Are Skilled Immigrants Wasting Their Talents in Canada?

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“The best place to have a heart attack is in a cab because there’ll be a doctor driving that cab,” joked Margaret Eaton, executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

The joke probably rings true on how the society in Canada views what’s becoming a big mismatch among the skills immigrants possess and the jobs they do as they arrive in the country. It has also been lampooned in films like Dr. Cabbie. Although the joke isn’t statistically correct — less than 1% of immigrant doctors drive taxis according to the 2011 National Household Survey — almost half of immigrant doctors never get to practice their careers in Canada. Instead, they wind up taking jobs as nurses, care aides and related fields that don’t make full use of their skills and years of experience in their home countries.

In an article featured at Calgary Herald, one of the hardest part of Iraj Khalili Nasrabadi’s job flipping burgers in a McDonald’s outlet in Calgary in 2015, was hearing the news that rural Albertans are desperate for family doctors. Nasrabadi, who migrated from Brazil as a pediatrician, would have gladly served if given the chance.

After arriving in Canada in 2010, Nasrabadi passed three medical exams required to work in Canada and spent 18 months shadowing a Canadian doctor. He also became a Canadian citizen. 

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But because he hasn’t secured a residency which is the last step before becoming a doctor in Canada, despite the 16 yeas of experience as a doctor in Brazil and three years of applying to programs within Canada, Nasrabadi couldn’t practice his profession.

“You cannot use your skills, your talent, your experience,” said Nasrabadi, who decided to become a pediatrician as a 10-year-old in Iran, but studied medicine in Brazil after the Baha’i community to which he belongs was persecuted during the Iranian Revolution.

He would soon realize that he cannot do anything more than his job in Canada, so, in January 2016, Nasrabadi returned to Brazil, leaving behind his wife and two children in Calgary, so he could work as a physician and earn more for the family.

Despite well-publicized shortage of skills in Canada, immigrant professionals like Nasrabadi, struggle to obtain Canadian accreditation and find work in their field.

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Not that Canadian’s didn’t notice.

“Our problem is that, since about 1990, we have not been able to fully make the best use of our immigrants,” said Michael Bloom of the Conference Board of Canada, a non-profit research organization that delivers economics, public policy and organizational performance.

“We know that because they haven’t reached the level of pay, of income that matches the Canadian-born. They haven’t done as well as the previous generations of immigrants.”

Canada, which admitted more than 170,000 immigrants last year, is often recognized worldwide for its system for recruiting talented immigrants. However, it often fails to give the same group of people the chance to practice their qualifications once they arrive.

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There is such a big mismatch between immigrants’ skills and the jobs they end up doing that only about a quarter of internationally educated immigrants are working in many regulated professions across Canada, according to 2011 data. 

In Ontario, many foreign-born and educated engineers have ended up becoming IT managers, janitors and truck drivers, 2011 data shows. Top jobs for foreign-born and educated accountants outside of their field include bookkeeping, serving food and working as cashiers.

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