Foreign Credential Recognition Issue Proves Vexing for Federal Conservatives

One of the few immigration-related issues that the Conservatives focused on in their campaign platform in the last election was the issue of how to facilitate the process of recognizing the skills and credentials of skilled immigrants. During the election campaign of 2005/06, the Conservatives chided the Liberals for not doing enough on this issue and pledged to create an agency that would assess and recognize immigrants’ credentials at the federal level.

As I noted in this column at the time, given that the regulation of professions is a provincial responsibility it would be challenging at best to create and implement a “made in Ottawa” solution. Well it took a little over a year, but with last month’s federal budget, the Conservatives seem finally to have acknowledged that a federal agency is not the answer to this vexing problem. The Conservatives’ federal budget instead provides funding for a “Foreign Credentials Referral Office” that will essentially act as a referral service pointing immigrants in the right direction and advising them of what barriers they need to overcome in order to have their credentials recognized in Canada.

While this definitely constitutes backtracking from their original campaign promise, it was inevitable due to the realities of Canadian federalism. In a country where lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers and virtually all other regulated professions (Immigration Consultants are a rare exception, receiving their certification from a national body, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants) receive their licensing or certification at the provincial level, there was little possibility of a federal agency creating a process to allow skilled immigrants to somehow bypass the provincial regulatory bodies.

The issue of foreign credential recognition is a widely misunderstood and incredibly complicated problem. It involves much more than formal regulatory processes.

We have all heard a million times over the stories of immigrant engineers and doctors driving taxis. This is certainly a good illustration of the consequences of not creating an effective process whereby skilled immigrants can get their foreign training and experience recognized. But the answers to this problem do not lie entirely with formal recognition of foreign credentials. A skilled immigrant who obtains certification to work in his/her profession in Canada still requires an employer willing to give them a chance.

The willingness of Canadian employers to hire skilled workers with little or no Canadian work experience is as much a part of the problem as regulatory bodies that create unreasonable barriers to the recognition of professionals trained and educated outside of Canada. Therefore, a successful approach to this issue requires efforts to change the attitudes of employers toward recent immigrants as well as creating opportunities for skilled immigrants to gain much needed Canadian work experience.

The Ontario government has recently started an effective TV advertising campaign meant to do encourage employers to capitalize on the potential benefits of tapping into the skills and experience of foreign trained individuals. And in cooperation with the federal government they have also established an online source of information for employers at

In BC, the International Qualifications Unit of the provincial government has also taken some very innovative and proactive steps to address this problem. A program called “Skills Connect for Immigrants” has been in operation since last year. As noted on the program’s website, “the primary goal of the … Program is to see new immigrants secure jobs that fully use their skills and talents. The program will respond to current and long-term skill shortages by assessing and bridging skilled immigrants into the workplace in areas that complement BC’s growing economy.”

Skills Connect seeks to do this by providing funding to third party organizations such as immigrant services agency and education institutions so that they may assess the skills, qualifications and experience of skilled immigrants; provide education and training to allow these immigrants to bridge any gaps in their skills that may prevent them from reaching their career goals in Canada, including occupational specific language training; and then offer workplace practice opportunities such as mentorships and internships that may lead to long-term employment.

It is noteworthy that this program is not meant to be an all-purpose employment program for immigrants of any kind; it is only open to immigrants who have come to Canada under the “skilled worker” or “independent” category. Also, the program, at least in this first stage, is focused on employment sectors where formal recognition of credentials is often not an issue such as hospitality, transportation, tourism, construction and energy. (In its next phase the program will address the health care sector where licensing of credentials is very much a barrier to entry into the Canadian labour market for foreign trained individuals.)

The realities of Canadian federalism have certainly not made the solutions to this problem any easier. An immigrant to Canada may with good reason question why one level of government – the federal level – is responsible for granting him/her permanent residence based on his/her education, skills and experience whereas another level – the provincial level – is the one who regulates how he/she may use those skills and experience in the labour market. However, these realities are not likely to change any time soon. Our present federal government has finally figured that out. Let’s hope our federal and provincial governments can now work in concert to promote practical solutions to a problem that until recently has been talked about more than acted upon.


For more information on BC’s Skills Connect for Immigrants Program go to: