Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.
My name is Timothy Owen. I'm the director of World Education Services, which is involved in credential evaluation work in the province of Ontario and across Canada. I'll mention a few words about it a bit later on.
I wanted to speak to you about some of the challenges and issues--a few of them, anyway--facing people who come to Canada with education credentials earned abroad. I also want to recognize some of the important steps that have been taken by governments and institutions over the past ten years to try to address these challenges. I'd like to speak to you today about maybe four or five.
First is improving consistency in the recognition of international qualifications by licensing bodies and academic institutions. Second is the academic and labour mobility of immigrants through the portability of the credentials they've earned and could use across the country as they move from province to province. Third is access by immigrants to appropriate information on the process of getting their credentials recognized and to services. Fourth is recognition of international credentials held by temporary foreign workers and international students. This is a growing number of people. Finally, of course, is the need for greater collaboration among all the parties involved in these many processes.
I think we know most of the numbers, and we don't need to go over them. Seventy percent of working-age immigrants to Canada have some post-secondary education. All of our labour market growth is going to come from immigration in the next few years.
It's also important to know that skilled immigrants are twice as likely as Canadians to be underemployed. That is, of the people who are working in a job that requires less than a post-secondary education but who hold more than post-secondary education credentials, twice as many, by percentage, are immigrants.
I think we're also aware of the economic and social costs of unemployment and underemployment for these individuals. We are aware of the complexity--the maze, you might say--they have to navigate to have their credentials assessed and recognized for licensure and appropriate employment. We also recognize the growing international competition Canada faces for skilled labour.
We are probably less likely to be aware of the cost to governments and taxpayers of paying for individuals to go to educational institutions in Canada to gain credentials they already have. And we may not be aware of the inconsistencies immigrants face when having their credentials assessed by academic institutions.
It is estimated that about 40% of skilled immigrants go back to school once they arrive in Canada. That would represent about 40,000 people a year. If each of them took only one course, the cost to them would be over $40 million. The cost to the taxpayer would probably be about $20 million. That is just to take one course that they may have already earned during their education before coming to Canada.
WES is an international not-for-profit organization. We've been involved in the business of assessing foreign credentials for about 34 years. We're the Province of Ontario' s recognized evaluation service. Along with recognized services in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec, we are members of the Alliance of Credential Evaluation Services of Canada. Last year, the members of this alliance probably assessed the credentials of about 30,000 people who came to Canada, and sent those credentials either to employers at academic institutions or to licensing bodies.
Last year, from our office in Toronto, we provided services to about 9,000 people and compared their credentials to those of Canadians.
About 10% of our applications come from overseas, and while this number increased dramatically, by almost 50%, in the previous year, we still believe it's too low a number considering the movement of people to Canada. We believe that many more should be able to start the process of having their credentials assessed before they come to Canada.
I last spoke to this committee in the spring of 2005. Since then there has been much progress, both at the federal and provincial levels. HRSDC's foreign credential recognition program has funded a great number of programs since that time. It's provided leadership and incentives for many groups to become interested and involved in credential recognition issues. It's provided a vehicle for the federal government to influence, shape, and inform research and action. One of the grants they made assisted the Alliance of Credential Evaluation Services and others that evaluate credentials to come together to begin to collaborate and develop consistent and portable assessments of credentials within a pan-Canadian framework. We hope to continue this work with our colleagues and with the government.
Ontario and Manitoba have passed fair access legislation, which sets standards for access to regulated professions by internationally educated applicants. Other provinces are considering similar legislation. CIC's Foreign Credentials Referral Office has worked to provide information to newcomers through their information portal, and it has collaborated with others that provide information on foreign credential recognition.
Through them and through HRSDC, the Canadian immigrant integration project has offered pre-departure services to immigrants coming from three major source countries, and I believe this is going to be expanded to many more countries in the future. Part of what they do, in collaboration with us and others, is to have a preliminary assessment of credentials before people come to Canada.
The federal government has also facilitated the development of mutual recognition agreements among Canadian regulatory bodies, which has important implications for internationally educated applicants who want to move across Canada. The government is also currently developing a pan-Canadian framework for qualifications recognition.
Not part of this process but another interesting development during this time has been the establishment of the Canadian experience class, which allows people who have come to Canada as international students or temporary workers to apply for and stay in Canada as permanent residents.
So while most of the work involving the assessment and recognition of foreign credentials lies within provincial jurisdiction, there is clearly a lot the federal government can do and has done and should continue to do.
From our perspective, the real challenge isn't to develop greater capacity to determine Canadian equivalence of international credentials, which we and others have been doing in a consistent and reliable way for many years, but rather how the results of these assessments are recognized by licensing bodies, academic institutions, and employers. If the work of provincially mandated evaluated services were more broadly understood, promoted, and used, many of the issues we are addressing today could be resolved more quickly. We don't need to develop the means to evaluate foreign credentials; we just need to better understand and harmonize the processes and resources we have.
One example we're working on right now is with a group of regulators in Ontario to standardize the type of academic documents that are required to be submitted for assessment and to develop protocols for sharing these documents once they've been verified. To us, this is the first step towards portability. If someone has gone to the trouble and expense to have their documents sent in an official manner from their school overseas to an evaluation service in Canada or to a licensing body, they shouldn't need to do this again when they move from one province to another or if they want to use their credentials for another purpose. At the moment, they do have to do that. Further, it would be better if they were told before leaving their home country exactly what documents they need to have sent and if they were encouraged to begin that process at that point.
But it's not just permanent residents who face the challenge of foreign credential recognition. We shouldn't ignore the importance of this process for international students who are coming to study in Canada. About 178,000 international students are in Canada at any one time, and about 80,000 new international students arrive each year. The Canadian experience class allows many of them to remain in Canada as skilled workers, which is a good thing, and there's increasing global demand not just for international students but for processes to help them stay in countries that they come to as students.
One of the factors that may help them choose which country to study in is the extent to which their previous study will be recognized and accepted when they apply to come to Canada or when they apply to an institution. Will they receive recognition for their previous degrees and obtain admission with advanced standing, and if they stay on in Canada after they graduate, will the Canadian government consider their previous study as well as their Canadian study when they are assessed for immigration? They're being assessed for skilled immigration, but it's only the Canadian study that is assessed at this point.
The Canadian experience class also allows those who have come to Canada as temporary workers to apply to remain as skilled workers. But when they apply, it's not the skills of the worker that are assessed but the skills of the job they are currently in. As many of these individuals come as temporary workers and are more highly qualified than the skills demand, when it's only the skills of the job that are being assessed and not the skills of the individual, we're missing out on many qualified individuals.
In both cases, the government considers their applications as skilled immigrants, but they don't actually assess the qualifications these people have brought with them to Canada, only the skills of the job they've been in or the qualifications they've earned in Canada. I think we should change that.