Each year on May 12, Canada celebrates International Nurses Day, which commemorates the work that nurses do to ensure Canadians receive the best quality healthcare possible.
As Canada continues to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the population continues to age, the country is still dealing with a demand for more nurses.
The latest job vacancy data shows that as of January 2023, there were 162,100 vacant positions in the healthcare and social assistance sector, the highest level on record. The federal government and provinces agree that immigration and fast-tracking credential recognition for Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs) is a core part of ending the labour shortage and filling these vacancies.
Nurses in high demand
The shortage of nurses was an issue in Canadian healthcare even before the pandemic. A 2022 report by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) showed that many nurses were suffering from poor mental health and burnout. This led to mass resignations among healthcare professionals throughout the pandemic.
Following the release of Budget 2023 on March 28th, the CFNU cited a poll that said four out of 10 nurses are now considering leaving their job, mostly due to high workloads and poor staffing levels, while one in two younger, early-career nurses report symptoms of clinical burnout.
Provinces working to attract and retain nurses
Healthcare is a provincial responsibility. Provinces are working to attract more nurses from abroad and remove some of the barriers that IENs may face when they arrive in Canada. Namely, many nurses experience challenges getting the necessary accreditation to practice in Canada.
In recognition of this challenge, Canada’s provinces are making notable efforts to hire and retain more nurses. Here are just a few examples.
In February, Alberta announced it is investing more than $15 million to train and support more IENs. The funding includes $7.8 million for students to access up to $30,000 in bursaries. The remainder of the funds will create 600 new seats for nurse bridging programs in three Alberta universities.
Alberta has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Philippines to streamline the process of recruiting Filipino registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.
British Columbia has recently introduced a new nurse-to-patient ratio that will depend on the care area. For example, an ICU nurse with a ventilated patient will have a 1:1 ratio. This is aimed to ensure patients get the necessary care and that nurses are not overwhelmed.
Further, the province is now covering application and assessment fees for IENs, which can cost more than $3,700. BC will also provide up to $4,000 per person to cover assessments and eligible travel costs for nurses returning to practice after an absence.
Manitoba launched its Health Human Resource Action Plan in November 2022. The government also made a commitment to add 2,000 healthcare providers, invest $200 million to retain, train and recruit healthcare staff across the province and eliminate mandated overtime.
On March 20, the Premier of Nova Scotia, Tim Houston, announced that nurses in the province would be receiving a $10,000 recognition bonus. Those who sign a two-year return of service agreement by the end of March 2024 will receive an additional $10,000 the following year.
The province has also made 154 conditional offers for healthcare workers, including nurses, on international recruitment trips to Kenya, Singapore, the UAE, and the UK.
In October 2022, the Ontario Ministry of Health, the College of Nurses in Ontario and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario brought in several changes such as:
- Allowing internationally educated nurses to register in a temporary class and begin working sooner while they work towards full registration;
- Making it easier for non-practicing or retired nurses to return to the field by introducing flexibility to the requirement that they need to have practiced nursing within a certain period of time before applying for reinstatement; and
- Creating a new temporary independent practice registration class for physicians from other provinces and territories, making it easier for them to work for up to 90 days in Ontario.
Further, on January 1st this year, more changes came into effect. The new rules:
- Require health regulatory colleges to comply with time limits to make registration decisions;
- Prohibit health regulatory colleges from requiring Canadian work experience for the purpose of registration, with some exceptions such as when equivalent international experience is accepted; and
- Accept language tests approved under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to reduce duplicate language proficiency testing for immigrants to Canada.
How to come to Canada as a nurse
Among the over 100 economic immigration programs in Canada, there are several specifically tailored for healthcare professionals.
Nurses may be eligible for Express Entry programs such as the Federal Skilled Worker Program or the Canadian Experience Class.
The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) is another popular pathway for nurses. The PNP allows provinces to select skilled, immigration candidates who they feel will have the best chance of becoming economically established within a province and able to fill gaps in the provincial labour force.
Here are some examples of PNP streams nurses can use:
- Ontario invites nurses to apply through its Human Capital Priorities Stream.
- British Columbia offers a Healthcare Professional category under its Skills Immigration and Express Entry pathways.
- Saskatchewan launched an International Health Worker EOI pool specifically for nurses.
- Nova Scotia’s Labour Market Priorities Stream occasionally holds draws inviting nurses to apply for a provincial nomination.
- New Brunswick’s Internationally Educated Nurses (IEN) program is a pathway for foreign nurses who can speak English or French.