stories abound – and they’re not all apocryphal – of foreign-trained
professionals in Canada having to drive a taxi to earn a living. A 2006
survey by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, as the department was
then called, found that there were 1,525 taxi drivers in Canada with a
master’s degree and 255 with a doctorate or medical degree.
The 2006 Canadian census reveals that occupational underemployment is a significant problem for immigrants. This costs the federal and
provincial governments billions of dollars in potential income tax revenues. Four years after their arrival in Canada, the majority of immigrants
still work in jobs that are not commensurate with either their education
or the jobs they had in their homeland.
Engineering is the most common professional field of study for immigrants to Canada. But, in 2006, only 19 percent of immigrants who
graduated in engineering and were employed in Canada were working as
engineers, versus 42 percent of Canadian-born individuals who graduated in engineering.
The disparity was even more pronounced in medicine. While 92 percent of Canadian-born individuals who studied medicine were working
as doctors in 2006, only 56 percent of immigrants with the same field of
study were practising in the profession.
Several Canadian universities offer bridging programs to help foreign-trained professionals – dentists, engineers, pharmacists, teachers and
others – overcome barriers to accreditation and integrate successfully into
Canadian society. The programs not only upgrade their academic qualifications but expose them to how their profession is practised in Canada.
Marie Bountrogianni, dean of the G. Raymond Chang School of
Continuing Education at Ryerson University (and former minister of
immigration for Ontario), says the bridging programs are both altruistic
and good labour-market economics. “It’s unethical to encourage highly educated people to come to this country and then not allow them to
practise their profession or a related profession,” she says. “But there’s an
economic part as well. As soon as these highly educated new Canadians
start working and paying taxes, they add to the prosperity of all of us.”
(Over the last decade, Ryerson has had the most enrolments in bridging
programs of any university in Ontario.)
University Affairs examined the bridging programs for four different
professions at four Canadian universities.