TORONTO - Foreign-trained workers will be told within one year of applying whether their credentials will be accepted in Canada under a framework announced Monday that opposition critics charged doesn't address systemic barriers to immigrants.
While the Liberals and New Democrats highlighted what they called deficiencies in the scheme, at least one stakeholder group lauded the Conservative plan on foreign credentials.
Beginning Dec. 31, 2010, foreign-trained architects, engineers, pharmacists, physio and occupational therapists and registered nurses will be among the groups that fall under the framework. Doctors and others are slated to be included in the one-year timetable by the end of 2012.
"We want a system that is fair, that's consistent, that's efficient and that's accessible," Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said.
"We want to encourage newcomers to put their talents to work here and we can make it happen sooner. This is essential to help people find fulfilling jobs, rewarding work that contributes to Canada's future."
The new framework also pledges that federal, provincial, and territorial governments will strive to create better services for immigrants before they arrive in Canada and once they're in the workforce.
The governments will work with regulatory bodies, colleges and universities, and other "key partners" to make the changes happen, Ottawa said.
The one-year timetable will very difficult to fulfil because the federal government has no real control, with the exception of the funding they give for language and settlement programs, said Liberal immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua.
It's provincial bodies, which are under the control of the provincial governments, that are responsible for making the final decision of approving foreign credentials, he said.
"The provinces are more and more the important players in immigration," said Bevilacqua.
Although doctors will be included in the framework by the end of 2012 that means very little without a significant expansion of mandatory physicians' internship programs, said NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow.
"It's cold comfort for doctors that have to wait until January of 2013 to have their credentials recognized, but still can't practise because there's not enough internships for them," Chow said.
Bevilacqua said not including doctors in the first group shows the Conservative policy is not driven by priorities.
The Canadian Migration Institute, however, lauded the announcement, saying the policy will help ensure a top-notch workforce in Canada.
"For too long well-qualified, foreign-trained workers hit a wall upon arriving in Canada because their foreign qualifications were not recognized by the various provincial professional regulators," said the institute's chairman, Imran Qayyum.
Qayyum said he knows from personal experience Canada has lost qualified physicians because they could not get their credentials recognized quickly enough. His own brother left Canada and is now practising as a cardiologist in St. Louis, Mo., because the wait was too long, he said.
"The foreign-trained doctor driving a taxi when Canada faces an acute shortage of physicians is a problem that the governments need to overcome," said Qayyum.
Sima Zerehi of The Coalition for Change for Temporary Foreign Workers and Migrant Workers said she believes the announcement is little more than a smokescreen.
"I think what we have here is a series of feel-good announcements that are supposed to put a veneer of positive immigration changes over substantially regressive immigration policies," Zerehi said.
Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who said earlier this year that he's been dubbed "minister for curry in a hurry" by some of his colleagues because he's spent so much time courting new Canadians, refuted suggestions that Monday's announcement is aimed at securing immigrant votes in the next election.
"This makes good economic sense, and in terms of the politics, you know, there are provincial governments from right across the spectrum - NDP, Liberal, Conservative, The Saskatchewan Party - all of whom have partnered with us on this," Kenney said.
"This is about good policy and good outcomes for the Canadian economy, it's not about politics."
According to a study by Statistics Canada released earlier this month, 42 per cent of immigrant workers between 25 and 54 had a higher level of education than their jobs required, compared to 28 per cent of Canadian-born employees.
Bevilacqua says immigrants are also over-represented when it comes to poverty and unemployment.