The latest data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reveals recruitment of internationally-trained nurses bounced back to pre-pandemic levels last year as Canada welcomed 1,836 new permanent residents coming to the country to work as registered and psychiatric nurses.
The figure is on par with the 1,840 in 2019, the last full year before COVID-19 arrived in the country.
In the ensuing two years, immigration by internationally-trained nurses fell dramatically and remained low. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, only 745 registered and psychiatric nurses became new permanent residents of Canada, a drop of 59.5 per cent.
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Things didn’t improve much in 2021. Although the number of registered and psychiatric nurses that became permanent residents did rise to 866, that was still 52.9 per cent off the pre-pandemic level.
With the precipitous drop in foreign-trained nurses arriving in Canada and the surge in demand for healthcare services in the country due to mutations of the coronavirus throughout the pandemic, the strain on health authorities became palpable.
A search for nursing jobs in Canada on March 21 turned up 12,373 listings for jobs.
Both the federal government and at least some of the provinces have upped their game and taken measures to improve their recruitment of nurses.
Ottawa injected $1.5 million into the National Newcomer Navigation Network, a pan-Canadian network that supports professionals in the settlement, healthcare and social services sectors who help newcomers to Canada. Those funds were to eliminate barriers to working in Canada faced by internationally-educated healthcare professionals and help them get jobs here.
The IRCC also opened the door for nurse aides and orderlies from around the world to immigrate to Canada through the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program of the Express Entry system, paving the way for healthcare workers to come to the country.
That change to the FSW came into effect on Nov. 16 last year when the IRCC added 16 new jobs to its list of eligible occupations under that worker immigration program.
That increased the number of eligible occupations under the FSW on the same day the National Occupational Classification (NOC) 2021 came into effect at the IRCC to 370.
The move to include nurse aides and orderlies in the list of eligible occupations under the FSW came in the wake of a call by the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) to prioritize human resources in the healthcare sector and help address nursing shortages across the country.
Patients Facing Longer Wait Times Across Canada Due To Nursing Shortage
“We are seeing patients in Canada facing longer and longer wait times for medical and surgical procedures, while also facing increasing challenges to access the care they need,” said Sylvain Brousseau, president of CAN, in July last year.
“Just over these past few weeks, we have witnessed many stories of emergency departments shutting down or reducing their hours of operation in many parts of the country. The reason for this crisis is very clear: Canada is facing a severe health workforce crisis and nursing shortages.”
The nurses’ association went so far as to state the sustainability of Canada’s healthcare system could not be maintained without further investment in the healthcare workforce.
Ottawa took that message to heart.
“We are using all of the tools at our disposal to tackle labour shortages, particularly in key sectors like healthcare, construction, and transportation,” said Immigration Minister Sean Fraser last year.
“These changes will support Canadians in need of these services and they will support employers by providing them with a more robust workforce who we can depend on to drive our economy forward into a prosperous future. I’m thrilled to announce expanded pathways to permanent residence in Canada for these in-demand workers.”
Nursing Jobs Pay Relatively Well In Canada, Up To $117,000 Annually
Data from the federal job-hunting website, Job Bank, pegs the median annual wage for a registered or psychiatric nurse in the country at $78,000 based on a standard, 37.5-hour work week.
Quebec has the dubious distinction of having the lowest of the low median wages for registered and psychiatric nurses (NOC 31301) at $47,287 annually based on a standard work week. At the other end of the wage scale, Job Bank data reveals the territories of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut both offer the highest of the high median wages, $117,000 per year based on a standard work week.
Provincial governments in Canada are trying to outdo one another to make it as easy and welcoming as possible for internationally-trained nurses to work in their respective healthcare systems.
In January, British Columbia decided to give internationally-trained nurses a $3,700 break by nixing application and assessment fees.
“There are talented and skilled nurses with the right experience who want to practise in B.C. and support high-quality care but they are kept on the sidelines by an expensive and complicated registration process,” said Premier David Eby.
“Whether a nurse was trained in or out of the province, we are ready to welcome those who are ready to care for British Columbians.”
In its bid to attract more nurses to British Columbia, that province is also offering financial support and a faster, more efficient assessment pathway.
Nurses who have not been working in their fields for a while are also being spared the $300 application fee and being offered more than $4,000 in financial support for their assessments and travel costs to help them re-enter the workforce. British Columbia is also offering $10,000 in bursaries for any additional education required for nurses who want to return to practice.
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“By removing the barriers for more nurses to join our healthcare workforce, we are ensuring that people throughout the province have greater access to the health services they need when they need them,” said British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“Our government will continue to take action to recruit and train more healthcare workers to meet the healthcare needs of British Columbians. In creating more accessible careers for nurses in B.C., we are delivering on our commitment to build a sustainable health system for many years to come.”
In Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, Premier Doug Ford told the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) in June last year to find ways to recognize the educational credentials of internationally-trained nurses more quickly.
“We’re in need of more nurses, as many as we can get,” said Ford. “We’re throwing everything and the kitchen sink at this.”
Not to be outdone, Quebec Immigration Minister Jean Boulet reached out to nurses in Haiti, vowing to give their applications for temporary and permanent residence priority processing, and wooing them with the promise of paid upgrading courses.
“Haiti will be added to the list of high-priority countries,” tweeted Boulet. “Quebec needs these skills to address its labour shortages.”
With that announcement, Haitian nurses joined those from other French-speaking countries, including Algeria, Cameroon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritius to be eligible for Quebec’s special pathway to immigration and educational credential recognition for up to 1,000 nurses.
“This project will speed up the international recruitment and credential accreditation of these nurses who will then be able to more quickly help meet the needs of our social services and healthcare system,” said Boulet in French last year.
“All the necessary steps will be taken to accompany these applicants starting from their home countries and even before they arrive in Quebec to accelerate their integration into the labour force. It’s a winning formula for Quebec and for these qualified immigrants who want to add their skills to our healthcare network.”
Nurses Qualify Through Many Economic Immigration Programs
Foreign nationals with the qualifications to work in Canada as nurses can use their expertise to seek out jobs here and gain their permanent residency through the many economic immigration programs at the federal and provincial levels, including through the Express Entry system, one of the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP) or the Skilled Worker program in Quebec.
Through the Express Entry system, nurses can often qualify for the FSW, provided their Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) profile scores highly enough.
Nurses can also qualify to come to Canada through the Skilled Worker program in Quebec if they score 50 points or more on the province’s selection grid.
Registered nurses who hold a university degree in nursing, registered psychiatric nurses who hold a bachelor’s or post-grad degree in psychiatric nursing, and licensed practical nurses, or registered practical nurses in Ontario, with post-secondary diplomas in nursing, are all welcome in Canada.
The first step for a nurse eyeing Canada as a destination for immigration is to have his or her academic credentials evaluated to see if they are up to Canadian standards.
The Canadian government recognizes five organizations for the assessment of foreign educational credentials:
- World Education Services (WES);
- International Credential Assessment Service of Canada (ICAS);
- Comparative Education Service (CES);
- International Qualifications Assessment Service (IQAS), and;
- International Credential Evaluation Service (ICES).
Once the educational and background checks have been completed, the next step is for the prospective immigrant to have those nursing credentials recognized in Canada by the National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS), a step that costs US$650.
The second step in the process for the foreign national looking to immigrate to Canada as a nurse is to create a profile on the NNAS application page.
- the submission of two pieces of identity that must be notarized, copies of original documents that have been signed, dated and stamped;
- a completed nursing education form that can be downloaded from the website filled out, and signed before being sent to the school where the nurse was educated for that school’s officials to complete and then send directly to NNAS along with academic records or transcripts, course curriculum and course descriptions and syllabi;
- submission of the nursing registration form which is to be sent to the nursing licensing authority where the nurse is currently registered in his or her home country;
- the nursing practice/employment form which must be signed and sent to all employers the nurse has had over the past five years for them to complete and send to NNAS, and;
- the prospective applicant for immigration’s IELTS language testing results, which must be sent directly to NNAS from an approved language-testing organization or company.
Nurses Must Submit Applications To The Appropriate Provincial Associations
After that has been done and the documents have been received by NNAS, the nurse can submit his or her application and pick the nursing group and provincial association to which he or she wishes to apply.
- British Columbia College of Nursing Professionals and Midwives;
- College of Registered Nurses of Alberta;
- College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta;
- College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Alberta;
- Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association;
- Saskatchewan Association of Licensed Practical Nurses;
- Registered Psychiatric Nurses Association of Saskatchewan;
- College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba;
- College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Manitoba;
- College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Manitoba;
- College of Nurses of Ontario;
- Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec;
- Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers auxiliaires du Québec;
- Nurses Association of New Brunswick;
- Association of New Brunswick Licensed Practical Nurses;
- Nova Scotia College of Nursing;
- College of Registered Nurses of Prince Edward Island;
- College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Prince Edward Island;
- College of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador;
- College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador;
- Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut;
- Government of Northwest Territories, Registrar, Professional Licensing, Health and Social Services;
- Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut;
- Government of Nunavut, Department of Health;
- Yukon Registered Nurses Association, and;
- Government of Yukon, Yukon Department of Community Services.