Pathways to employment: The need for post-graduate work permits for international health care workers

By Lara Croll

With a rapidly aging population, there is an urgent need for an appropriate number of qualified workers in British Columbia’s health care system. Canada’s health care system is anticipated to grow at an annual rate of 1.9%, creating 188,900 jobs by 2036.[i] In BC alone, the seniors care sector is anticipated to create over 36,000 jobs over the next ten years,[ii] and will be the fastest growing industry in BC until 2025.[iii] The BC Ministry of Health estimates that the continuing care sector will need a net gain of 2,849 FTE health care assistants (HCAs) over the next five years in order to meet this expected growth.[iv]

Despite the strong anticipated growth, the number of qualified healthcare workers entering the workforce each year is not sufficient to meet the increasing demand for continuing care services. As outlined in Figure 1 below, the number of new graduates registering each year has been declining over the past five years for both HCAs and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Already, up to 60% of long term care operators are identifying staffing shortages as an issue in their care home. [v]

Given the shortage of domestically trained health care workers, BCCPA believes that recruiting international workers and students will be key to addressing current and future labour market shortages. Many international workers are actively seeking employment in BC’s healthcare system, as this provides them a pathway to permanent residency, as well as the ability to send remittances back to their family in their country of origin.

However, current federal policy prevents many international students trained in Canadian health care programs from gaining employment, even if they meet all the requirements of the applicable college or registry.[vi] This is because currently HCA and LPNs graduating from private post-secondary institutions are ineligible for post-graduate work permits (PGWPs).[vii]Given the shortage of domestically trained health care workers, BCCPA believes that recruiting international workers and students will be key to addressing current and future labour market shortages. Many international workers are actively seeking employment in BC’s healthcare system, as this provides them a pathway to permanent residency, as well as the ability to send remittances back to their family in their country of origin.

PGWPs are a type of open work permit that enables recent graduates to find employment in Canada with very few restrictions, thus allowing them to move freely between employers and provinces. PGWPs allow employers to hire international workers without the need to complete a Labour Market Impact Assessment through Employment and Social Development Canada, a process that is both time consuming and costly.

Extending eligibility for PGWPs to health care students enrolled in private career colleges would confer many benefits for both immigrants and Canadians alike. Improving access to work permits would help increase the supply of qualified HCAs and LPNs, thus better enabling Canada to meet the needs of our aging population. The labour market participation of immigrants would also be enhanced as international students would have a clear pathway to employment in Canada’s growing health care industry.

British Columbia is well positioned to pilot this policy change for the rest of Canada. Unlike any other province in Canada, British Columbia has a fully operational regulatory body for health care aides – the BC Care Aide and Community Health Worker Registry. The registry provides educational oversight for HCA training programs, ensuring that all certified post-secondary institutions are following the provincial curriculum and meeting specific quality standards.[viii] Thus, if this policy change were piloted in British Columbia, it will be possible to ensure that only those private career colleges that have met designated quality standards will be eligible to participate.

To support Canada’s aging population, the BCCPA recommends that the federal government extend eligibility for PGWPs to international students enrolled in health care programs at private post-secondary institutions. The BCCPA supports making this policy change through a pilot program that prioritizes HCAs and LPNs, as well as giving future consideration for other occupations with documented chronic worker shortages.

While the current health care worker shortage can not be solved through the recruitment of international students alone, overseas workers will be one key component of a larger recruitment and retention strategy. Expanding eligibility for post-graduate worker permits is a cost-effective solution that could be pilot in BC, providing international workers with a pathway to employment and residency in Canada, while also filling identified gaps in our health care system.

END NOTES

[i] Canadian Occupation Projection System, Employment and Social Development Canada. Total Job Opening Projections. Accessed 03, 26, 2018.

[ii] WorkBC, 2017. Labour Market Outlook, 2017 Edition.

[iii] WorkBC, 2015. British Columbia 2025 Labour Market Outlook.

[iv] Dix, Adrian. “Care Aides” Edited Hansard. British Columbia, Debates of the Legislative Assembly. 41st Parl., 3rd Sess. Thursday May 10, 2018, Afternoon Sitting at 1550.

[v] SafeCare BC, May 16, 2017. New Strategy is Needed to Address Shortage of Continuing Care Workers.

[vi] Neatby, Stuart, and Bala Yogesh. 2017. “How International Students are Filling Funding Shortfalls: Most international students leaving Canada after graduation.” The Vancouver Sun , October 12. http://vancouversun.com/feature/how-international-students-are-filling-funding-shortfalls/chapter-4

[vii] Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 2018. Determine your eligibility – Work after graduation. Government of Canada. May 01, 2018.

[viii] BC Care Aide and Community Health Worker Registry, 2018. Recognized BC Health Care Assistant Programs. Accessed at: https://www.cachwr.bc.ca/About-the-Registry/List-of-HCA-programs-in-BC.aspx