Provinces working to make it easier for internationally educated nurses to work in Canada

Edana Robitaille
Published: January 12, 2023

British Columbia has recently announced that it is removing some of the barriers for internationally educated nurses (IENs) to register with the province. It will do so by removing application fees and providing new financial support to nurses returning to practice after a period of absence.

The province says it will now cover application and assessment fees for IENs, which can cost more than $3,700. Further, the province will provide up to $4,000 per person to cover assessments and eligible travel costs for nurses returning to practice after a period of absence.

“Supporting nurses is key to our work to making health care accessible to all British Columbians. Still, the demand for nurses is outpacing the supply,” said Premier David Eby. “There are talented and skilled nurses with the right experience who want to practice in BC and support high-quality care, but they are kept on the sidelines by an expensive and complicated registration process. Whether a nurse was trained in or out of the province, we are ready to welcome those who are ready to care for British Columbians.”

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The BC government announced $12 million in bursaries for IENs back in April 2022. Since the funding was announced, 5,000 people have expressed an interest in nursing in British Columbia. Of these, 2,000 people are actively working toward the completion of the registration and assessment process.

Overall, more than 90% of nursing applications received by the BC College of Nurses and Midwives in 2022 came following the changes.

Ontario is also working to hire and retain more IENs

Last fall, Ontario made similar strides toward smoothing the path for IENs. In October, the Ontario Ministry of Health, the College of Nurses of Ontario, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario implemented 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.

These measures were the beginning of a longer-term plan. Additional measures for IENs came into effect on January 1 this year that will have a further positive impact and speed up the registration process including:

  • Requiring health regulatory colleges to comply with time limits to make registration decisions;
  • Prohibiting 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
  • Accepting language tests approved under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to reduce duplicate language proficiency testing for immigrants to Canada.

Ontario supported over 800 IENs between last January and October by expanding funding to the supervised practice experience partnership program. The province expects that number to go up to 1,000 by the end of March this year.

Like BC, Ontario is temporarily covering the cost of fees for examinations, applications, and registration fees for the College of Nurses of Ontario, which can go as high as $1,500. Finally, Ontario has invested $764 million to provide Ontario nurses with up to $5,000 as a retention incentive.

Why is Canada working so hard to attract healthcare workers?

Canada’s healthcare system is under pressure due to several factors such as an aging population. This means there are more people requiring healthcare and that many professionals within the healthcare sector are also reaching retirement age.

Additionally, a report by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union says there was significant strain and a shortage of nurses even before the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the height of the pandemic, many healthcare professionals were working unprecedentedly long shifts with little time off and this has caused many to require extended leave for their mental health, or to quit the healthcare sector altogether.

According to data from Statistics Canada, there were 151,200 vacant positions in health care and social assistance in October, the highest level across all sectors and little changed from the record high of 152,800 in July. The most recent data from December shows that the rate of employment in healthcare and social assistance is continuing to decrease, with the biggest number of job losses occurring in Ontario.

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