Barriers for incoming professionals

Teachers, engineers, nurses and doctors have difficulties transferring degrees before working in Canada

According to a Queen’s study, people professionally trained abroad have difficulty becoming certified to work in Canada.

Currently, an international doctor, nurse, teacher or engineer with English as a Second Language (ESL) must complete recertification and licensing upon coming to Canada to work in the same profession.

According to Queen’s education professor Liying Cheng, one of the main systemic barriers faced by these professionals is the cost of recertification.

Getting accurate information about the testing process through word of mouth is also problematic, she said, adding that the time, cost and type of certification depends on the profession.

“Out of the four professions we tested, medical doctors pay the most [for certification],” Cheng said, adding that they must also compete for limited residency positions.

All certifications include an English proficiency test, but beyond that, the type of tests and associated costs are set on an individual basis depending on their qualifications and professional experience, she said.

Cheng conducted 18 interviews with internationally educated professionals and two additional interviews with representatives from professional organizations that give out certifications.

She found that the recertification process in Ontario was inaccessible to most immigrants.

“Mostly I did research in Kingston and Windsor,” Cheng said. “The key issue was the testing process and their perception about it.”

While the participants she interviewed were in the process of becoming certified, she said many immigrants remain unaware of the options available to them.

“I had one participant that was an engineer in their home country, and when he came to Canada he thought the most he could do with his degree was become a technician,” Cheng said.

She said the solution was to inform immigrants of their options in Canada before they emigrate.

Cheng conducted most of the interviews in the summer of 2010 and said it has taken about a year and a half to compile the data. A technical report has been written and she is in the process of writing an article for the Journal of International Migration and Integration.

To conduct the interviews Cheng contacted immigration settlement agencies that distributed her contact information.

The study also found that personal barriers — including caring for a family or difficulty speaking English — inhibit professionals from completing their certification.

“If they have a supportive spouse or environment, that will help them to get through the process,” Cheng said.

Eight months after the initial interviews Cheng followed up with her participants. Fifteen of the 18 responded — two had given up trying to get their certification, three had been certified and 10 were still in the certification process.

“The best study is always a longitudinal study, but it’s very hard to do,” Cheng said, adding that people often change their contact information.

“I am quite encouraged with these results though.”

Cheng received her PhD in foreign language testing from the University of Hong Kong in 1998. She said unlike her participants she didn’t have to become recertified before working in Canada.

“If I wanted to teach in a school, like a high school or elementary school, I would have to go through the certification process,” she said. “For professors there’s no licensing … that’s the fundamental difference from those professions.”


faculty, Study

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