International Credentials: A Little Give and Take

How to get the Recognition You Deserve for Your Foreign Credentials

By Sophia Lowe

You want to find the best career opportunities in Canada. Why limit yourself?

Foreign credential recognition is an issue that persists in Canada. The result is not only a waste of immigrant qualifications and skills, but damaging messages being perpetuated such as “immigrant credentials are never recognized” or “don’t even bother.” Recent data shows that half of immigrants planning to work in a health field reported that they had no time to check their credentials or were told by word of mouth that their credentials would not be accepted (TIEDI, Report 15, 2011). This attitude is not uncommon. How many times have you heard that you should remove at least some post-secondary education from your resume to avoid being “overqualified”?

It’s time to look at the facts. Credential recognition is often possible. Recent evidence from a comprehensive survey in the Peel Region shows that immigrants who have had their credentials assessed and accepted by employers are more than twice as likely to be employed, more likely to obtain their desired occupations, and have overall higher job satisfaction rates (Peel Immigration Labour Market Survey Findings, 2009). In addition, credentials are frequently fully or partially recognized in regulated professions and immigrants are obtaining licensure. In Ontario, internationally educated immigrants registered make up 35% of pharmacists, 27% of architects, 27% of physicians and surgeons, 26% of dental surgeons and 24% of engineers (Office of the Fairness Commissioner, 2009).

While it’s true that credential recognition is a problem, don’t begin with the assumption that your education from outside of Canada will not be recognized. Your ability to persevere, adapt and remain positive will help you gain the recognition you deserve. First and foremost, you should investigate the possibilities in your profession. Find out to what extent your qualifications will be accepted, what upgrading would be required to continue in your profession, and the costs and time this would take. At the same time, you may want to explore other possible career opportunities.

Think Outside the Box – Canada’s Flexible, Eh

Immigrants are flexible by nature – making enormous sacrifices and taking risks in moving to a new country. Maintaining that flexibility as you explore your career options is part of the key to success in Canada.

In Canada, people shift through a variety of careers and educational opportunities over their lifetime. Obtaining credentials in a particular field does not require you to work in that field. Canadians think about education and work experience broadly as opening doors, and they generally change careers and return to school at some point. Unlike a more linear school-to-work process, which is commonplace in many countries, one’s education and credentials are just a starting point in Canada.

Immigrating to a new country is a difficult process and having smooth career transitions from one country to another is often unrealistic. Be open minded and strategic about your options and how you will pursue your career. Consider the possibility of a new career in Canada as an opportunity to grow. Think about the transferrable skills you have and begin to research and explore the various educational and employment pathways where you can use your credentials, skills and knowledge. Consider possibilities within the same field where you can use your knowledge and build new networks and gain experience in Canada. When working towards a specific profession, transitional employment that has relevance to your intended career can be beneficial.

Make your Education and Experience Count

Poor credential and skills recognition often results in immigrants taking jobs that require less education and skills than what they possess. The all too familiar scenario of immigrants becoming pushed into survival jobs to take care of their families is a result of this issue. It is also in part due to a need to better manage expectations. Immigrants sometimes arrive in Canada thinking that obtaining the same career at the same level will be possible in the short term. For the most part, with time, energy and money, this expectation can be met. However, it can be a long, expensive and frustrating process and it might be helpful to explore alternate plans as well. The qualifications and skills you have are unique, and so too are the range of opportunities available.

Research the various career possibilities and think about what’s best for you. Do try to think about how you could be flexible and use your knowledge, skills and expertise to adapt to the Canadian system in new ways. Understanding the current labour market conditions, average salaries and educational requirements by specialty will help you identify appropriate career paths and what is required to reach your goals. The Working in Canada tool (http://www.workingincanada.gc.ca/ ) is an excellent resource that allows you to learn more about work performed, certification, credentials, skills, training, labour market conditions and average salaries for each occupation.

Ask Lots of Questions

A lot of questions arise as you move and settle in a new country. The habit of asking lots of questions allows you to challenge what you assumed or expected, helping to highlight the range of possibilities available and allowing you to make informed and realistic choices. To start with:

• What are the transferable skills and knowledge I have, and what sort of jobs could I do?
• In general, what do I enjoy doing and what makes me feel happy?
• What careers are available for people with my qualifications?
• Do all/any of those careers require licensing?
• What academic credentials are required to enter those careers?
• How do I evaluate my international academic credentials?
• What kind of preparation or experience is required to work in these jobs?
• What opportunities are available to train or upgrade my skills to make me more employable?
• What are the steps and requirements in terms of time, costs, additional training, etc for the different career options?
• What is the current labour market like in this field, and what are my chances of gaining employment?
• Where can I find more information and support to make informed choices?

After you have explored some of the options available to you in Canada by asking questions and researching the possibilities, make some decisions and come up with a plan to help you achieve your goals. Your plan should also be flexible and allow for some re-adjustments along the way.

Stay Positive and Take Initiative

Finding meaningful work in a new country can take time, and the situation can be frustrating and difficult at times. While many factors are out of your control, maintaining an open mind as you research career pathways can help you find ways to best utilize your skills and education in Canada. In addition to having your credentials assessed and coming up with a flexible plan, take every opportunity to network, volunteer, gain Canadian work experience, develop your language skills and seek support.

Moving to Canada is a chance to explore new possibilities and reach new goals. By remaining positive and flexible, you can best utilize the education and experience you have, and succeed in Canada.