Despite the increased demand due to COVID-19, Canada is still short of thousands of healthcare workers.
The number of job vacancies has reached an all-time high in Canada's health care and social assistance sector. At the end of 2020, there were 100,300 vacant positions in these sectors, according to a Statistics Canada study. Health care workforce shortages are a long-standing problem that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The challenges of filling vacant positions may increase over the coming decades as the majority of Canada's labor force retires. In addition to these demographic challenges, Canada's already low birth rate may have fallen due to the pandemic. While full national data is still not available, the province of British Columbia alone reported fewer births in 2020 compared to 2019, and preliminary data shows a drop to just 1,781 new babies in May. For context, not a month fell below 3000 B.C. newborns in 2020 or 2019.
The results could mean that without high levels of immigration to support population growth, the working-age population will have to pay more with their time and money to support older generations. More older people will also demand more health care workers.
First-generation immigrants already represent almost a quarter of the working population. Unfortunately for newcomers who wish to work in the health care sector in Canada, they must overcome the barriers associated with credential recognition.
Priority to Canadian Experience
Many immigrants who work in nursing or health care professions did not come to Canada to work in the field.
A large proportion of immigrants in nursing and health care support occupations made the transition to these jobs after having had difficulty finding work. They usually went back to school. After completing their studies, they would find it less difficult to integrate into the sector because their Canadian credentials were suddenly recognized.
Those who received their formal training abroad often struggled to break into the healthcare industry because their credentials were not recognized.
Immigrants profile for Canadian healthcare
Immigrants who arrived in Canada as adults were over-represented in the health care sector.
In 2016, a total of 28 percent of workers in nursing support occupations were immigrants, who made up only 24 percent of the labor force.
Of those in these occupations, 22% were immigrants to Canada as adults, representing only 16% of the total labor force.
The representation of people from the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa in particular increased significantly from 1996 to 2016. Almost a third of adult immigrants in nursing and health care professions were from the Philippines.
Most of those who wanted to come to Canada to work in health care were admitted to Canada through an economic class program as the principal applicant. Half of those who wanted to work in nursing and support positions were admitted through a permanent residence program specific to caregivers. The vast majority, however, who immigrated into the economy class and obtained health care jobs did not intend to work in these occupations upon admission.
Finding a nursing job was no easy feat for these newcomers, and two-thirds were overqualified when they landed a job.
In the case of those in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, the majority achieved their highest level of education in Canada.
The overrepresentation of immigrants in the nursing and health care support sector is largely due to increased migration from the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa. The number of Caribbean immigrants working in health care has also grown steadily, which has been the case for several decades.
The reason for this overrepresentation is unclear, as there haven't been many studies on this. We know that the relationship between immigrants and the Canadian labor market varies by gender and place of origin. The results of this particular Statistics Canada study raise questions about what motivates some immigrants to turn to the health care and nursing professions after arriving in Canada.
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