Kenney announces Fairness for Newcomers Action Plan

Jason Kenney

NP-UN Western Bureau.

Alberta’s United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney has announced that, if elected, his government would implement an ambitious action plan to knock down unfair barriers to the full economic inclusion of immigrants to the province, while maintaining Alberta’s high professional standards.

“We will implement our Fairness for Newcomers Action Plan to work with trade and professional licensing bodies to streamline, simplify and accelerate foreign credential recognition. Our goal is that applicants for licensure will have a clear answer in six months or less,” he said in making the announcement February 26.

Alberta has always been a magnet for immigration, and Albertans have benefitted enormously from the skills and entrepreneurial drive that newcomers have brought with them.

But too many immigrants arrive with great hopes and skills that Canada needs, only to become trapped in survival jobs because it can take years for Canadian businesses and professional licensing bodies to recognize the credentials they earned elsewhere, noted Kenney while addressing a roundtable on the subject.

“This ‘doctors-driving-taxis’ syndrome is an enormous waste of potential,” he added. “New immigrants with university degrees are four times more likely to be unemployed than university grads born in Canada, causing great stress for many immigrant families. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that the underemployment of immigrants is costing the Canadian economy up to $12.7 billion annually, and billions of dollars in tax revenues for governments.”

Asked by New Pathway – Ukrainian News, how this would affect doctors from Ukraine, for example, Kenney replied that is a more complicated process since the standards for Ukrainian medical graduates are not as compatible with Canadian ones as with countries like South Africa whose graduates can receive conditional licenses from the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons, but his government would streamline it.

“We would require all the professional bodies to give applicants a clear answer within 6 months whether they are eligible to apply so that theoretically they could apply from overseas and get a preliminary assessment,” he said adding this would include an account of what additional courses are necessary and how a residency position could then be acquired.

Asked further about other occupations such as engineers or Technical Information specialists, Kenney noted that Ukraine is noted for its IT specialists and that in the near future, he will be announcing a start-up visa application that could assist IT specialists from Ukraine.

Kenney plans to host a Premier’s Summit on Fairness for Newcomers and invite all of Alberta’s professional and trade regulators, together with immigrants, employers, and settlement agencies to develop a strategy for Alberta to have the fastest and fairest assessment of foreign credentials and education in Canada.

“We’ll be putting foreign-credential recognition on the agenda of the First Ministers Meeting. We need faster action on the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications, which is the national effort to get regulatory bodies across Canada to harmonize their credentialing procedures.”

The UCP Fairness for Newcomers Plan will have a budget of $2.5 million, a coordinating office, and oversight from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration. The office will also:

  • Create an Alberta Government Mentorship for Newcomers Program, modelled on a similar federal program, to match immigrant professionals with mentors in the public service who can help to guide them through the process of credential recognition and finding employment at their skill level;
  • Support and expand the work of the International Qualifications Assessment Service (created by a previous Progressive Conservative government) that assesses foreign degrees against the Canadian post-secondary standard;
  • Work with non-profit groups such as Windmill Microlending (formerly the Alberta Immigrant Access Fund) to expand access to low-interest loans to immigrant professionals who need bridge financing to upgrade their skills and pay for certification exams.
  • Support the work of immigrant settlement agencies to offer skills upgrading to underemployed foreign professionals.
  • Work with the federal government to offer pre-arrival orientation to foreign nationals selected for permanent residency in Alberta to encourage them to apply for credential recognition and educational assessments before they arrive in Canada.

Kenney described large scale underemployment of immigrants as a moral issue.

“It simply isn’t right to invite people to leave the high paying professions in their countries of origin, only to end up working in survival jobs while their skills deteriorate,” Kenney said. “This is an immoral waste of human potential, and creates great heartache, shame, and stress for too many new Alberta families. They simply deserve a fair shot at contributing fully to our society.”