When Dr. Binal Patel immigrated, she got a job assembling sandwiches in a fast-food restaurant to provide for her baby daughter. A dentist trained in India, Dr. Patel wondered how she was ever going to afford the fees for the Canadian dental exams and, if she did not, how she would ever regain her self-respect and provide adequately for her children in Canada.
Canada’s immigration numbers are rising year after year. During the 2021 census nearly one-in-four people identified as immigrants, the largest proportion of Canadian immigrants ever, and highest among G7 countries. A considerable portion of them, like Dr. Patel, are well-educated and highly skilled when they arrive.
According to a recent Bloomberg-Nanos poll, most Canadians agree, immigration is good for the Canadian economy. Many also acknowledge that, more than ever before, we need the talents and skills immigrants bring, especially in sectors like health care and IT.
There is less consensus on how well our immigration system is working or what needs to be done to improve it so that immigrants, like Dr. Patel, can integrate efficiently.
In the process of developing a new podcast, we asked 20 experts for their views on Canadian immigration, and for their ideas and initiatives to empower newcomers to integrate faster. Podcast contributors ranged from Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to business leaders concerned with productivity and labour supply, to immigrant sector CEOs working daily to support newcomer integration, and social entrepreneurs working to fix what they sometimes described as a broken system. We also captured the thoughtful insights of skilled newcomers, including Dr. Patel.
We heard creative perspectives on how to strengthen immigration to make it more equitable for newcomers. Arif Khimani, COO of Calgary-based IT staffing firm, MobSquad, talked about his company’s innovative approach. MobSquad identifies international tech professionals with the skills to match the needs of North America businesses. The company takes care of the immigration paperwork and find the immigrants lucrative roles so that they hit the ground running on arrival in Canada. Employers, immigrants and the economy all benefit.
Shamira Madhany, Deputy Executive Director and Managing Director for Canada of World Education Services (WES) reminded us that the speed of integration possible for IT talent needs to happen for healthcare professionals, too. Government, regulators and employers need to do a better job of ensuring that when internationally trained doctors, nurses and pharmacists choose Canada, we put them in a position to contribute their skills to our healthcare system as quickly as possible.
The perspectives shared with us were often inspiring but also, at times, dispiriting. Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, a public health physician and professor from Saskatchewan, shared his belief that Canada remains an incredible land of opportunity for newcomers. Meanwhile, Nick Noorani lamented the notion that in Toronto, “the best place to have a heart attack” was the back of an Uber, because of the number of internationally-trained doctors driving them.
What resonated most for me from these conversations was the importance of creativity and cross-sector collaboration to address integration challenges for immigrants. As more countries around the globe experience population aging and skills shortages, that imperative is growing.
If Canada is serious about welcoming more immigrants and refugees each year, the status quo is not acceptable.
The next Dr. Ndbuka and Dr. Patel may decide the costs — in time and money — of integrating professionally in Canada are too high and choose one of the other countries working to fast-track the integration process for skilled professionals. Solving the challenges to integration our immigrants face will be key to our national prosperity, our healthcare system and Canada’s future.
Claudia Hepburn is CEO of Windmill Microlending, a national charity that empowers skilled immigrants and refugees to achieve economic prosperity through affordable loans and supports.