Despite increased demand as a result of COVID-19, Canada continues to be short thousands of health-care workers.
Vacancies in Canada's health-care and social-assistance sectors have reached an all-time high. According to a Statistics Canada study, there will be 100,300 vacant positions in these sectors by the end of 2020. Labour shortages in health care have long been a problem, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation.
As the majority of Canada's labour force retires, it may become more difficult to fill vacancies in the coming decades. In addition to these demographic challenges, the pandemic may have reduced Canada's already low birth rate. While complete national data are not yet available, the province of British Columbia alone reported fewer births in 2020 compared to 2019, with preliminary data indicating a drop to 1,781 new babies in May. In 2020 and 2019, no month had fewer than 3,000 B.C. new-borns.
As a result, without high levels of immigration to support population growth, the working-age population may have to pay more in terms of time and money to support older generations. More senior citizens will also demand more health-care workers.
Already, first-generation immigrants account for nearly a quarter of the labour force. Unfortunately, newcomers who want to work in Canada's health-care sector must overcome credential recognition barriers.
Canadian credentials put on a pedestal
Many immigrants working in nursing or health-care support occupations did not come to Canada with the intention of working in the field.
After having difficulty finding work, a large proportion of immigrants in nursing and health-care support occupations had transitioned into these jobs. They would usually return to school. They would find it easier to integrate into the sector after finishing their studies because their Canadian credentials were suddenly recognized.
Those who received their formal education outside of the United States frequently found it difficult to break into the health-care sector because their credentials were not recognized.
A profile of immigrants in Canadian health care
Adult immigrants to Canada were found to be overrepresented in the health-care sector.
In 2016, immigrants made up a total of 28% of workers in nursing support occupations, despite accounting for only 24% of the employed population.
Among those working in these occupations, 22% were immigrants who arrived in Canada as adults, accounting for only 16% of the total employed population.
From 1996 to 2016, there was a significant increase in the representation of people from the Philippines and Sub-Saharan Africa in particular. The Philippines accounted for nearly one-third of adult immigrants working in nursing and health-care support occupations.
The majority of those who wanted to come to Canada to work in health care were admitted as the primary applicant under an economic class program. Half of those who wanted to work in nursing and support positions were accepted into a permanent residence program for caregivers. The vast majority of those who immigrated under the economic class and obtained health-care jobs did not intend to work in these occupations when they were admitted.
It was difficult for these newcomers to find work in nursing, and two-thirds were overqualified when they did.
The majority of those from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean finished their highest level of education in Canada.
The increase in migration from the Philippines and Sub-Saharan Africa is largely responsible for the overrepresentation of immigrants in the nursing and health-care support sector. There has also been a steady increase in the number of Caribbean immigrants working in health care, as has been the case for several decades.
The reason for this overrepresentation is unknown, as there have been few studies on the subject. We do know that the relationship between immigrants and the Canadian labour market differs by gender and country of origin. The findings of this Statistics Canada study raise questions about what motivates some immigrants to pursue careers in health care and nursing after arriving in Canada.