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Internationally trained engineers, social workers and paramedics to be fast-tracked in B.C.

The legislation is an effort to address the provincewide labour shortage that has hampered the economy.
Social worker Alice Wong speaks at a news conference at the B.C. legislature on new legislation to ensure internationally educated professionals in British Columbia get their credentials recognized faster. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Alice Wong, who completed her master’s degree in social work in Hong Kong, has spent the last 14 months navigating an arduous accreditation process that included hundreds of pages of paperwork, exams, English tests and bureaucratic hoops.

“It was very challenging for me,” said the 40-year-old. “The feeling is, I was fighting in a battle alone without a lot of support or resources. So it kept me very frustrated in the process.”

Wong, who will start her new job in B.C. as a hospital social worker on Tuesday, applauded the B.C. NDP government’s announcement that it intends to fast-track the cumbersome accreditation process for internationally educated workers — including engineers, social workers, early childhood educators, paramedics, teachers and biologists — in an effort to address a province-wide labour shortage.

A total of 29 professions are covered in the International Credentials Recognition Act introduced in the legislature Monday by Minister of State for Workforce Development Andrew Mercier.

During a news conference at the legislature, Premier David Eby said the goal is to fix the “many unfair processes that force new arrivals to British Columbia to go through incredibly complex, contradictory, hard-to-understand, expensive and repetitive processes that are frustrating and ultimately cause people to give up and work in a field they’re not trained in.”

Considering the skills shortage B.C. is facing, “We can’t afford to leave anyone on the sidelines,” Eby said.

If passed, the legislation will require regulatory bodies to remove some of those barriers, including what Eby called the “Catch-22” of requiring Canadian work experience before being accredited in Canada. The legislation would also remove redundant language testing, set caps for maximum processing times, and require credential assessment information to be available online.

It’s something many have long been calling for. Newcomers to B.C. and British Columbians who study abroad have complained of spending years working in a lower-paying job as they wait for their credentials to be recognized.

A new superintendent position will be created to monitor the performance of regulatory bodies and ensure they are following the new rules, which will take effect next summer.

Mercier said the proposed changes will require buy-in from the 18 professional regulatory bodies, but there will be a government fund to help them meet the standards.

Shelly D’Mello, CEO of the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria, said it’s “demoralizing” for new immigrants who discover that “despite their many years of international experience and education in their field, their ability to practice their profession is severely limited or not allowed at all.”

As the daughter of an internationally trained mechanic who could not work in that profession back in the 1970s, D’Mello said the proposed reforms “are a long time coming.”

Mercier and Eby heard this first-hand from many frustrated internationally trained professionals during a town hall discussion this month at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Mercier said he spoke to one engineer who had to relocate his family outside Canada for two years because he couldn’t find a firm that would take him until his international training was recognized.

Chris Atchison, president of the B.C. Construction Association, said while he supports the government’s efforts to speed up the accreditation process for architects and engineers, “there’s so much more that we can be doing for internationally skilled trades people who also want to come to Canada.”

Companies across the construction sector are struggling to find enough workers, Atchison said, which is why B.C. should make changes to its provincial nominee express entry program for skilled immigrants.

Applicants are awarded a certain number of points based on their skills, with more points awarded to workers who are tied to a specific company.

“The limiting factor for skilled trades people who are in other countries is that they need to be sponsored, or they need to have an employer associated to them in order to get an additional 600 points toward their immigration application,” Atchison said.

“We know they’re employable. We know across the country, we’ve got a skills shortage in the industry. So why do we need to have them tied to a unique employer?”

Eby said the province has been pushing the federal government to increase the number of skilled construction workers B.C. is able to accept through the express entry program.

B.C.’s labour market outlook projects one million jobs will be created over the next decade, and Eby estimated a third of those will be filled by new immigrants, which is why he said it is so important to recognize their skills.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Clint Johnston said the province is experiencing an acute teacher shortage, which is why the union “supports any move toward more equitable and efficient recognition of international teacher credentials, so long as they continue to meet the high standards that already exist for certified teachers in British Columbia.”

However, recruitment is just one piece of the puzzle, Johnston said, which is why the union is pushing for improved working conditions to prevent teachers from leaving the profession entirely.

Last year, the B.C. NDP announced it would fast-track the credentialing process for internationally trained nurses and doctors, an effort to shore up the health-care system as it grapples with a shortage of health-care workers.

Eby said since those changes were announced, 450 internationally trained nurses and 500 internationally educated doctors have gone through the expedited certification process. Another 3,000 nurses are applying to practice in B.C. through that same process, Eby said.

The 29 occupations are:

• registered music teacher

• professional engineer

• professional teaching certificate holder

• land surveyor

• early childhood educator

• landscape architect

• early childhood educator assistant

• applied science technologist

• conditional teaching certificate holder

• certified technician

• social worker

• veterinarian

• registered clinical social worker

• lawyer

• professional biologist

• architect

• applied biology technician

• notary public

• registered biology technologist

• emergency medical assistant, including paramedics

• professional geoscientist

• chartered professional accountant

• registered professional forester

• associate real estate broker

• registered forest technologist

• managing real estate broker

• professional agrologist

• real estate representative

• technical agrologist