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Ontario is proposing rules to help newcomer job seekers. Nova Scotia is watching

Many immigrants with foreign qualifications and considerable work history say they are unable to get jobs in their field because they have no Canadian experience. (Mark Blinch/Reuters - image credit)
Many immigrants with foreign qualifications and considerable work history say they are unable to get jobs in their field because they have no Canadian experience. (Mark Blinch/Reuters - image credit)

Sirajus Salekin arrived in Nova Scotia from Bangladesh in 2021. He had a degree in electrical engineering, an MBA and had worked for 10 years in his chosen field.

His expectation was that he would be able to get a job in the province. To further increase his chances, he completed a master's degree in electrical engineering at Dalhousie University.

But he has been unable to find a job that matches his qualifications and past experience. "I believe that Canadian experience is required for every job in my field," he said.

Without that experience, it is also not possible for him to be certified as a professional engineer in Nova Scotia, he said.

Sirajus Salekin arrived in Nova Scotia from Bangladesh in 2021 with an engineering degree and a decade of experience but has been unable to find a job in a related field.
Sirajus Salekin arrived in Nova Scotia from Bangladesh in 2021 with an engineering degree and a decade of experience but has been unable to find a job in a related field.

Sirajus Salekin arrived in Nova Scotia from Bangladesh in 2021 with an engineering degree and a decade of experience but has been unable to find a job in a related field. (Sadia Afroz Shimu)

Like many immigrants in Canada, Salekin is in a bind. He wants to get Canadian experience in his field but is unable to do so because he has no Canadian experience.

Ontario hopes to address the dilemma

Ontario hopes to address the dilemma facing immigrants by introducing legislation banning the requirement of Canadian work experience in job postings and application forms.

Legislation was introduced in November and has been referred to a standing committee after a second reading in the Ontario legislature.

In an emailed statement, Ontario's labour ministry said everyone with experience should have a fair chance of "getting their foot in the door" regardless of where they obtained that experience.

"The proposed change, if passed, would ensure that prospective employees with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a job are not screened out during the initial stage of hiring," the statement said.

"This is intended to help ensure that newcomers to Canada can land well-paying and rewarding careers while also helping to tackle the on-going labour shortage."

In October, Ontario amended another act to ban discriminatory Canadian work experience requirements in regulated professions.

Template for other provinces

Ontario is the first province to introduce legislation aimed at helping internationally trained immigrants find work in their fields. It may serve as a template for other provinces.

In an email, Nova Scotia's Labour Department said the province is "monitoring the impact of the legislation in Ontario."

Madeleine Nerenberg, a board member of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and director of newcomer services at KEYS Employment & Newcomer Services in Kingston, Ont., said newcomers often struggle because of a lack of Canadian work experience.

She said requiring Canadian work experience is often a proxy for racism and xenophobia.

"While it is truly commendable to see the government addressing this concerning issue, the mechanism of barring employers from using that specific language in job postings may not generate the outcomes that we would like to see," Nerenberg said.

A potential positive effect of the proposed legislation, Nerenberg said, was that it sends a message to employers that the province is keeping a watchful eye out for discrimination against newcomers seeking employment.

Rebecca MacDonald is the team lead for international student retention at the Cape Breton Island Centre of Immigration.
Rebecca MacDonald is the team lead for international student retention at the Cape Breton Island Centre of Immigration.

Rebecca MacDonald is the team lead for international student retention at the Cape Breton Island Centre of Immigration. (Rebecca MacDonald)

Rebecca MacDonald, the team lead for international student retention at the Cape Breton Island Centre of Immigration, said she hasn't seen any postings that explicitly call for Canadian work experience, but said it is often a covert requirement.

"There's unconscious bias that is a result of structural racism in the system, preventing folks from being open to experience that people might have from their home country," she said.

"An employer looks at a resume and ... can't pronounce the name, realizes it's not someone from Glace Bay or Yarmouth and they're not going to look at that resumé."

For his part, Salekin said a move in Nova Scotia similar to what is being proposed in Ontario could help alleviate staff shortages in many sectors.

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