Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I want to thank you for the invitation on behalf of Certified General Accountants of Canada, or CGA Canada.
We are a professional association representing 75,000 CGAs in Canada and abroad, including China and the Caribbean.
I am pleased to see that our colleagues from the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants are joining us today. This way, together, we can provide you with an overview of initiatives in qualification recognition for accountants. That profession is still highly in demand, as my colleagues pointed out.
CGA Canada has been welcoming foreign-trained accountants for many years through a number of different paths. Today I want to speak about four distinct strategies that ensure timely, accessible assessment and recognition of foreign credentials.
The four things I want to talk about are mutual recognition agreements. My colleagues have spoken a bit about that, so I won't go into many details. The principle is the same. I want to talk to you about the new pilot program to offer CGA examinations and locations overseas, an online self-assessment tool enabling foreign-trained accountants to compare and assess their credentials with CGA requirements, and a harmonization project that will enable provincial CGA licensing bodies to access the same assessment data, leading to faster, more consistent assessments. These last two strategies were funded through the federal government program.
For many years foreign-trained accountants have been attracted to the CGA program because of its flexible delivery options. Although all candidates must meet the same internationally recognized high qualification standards, they can study on a part-time basis while working full-time and establishing themselves in their new communities. For this reason, foreign-trained accountants have played a big part in the tremendous growth of CGA designation over the years.
Today, about one-third of our membership in Ontario is foreign-trained, and in British Columbia 45% of our students say they have taken a significant portion of their studies outside Canada.
The first and likely the most direct path for having your professional qualification recognized is through mutual recognition agreements, achieved with comparable accounting bodies. And in some cases the only additional qualification requirement is to pass an examination in Canadian tax and business law.
To date, CGA Canada has negotiated mutual recognition agreements with four leading international accounting bodies. They are in Ireland, Australia, France, and the U.K., the last of which operates on a global basis and is one of the largest accounting bodies in the world.
One of the challenges foreign-trained accountants face is that they must wait until they arrive in Canada to begin the process of qualifying for a Canadian accounting designation. Until now we've been unable to offer qualification examinations overseas due to concerns about ensuring that there is integrity of highly confidential materials and that all candidates write exams under the same stringent conditions. However, a program of the Foreign Credentials Referral Office is helping us overcome those obstacles.
We are currently offering an opportunity for Philippines certified public accountants to earn the CGA designation from their home country. The first examination will be offered in Manila in March 2012. If the program is proven to be successful, we hope to extend it to New Delhi, India, very shortly after.
China, the Philippines, and India are the three largest source countries for immigrants. By adding these overseas examination centres in New Delhi and Manila to our existing operations in China, we will have avenues in all three countries for foreign-trained accountants to begin the process of earning a Canadian accounting designation before they arrive in Canada.
I'll now turn to our foreign credentials recognition national harmonization project.
Funding received form HRSDC last year will assist in addressing two main challenges: credential assessment and gap analysis.
The project will be done in two phases. Phase one is construction of an online self-assessment tool that can be used by foreign-trained accountants to assess their credentials. For the foreign-trained accountant, the online self-assessment tool provides a single interface that will provide consistent initial assessment results. It will assess both their university studies and their professional credentials and will provide them with a clear sense of where they would begin within the CGA program. Since they can access the tool from their own countries, they can get that initial assessment before they immigrate--before they even apply, in fact.
Now I must point out that this online self-assessment tool does not provide an official assessment of the accountant's credentials and will not provide specific results for all of the world's accounting programs. A provincial CGA association must still conduct an official assessment in order to admit a person into the CGA program. However, the online tool will enable many foreign-trained accountants to get a good sense of their standing much earlier in the immigration process, when they are making their initial plans and decisions.
Phase two involves detailed comparisons of various foreign qualification requirements against the high CGA qualification requirements. The results are being entered into a knowledge base that will serve as the back end of the online self-assessment tool.
As has already been addressed by other witnesses before this committee, challenges arise from the fact that foreign credential assessment is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. For the foreign-trained professional, this can lead to confusion and perhaps even the possibility of inconsistent assessments from one jurisdiction to another, not to speak of the cost of these assessments. For the provincial licensing bodies, such as our provincial CGA associations, it can result in duplicated effort and resource challenges as each jurisdiction struggles to conduct the same types of assessments. The national harmonization project addresses both issues.
For the provincial CGA associations, the knowledge base reduces the labour involved in evaluating credentials and provides the means for timely, consistent, and fair assessments of foreign prior learning. The project involves systematically identifying, assessing, and codifying the foreign accounting designations deemed of high importance. By that we mean that they are based on the volumes of applicants.
An additional benefit of this project is that it will help us identify potential partners for future mutual recognition agreements. MRAs provide the most direct path for foreign-trained accountants to qualify in Canada.
The project is proceeding as planned, and the online self-assessment tool is scheduled to launch at the end of this month.
We are very excited about this new web-based tool. As additional data is added to the knowledge base, the self-assessment tool becomes even more useful over time. What we mean is it will be current and it will keep on growing.
There are still outstanding issues in the process, including interprovincial mobility issues. Since most accountants work outside the regulated occupation of public accounting, their biggest challenges are often related to securing suitable employment rather than obtaining a Canadian accounting designation.
In conclusion, the importance of recognizing foreign credentials is well understood and appreciated by all parties, but it does not have a simple solution. It requires federal-provincial cooperation and it requires the collaboration of diverse stakeholders, including the professions, regulatory bodies, education providers, immigrant services agencies, and employers. The foreign credential recognition program has helped to bring these stakeholders together to share knowledge, to build partnerships, and to address systemic barriers. The momentum that has built up over the past few years is achieving results.
Thank you for your attention. It would be my pleasure to participate in the discussion and answer your questions.