Newfoundland and Labrador to open recruitment desk in India to attract nurses

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The government of Newfoundland and Labrador's plan to establish an office in India aimed at attracting internationally trained nurses to the province raises questions about equity and immigrant retention, an economist said Friday.

Prof. Tony Fang of Memorial University in St. John's, N.L., says the province likely won't have much trouble recruiting nurses through its efforts in India. Instead, Fang said the real challenge could be convincing them to stay.

"I think this is something that has potential, but it is not without controversy," Fang said in an interview Friday. "We need to do more homework to make sure this works for immigrants and their families, and also for the province."

On Thursday, the provincial government announced plans to establish what it calls a "recruitment desk" in the city of Bengaluru, which is the capital of India's southwestern state of Karnataka. The desk will be staffed by government officials and a representative from the province's College of Registered Nurses who will meet with local nurses, nursing schools and students to promote the province as "an ideal immigration destination," a news release said.

Bengaluru is home to several nursing schools with curriculums and standards similar to those in Newfoundland and Labrador, Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne told reporters. All of their instruction is in English, he added.

"We are doing something that is not being done by any other Canadian jurisdiction that we are aware of," Byrne said.

He said the recruitment effort will be modelled after the province’s satellite office in Poland, which was set up to attract Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks. Through that office, the government has brought three planeloads of more than 160 Ukrainians each to St. John's since May.

Fang said the plan raises questions about "poaching" critical skilled workers from a developing country. But he noted that immigrants often send money back to their families, which contributes to their home country.

"It's also voluntary, nobody is forcing them to come over here," he said. "They want to pursue a better quality of life for themselves and their children."

To create a balance, the provincial government could look at helping India set up a training school for nurses whose graduates could work in India or in Newfoundland and Labrador, Fang said.

The province will also need to focus on the nurses' lives once they arrive, he added. Newfoundland and Labrador often struggles to retain its immigrants, typically because they can't find work. While the nurses from India may have a job lined up when they arrive, their family members will also need jobs, as well as easy access to transportation and health care, Fang said.

Recent figures from Statistics Canada show that while the share of recent immigrants settling in Atlantic Canada has nearly tripled, that growth has been the most sluggish in Newfoundland and Labrador. In a place with small immigrant communities, newcomers risk feeling culturally isolated, which could also prompt them to move, Fang said.

He pointed to efforts by the town of Gander, N.L., to establish a mosque for its Muslim doctors as an example of a government effort to make immigrant communities feel more welcome.

"A nurse can probably find a job anywhere in this country," Fang said. "So make sure we do the homework to not just get the nurses here but also make sure the family members are also settled and well integrated into our economy and our society."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2022.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press