Skilled immigrants wasting their talents in Canada

September 14, 2016

By Alia Dharssi, Calgary Herald |

For Brazilian pediatrician Iraj Khalili Nasrabadi, one of the hardest parts of flipping burgers in a Calgary McDonald’s in 2015 was hearing news of rural Albertans desperate for family doctors.

He would have gladly served them if given the chance.

After arriving in Canada in 2010, Nasrabadi passed three medical exams required to work in Canada and spent 18 months shadowing a Canadian doctor. He also became a Canadian citizen.

But he hadn’t secured a residency – the last step for becoming a doctor in Canada – after three years of applying to programs across the country, even though he had 16 years of experience as a doctor in Brazil.

“You cannot use your skills, your talent, your experience,” said Nasrabadi, who decided to become a pediatrician as a 10-year-old in Iran, but studied medicine in Brazil after the Baha’i community to which he belongs was persecuted during the Iranian Revolution.

“Little by little, I came to this decision that, for the moment, I cannot do anything more here in Canada.”

So, in January 2016, Nasrabadi returned to Brazil, leaving behind his wife and two children in Calgary, so he could work as a physician and earn more money for his family.

Immigrant doctors like Nasrabadi, as well as nurses and other well-educated newcomers across the country, are struggling to obtain Canadian accreditation and find work in their field, even in professions where there is demand for their skills.

“Our problem is that, since about 1990, we have not been able to fully make the best use of our immigrants,” said Michael Bloom of the Conference Board of Canada.

“We know that because they haven’t reached the level of pay, of income that matches the Canadian-born. They haven’t done as well as the previous generations of immigrants.”

Economic immigrants and their dependants make up the bulk of those admitted to Canada each year. Last year, Canada accepted more than 170,000 of them.

“We are in competition with the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia for immigrants,” said Immigration Minister John McCallum during a speech in June.

“What we should do in light of this aging population, in light of the fact that Canada has always been built on immigrants, we should seek out the best and brightest.”

Canada is recognized worldwide for its system for recruiting talented immigrants, but it often fails to give these same people a chance to use their qualifications once they arrive, leading to huge costs for the Canadian economy.

There is such a big mismatch between immigrants’ skills and the jobs they end up doing that only about a quarter of internationally educated immigrants are working in many regulated professions across Canada, according to 2011 data.

“There’s a joke in Toronto that the best place to have a heart attack is in a cab because there’ll be a doctor driving that cab,” said Margaret Eaton, executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

In reality, fewer than one per cent of immigrant doctors drove taxis, according to the 2011 National Household Survey.

But almost half never get to practice medicine in Canada.

Instead, they wind up as nurses, sonographers and care aides, among other related fields that don’t use their full skill set, even though they may have years of experience abroad.

This is a common experience for skilled immigrants.

Academic studies show that those who do find work in their field often end up working below their level of qualifications.

In Ontario, many foreign-born and educated engineers have ended up becoming IT managers, janitors and truck drivers, 2011 data shows. Top jobs for foreign-born and educated accountants outside of their field include bookkeeping, serving food and working as cashiers.

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