The Ontario government hopes to ease a labour shortage in the province by bringing in a bill that would make it easier for foreign-trained professionals and tradespeople to find work in their chosen fields.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said the government intends to propose legislation that would help to remove major barriers faced by immigrants when they seek employment in Ontario.
One such barrier is the requirement for Canadian work experience, which immigrants must demonstrate when they try to get licensed in such fields as law, accounting, architecture, engineering, electrical and plumbing.
McNaughton said the proposed changes would apply to some skilled trades and regulated professions outside of the health care sector.
“I want to create a clear path for new Canadians to fully apply their skills here in Ontario. I’m proposing changes that, if passed, would really remove barriers for immigrants that they often face when they come here,” McNaughton said this week.
“This really is the first legislation of its kind in the country. It’s a bold action really just to knock down these barriers and to speed up the process so immigrants can use their talent here in Ontario and ultimately earn bigger paychecks for themselves and their families.”
Roughly 293,000 jobs are going unfilled in Ontario and the workforce is aging, he said. According to the government, only one-quarter of foreign-trained immigrants in regulated professions were working in jobs that matched their qualification levels in Ontario in 2016.
“We need everyone living to their full potential, and this really will be a hand up for new Canadians,” he said.
McNaughton called the requirement for Canadian work experience an “injustice” to immigrants.
“The reason why we need to do this — it’s about treating our immigrants better. I mean, we want them earning bigger paychecks, have more worker protections for themselves. It’s going to strengthen their families and provide a better standard of living for them.”
He said the proposed changes would not lower safety standards in any given field.
“There’s lots of checks and balances in the system. I trust the regulatory bodies. They ensure that new Canadians and others are tested. They have the right competency and skills to do the work and they’ll continue doing that even with the Canadian work experience being eliminated.”
McNaughton said health and safety is his top priority, and if regulatory bodies want exemptions from the proposed legislation, they could apply for them.
In a news release, the government said: “Currently, internationally trained immigrants face multiple barriers to getting licensed in their field, including unfair requirements for Canadian work experience, unnecessary, repetitive and costly language testing, and unreasonable processing times.”
To help address the labour shortage, the government said in the release the proposed changes would enable it to:
- Eliminate Canadian work experience requirements for professional registration and licensing unless an exemption is granted based on demonstrated public health or safety risk. “All too often, these requirements create situations where workers are unable to obtain Canadian work experience because they don’t have it. This is often cited as the number one barrier Canadian immigrants face in obtaining a job that matches their level of qualification,” the province said.
- Reduce “burdensome” duplication for official language proficiency testing, so people do not have to complete several tests for purposes of immigration and professional licensing.
- Allow applicants to register faster in their professions when there are emergencies, such as a pandemic, that create an urgent need for certain professions or trades.
- Ensure the licensing process is completed in a timely manner so foreign-trained immigrants can start working in careers that match their skills. “At present, licensing time in some regulated professions takes up to 18 months or more, while workers wait in limbo, wasting valuable time when they could be contributing to the economy,” the province said.
McNaughton said occupations that would be affected by the bill include professional engineers, architects, plumbers, electricians, accountants, hair stylists, teachers and early childhood educators.
The province says immigrants account for 33 per cent of Ontario’s labour force.