Untapped, Overqualified, and Underemployed: Quebec Immigrants and the Fight to Recognize Foreign Credentials

Unemployment in Quebec is the lowest it’s been in forty years. Despite this, Quebec has a massive labour shortage and it’s only getting worse.

The baby boomers are retiring in ever increasing numbers and they and the generations that followed didn’t have enough children to fill the vacancies they leave behind. The newly elected Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) does not feel that immigration is the answer, but business owners in Quebec see no other way out.

As stated in my previous article, the jobs that need to be filled in Quebec fall into two categories: survival jobs – defined here as low paying jobs that require little experience or education i.e call centers, retail, etc., and highly skilled workers. It is the latter category that I will be discussing today, specifically with regards to one major obstacle in the filling of skilled jobs: the recognition of foreign credentials and work experience in Quebec.

The employers in Quebec wanting skilled workers are not looking for anyone with any university degree. They are looking for people with specific degrees, skillsets, and certifications.

Rather than bring in more skilled people to fill the labour shortage, the CAQ wants to cut immigration to Quebec by twenty percent and make use of people already here. The problem is not just that Quebec is lacking in skilled workers, it’s also that the skilled immigrants we have cannot get their work experience, education, and other credentials recognized so they can fill those jobs.

It’s a huge problem in Quebec, with many immigrants overqualified, underemployed and unable to find jobs in their respective fields. During the recent election, the concerns of recent immigrants lay in the fact that the best jobs they could get were survival jobs like working in call centers.

All parties in the election recognized the issue and the fact that many immigrants opt to leave the province because of it. Within ten years of their arrival, many immigrants leave Quebec.

Provincial governments have always treated the problem as a language issue, but that’s only part of it. To fully succeed in the Quebec job market, you need to speak French, but as it stands, lessons are primarily offered in classroom settings which don’t work for new arrivals needing steady incomes to feed their families. This is only part of the problem because many immigrants to Quebec are French speakers from North African countries like Tunisia.

The Quebec government does offer services other than French classes to help skilled immigrants. One such initiative is the website qualficationsquebec.com.

Created with funding from the province’s Immigration Ministry, it’s a quick way to see if your qualifications will be recognized in Quebec and if they are not, what you need to do to work in your profession. Unfortunately, the website is mostly in French and clicking on the English option at the top of the page will only get you a phone number to a career counsellor.

If you can manage in French, here’s how it works: type in your profession and click the search icon. You will then have the option to enter information about your age, sex, whether you’re currently in the province, and where you got the education related to your profession, a step you can skip. It will then bring you to a page indicating the likelihood of getting a job, a link to the possible annual salary, and what professional orders you have to join.

Professional orders act as gatekeepers to many of the skilled professions in Quebec and can pose a major barrier to immigrants working in their fields. Without membership in said orders, engineers, registered nurses, appraisers, chartered accountants and many other skilled professionals from abroad cannot work in their fields in Quebec. Membership is not easily accessible, and requests to have your education and credentials recognized by an order are often costly.

Quebec’s Order of Charter Appraisers, for example, charges a $200 fee for the evaluation of your credentials. And that’s only after you get a Comparative Evaluation for Studies done outside Quebec.

This is an assessment provided by a government expert at Immigration Quebec comparing your education to similar degrees obtained in the province. The Evaluation fee is $170 and does not guarantee you a job even if your education is deemed equivalent to a Quebec education, and only works for certain professions.

For those learning French, access to the orders can be even more difficult. Though the Ordre des infirmières/infirmiers du Québec (OIIQ), the province’s nursing union, allows applicants to write their entrance exams in English, the union came under fire in 2015 for the poor quality of the exam’s English translation. This resulted in a 47.3% pass rate for those writing in English, compared with the 78.7% pass rate for those who wrote the exam in French.

This reporter spoke to a Filipino nurse who arrived in Canada in the late sixties seeking a better life. She was able to join the OIIQ and worked for over 25 years before retiring. She had some choice words about the Ordre des infirmières/infirmiers du Quebec.

“They’re racists,” she said.

Which brings us to the other barrier facing skilled immigrants looking for work in Quebec: discrimination. Discrimination does not necessarily refer to overt acts of racism. Most employers know that openly discriminating against anyone can have serious legal consequences.

That said, the province still has people like Abdul Waheed, a chemist from Pakistan who told the CBC in September of this year that despite sending out hundreds of CVs, he could only get a job in a call center. Though we have tons of skilled immigrants, employers are still showing a preference for applicants with Francophone or Anglophone names, a likely result of the fear of change immigrants may or may not bring to Quebec language and culture.

The CAQ has promised to make skilled professions more accessible to the immigrants we have, but they cannot do it alone. The professional orders and government bodies in charge of recognizing the skills of immigrants need to work together and to do it faster. If they don’t, the labour shortage will get worse and they’ll have only themselves to blame.

Facebook Comments

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *