When Eric Hoskins took over as Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in spring this year, he had said ensuring fair treatment for new Canadians who come to Ontario was a priority.
His grandfather came to Canada from London, England, with his brother. Orphaned at a young age, they joined the many hundreds of children that Canada opened its doors and hearts to during World War I. His mother’s family, in Canada for several generations, is originally from Germany.
“My own life experience has offered similar reminders of the importance of citizenship, whether it was living and working overseas for many years or practising medicine here in Ontario, serving patients who are newcomers,” he had said.
In an interview with Desi News, Minister Hoskins evaluated his first few months in office.
“I think it’s a work in progress,” he said. “First and foremost, we want to really make sure our newcomers and immigrant communities – particularly newcomers – are able to have the same opportunities as any other Ontarian. In terms of being able to enter the workforce and find meaningful employment that reflects their skills, in terms of being able to settle in any community they choose and be a valued and contributing member. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here for a day or your whole life, it’s our responsibility to see you are fully integrated.
“I think we’ve made good progress. We live in an inclusive Ontario, an open, welcoming Ontario. Ontarians see diversity as our great strength, both economically and socially. Newcomers can see others like themselves in every aspect of life and they feel at home.”
Close to 70 per cent of newcomers have post-secondary education and one of his biggest challenges has been to help them find jobs that reflect and respect their skills.
But Ontario is working to improve access to meaningful employment for newcomers by matching agencies with newcomers and helping businesses understand the great value of experience in another country instead of just focusing on Canadian experience or lack thereof, he says.
“In 2006, Ontario became the first province in Canada – making Canada one of the first countries in the world – to implement the Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act. We work with 37 regulatory bodies to make sure their assessment of newcomers’ credentials and experience is fair and timely. We are also making changes to make it easier to get licensed. I personally meet with these regulatory bodies regularly.”
The government is working to create jobs for everyone and as the economy picks up, things improve on the job front, he says. “But it’s not about just creating jobs, it’s about helping newcomers overcome barriers. This may include getting licensed or internships to gain work experience. Sometimes it’s a question of additional training – and we have several bridge training programs in place to help newcomers. The one for electricians, for instance, helps them with seemingly minor but challenging things like terminology. We have mentorship programs.”
The pharmacy bridge training program helped boost the pass rate on the pharmacy licensing exam from 20 per cent to 90 per cent, and almost 100 per cent of its graduates found employment.
Through the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications, Ontario is clearing the path for newcomers so that they can get their credentials assessed and enter the work force sooner.
“We are doing more and more work with employers and businesses to demonstrate the value of hiring newcomers. Banks get the importance of global outlook and cultural experience that newcomers bring – other business models will follow suit.”
Minister Hoskins, himself a physician, understands the bind foreign-trained doctors find themselves in. But he is proud of the work done by his government in having increased the residency positions for foreign-trained doctors from 20 a decade ago to the current 200-plus.
Government funding in initiatives to help newcomers has been quadrupled to $80 million a year. In the 90s, a total of 5000 licences were issued to practise medicine. In the last decade, the number was 1000-plus. Agencies such as Health Force are helping newcomers even before they come to Canada.
“I recently met a doctor from Kenya who had applied online and was connected to a mentor who walked her through the process while she was still in Kenya. Now she is in Canada and about to begin her residency. We need more such happy endings.”
A proposed legislation, when it comes through, will mean one no longer need be resident in Ontario to get PEng. One could apply online – for free – even before getting immigration. Arrive at Pearson International airport and be handed the licence!
“We continue to work hard,” says Hoskins. “We are taking leadership nationally with the federal government and other provincial governments to create a level playing field. Because we know that when newcomers succeed, Ontario succeeds.”
• For information on all services and the latest on regulatory bodies, etc., visit www.ontarioimmigration.ca. Welcome to Ontario, published in 17 languages, is also available online at www.citizenship.gov.on.ca.