Dealing with foreign- trained professionals (Toughest HR Question)

It's up to employers to comply with legislation, human rights policy

Brian Kreissl
Question: How should employers deal with skilled immigrants whose credentials do not readily transfer to Canada? Can we insist on hiring only people with Canadian experience?

Answer: Though I grew up in Canada, I completed my undergraduate education in Scotland. After I returned, I began to understand the challenges faced by foreign-trained professionals.

My own problems were exacerbated by the fact I studied law in Scotland. In many ways, I was probably worse off than if I had studied something more universal, such as economics or sociology. Recruiters openly told me they weren’t considering me because I didn’t have recent Canadian experience. People were hostile towards me for attending university outside Canada.

I had completed all of my prior schooling in Canada, with several part-time and summer jobs throughout high school. But it didn’t seem like any of that mattered much to employers.

Because my degree wasn’t fully recognized in Canada, I decided to enhance my education by completing certificates in law and business management from a Canadian university, along with a postgraduate program in human resources, a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation and a master’s degree focusing on employment law.

Reforming immigration

It is somewhat dishonest to persuade professionals to come to Canada because their qualifications are in high demand, only for them to find the situation is quite different when they get here. Our government, employers, professional associations and the general public are all partially to blame for this problem.

Evidence is increasingly suggesting that so-called skills shortages are overblown. And it is quite possible some employers are abusing the system by bringing in temporary foreign workers to do work Canadians could easily be doing.

While the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is being reformed, perhaps we should be looking at further reforming the entire immigration system. At the very least, we should be more honest with people about their likelihood of success in pursuing their profession in Canada.

Even if it means bringing fewer people into the country, we have a moral obligation to help the people who are already here to succeed and integrate into the Canadian economy and society.

Nevertheless, there are signs of positive change. Several jurisdictions have passed legislation making the recognition of foreign credentials fairer and more transparent. Human rights legislation provides that insisting job candidates have Canadian experience discriminates against immigrants on the grounds of nationality. The Ontario Human Rights Commission also recently developed a policy on removing the Canadian experience barrier, with the result that employers should not insist on Canadian experience or qualifications in most cases.

Implications for employers

It is up to employers to comply with legislation and human rights policy in this area and stop insisting on hiring only people with Canadian experience. While possession of Canadian credentials could be a bona fide occupational requirement for certain jobs — especially in licensed professions such as law and medicine — in many cases, someone with education and experience from abroad could do the job just as well.

That’s not to say employers aren’t entitled to hire the best candidate for the job or that communication and soft skills aren’t important. But someone shouldn’t be discounted just because she has international experience or a degree from a foreign university. When in doubt about international qualifications, have them evaluated by a foreign credential evaluation service.

It is also important to be wary of rejecting foreign-trained professionals for being overqualified. In many cases, these individuals are unable to get the jobs people wrongly assume they would be qualified for in Canada.

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Carswell’s human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions. For more information, visit

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