work with you. Immigration and jobs are there, and I am speaking on behalf of the employer. We want skilled workers. We want to help bridge that gap. We are providing educational programs for them.

There are some overlapping of functions, and I concur with the previous speaker about having a central system where they can be screened. Professional groups can work together with the federal government and the provincial government at every level and have a screening process based on competencies and skills.

Also, even within Alberta the regulatory bodies differ, so if we could bring some sort of centralized screening process across Canada for people coming from other countries, it would certainly help, along with that access to information.

Canada depends on immigrants, and we still need immigrants in our workforce. This whole country is built on immigrants, my parents being part of that process.

Second is the issue with regard to language. We know there are funds available for people to learn English. Even though it is their second language, you find learning English is not necessarily an issue. Once people have learned English, it's the translation into the written portion. We have developed curriculum so they don't actually have to read it; they can do oral examinations.

The third one is the accessibility of bridging that gap to bring that education into line with our education system.

I can see, Mr. Chairman, that you're already waving at me, so I thank you for allowing me to make this presentation.

(1535)

[...]

Mr. Rahim Jaffer: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to all of you for your presentations. We appreciate your patience. I know some of you have been here all day listening to various witnesses who have presented.

We find the information really useful. I'm going to do my best to try to ask as many questions as I can in the short time we have.

Ms. Nielsen, on the area of the long-term-care providers, are these mostly health care professionals, the different sorts of levels, who provide this service for long-term care?

Ms. Dianne Nielsen: There are 80% of our workers who are non-professional. They're supervised by registered nurses or other professionals.

Mr. Rahim Jaffer: Is there still a trend with some of the professionals, even the ones who are not...? Are there more opportunities south of the border? I know in different health professions and at different times we had a loss of a lot of our talent. That's even led to some of the skills shortage here. Do you still see that trend overall, or have things levelled out? Is this why we do have the shortage we need to look for here?

(1605)

Ms. Dianne Nielsen: Actually, I have seen it levelled out. The registered nurses in long-term care are difficult to hire; particularly in the rural areas they're just not there. We do foresee a future shortage of registered nurses.

So now, in order to overcome that, the Province of Alberta has extended its scope of practice for licensed practical nurses. So we see now the trend in long-term care changing to hire more licensed practical nurses. The RNs are now becoming more nurse practitioners. The training for those who do all the health care aid is expanding as well.

[...]

Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Singh, when you mentioned two plus two, it reminded me of the story of a father having two sons and a daughter. One son was an engineer, the other one was a lawyer, and the daughter was an accountant. He asked the engineer what two plus two was, and the engineer said that it was four. He asked his other son, who was the lawyer, what two plus two was, and the lawyer said that, of course, it was four. When he asked his daughter, the accountant, what two plus two was, she asked, “What do you want it to be?”

Sometimes it's more than credentials. You have to have a desire to do something more than what you have a paper for.

I wanted to ask Dianne this. She mentioned immigration officers abroad misleading applicants about the opportunities in Canada. Is that widespread?

Ms. Dianne Nielsen: I based my information on new immigrants in our class who were training to be nurses' aides or health care aides and had credentials from their countries. They indicated that they came in through the point system. The immigration officer had indicated that it would be no problem getting credentials anywhere in Canada once they learned the English language. Their source of information was from that immigration officer.

(1635)

Mr. Lui Temelkovski: You also mentioned that professional associations are strict.

Ms. Dianne Nielsen: Yes, and they vary from province to province. I am a nurse, and I know that you have to register in each province. There's not always reciprocity in professions in each province, as you've heard. We certainly have seen that.

In our industry, particularly for long-term care, we are depending on new immigrants from the Philippines and Asian countries to help increase our workforce. We are seeing extremely well-trained people from those countries who speak the language fluently and are unable to obtain their credentials. Our association and the employers are pooling our resources to assist these people through agencies to help them receive their credentials.

Mr. Lui Temelkovski: I know that you can't speak on behalf of the association, but you could maybe give us your opinion. Would the nurses be in favour of having a national association standard, where we'd take Alberta's standards and nationalize that? Would it be something that would make things easier for every new candidate who comes from outside to get credentials if you only had to go to one body?

Ms. Dianne Nielsen: That would be excellent.

Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Would the association be supportive of that?

Ms. Dianne Nielsen: Our association would. I believe the AARNs who are represented here are working toward that end. Years ago Canadian nurses could practise nursing anywhere without having to be re-credentialed.

The exams we wrote were American exams. We'd go to the States. Now I'm not so familiar with that process. Certainly people in our association, when we are looking at recruiting, would find that very excellent.

Mr. Lui Temelkovski: How about engineers?

Mr. Sital Nanuan: Yes, we have the CCPE.

Ms. Dianne Nielsen: The college has, as well, a doctors'....

Hon. Hedy Fry: No, they're working on one. They don't have one.

Ms. Dianne Nielsen: Oh. I thought they had a national exam.

[...]