The federal government is removing a barrier that will make it easier for doctors from other countries to get permanent residency in Canada.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser said Friday that doctors would receive an exemption to allow them to apply for the federal express entry system.
The system, which has a six-month processing time, previously was not available to doctors because it isn't open to people who are self-employed. Because many doctors work using a fee-for-service model, they were precluded from being able to apply for the express entry system.
"This is going to remove a major barrier to recruitment for provincial governments, knowing that they now have access to the federal express entry system," Fraser said.
Sending a signal to the world
The express entry system is used to recruit in-demand workers who want to come to Canada. The system assigns applicants a score based on a number of factors, including education, work experience, language competency, age and family demographics.
Fraser said he expects foreign-trained doctors would generally score high in the system now that they have access. It is open to people who are temporarily in Canada now and those working outside the country who wish to come here.
"We're going to be sending a signal to the world that we want you to come to Canada and we want you to know that you've got a pathway to permanent residency that is much faster than many economies around the world."
The change itself is not a silver bullet.
Working to recognize credentials
Fraser said another challenge to recruiting and retaining foreign-trained doctors is recognition of their credentials and/or finding timely ways to get them the upgrades they need to be able to work here.
Regulation to practise medicine happens at the provincial level.
Fraser said the federal government is trying to motivate provinces to speed up the process by offering funding to help with the work. The last federal budget included $115 million for that effort.
"This allows educational institutions and organizations that are going to make it easier for professionals to qualify, to have financial support to run those programs."
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia recently announced changes to streamline the process of evaluating foreign-trained doctors. Other provinces are also working on that effort.
Fraser said such work is vital if the country is to attract the number of medical professionals it needs. He said health care has been the "No. 1 issue" in his riding since first being elected, and that extends to doctor availability.
"Frankly, I have very little patience left because I've met so many professionals who've come to Canada who are not able to work at their full potential in sectors where we have immense need because they're not entitled to practise their given profession."
Dr. Leisha Hawker, the president of Doctors Nova Scotia, said any help streamlining the process to get more doctors here and have their credentials recognized is welcomed.
"It's quite an uphill battle for physicians trained outside Canada to be able to get to the point where they're licensed and practising in Nova Scotia," she said in an interview.
Doctors from other countries do a great job integrating into the province when they get here and start working, said Hawker. It's clear what a valued role immigration can play in improving the health-care system and boosting the workforce, she said.
With more than 100,000 people in the province looking for a doctor and about a quarter of Nova Scotia's family doctors over the age of 60, Hawker said immigration would be vital to succession planning.
Hawker said Doctors Nova Scotia is also advocating for an Atlantic or national licensing program so international medical graduates who come to Canada have greater ease finding the right place for them to live and work in the country.
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