June 13, 2023

Canada’s Provinces Incentivize Immigrant Nurses

Canada, like many countries, is currently grappling with a significant shortage of nurses. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt and the population ages, the demand for nurses in Canada remains high. In order to address the ongoing labor shortage and fill the increasing number of vacant nursing positions, the federal government and provinces have recognized the crucial role of immigration and fast-tracking credential recognition for Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs). To attract and retain immigrant nurses, provinces in Canada have implemented a range of additional incentives and initiatives. This article will delve into the comprehensive efforts being made by Canadian provinces to tackle the nursing shortage through these incentives and immigration programs.


The Nursing Shortage in Canada: A Persistent Challenge

Even prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada was already facing a shortage of nurses within its healthcare system. A 2022 report by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) shed light on the poor mental health, burnout, and mass resignations experienced by many nurses. The pandemic has further intensified these challenges, with a significant number of healthcare professionals reporting high workloads and inadequate staffing levels. As of January 2023, the healthcare and social assistance sector in Canada recorded an all-time high of 162,100 vacant positions, according to the latest job vacancy data.

Recognizing the urgency to address this shortage, the federal government and provinces have prioritized attracting and supporting IENs, ensuring their successful integration into the Canadian healthcare system.


Provincial Efforts to Support Immigrant Nurses

  1. Alberta: Alberta has taken significant steps by allocating over $15 million to train and support IENs. This funding includes substantial bursaries of up to $30,000, enabling nursing students to access financial support. Additionally, Alberta has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Philippines to streamline the recruitment process for Filipino registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.
  2. British Columbia: British Columbia has implemented a groundbreaking nurse-to-patient ratio system that varies based on different care areas. For instance, an ICU nurse with a ventilated patient now operates under a 1:1 ratio, ensuring optimal care provision and preventing nurses from becoming overwhelmed. Moreover, the province has committed to covering the application and assessment fees for IENs, which can be a significant financial burden, exceeding $3,700. British Columbia also offers financial support of up to $4,000 per person to cover assessment costs and eligible travel expenses for nurses returning to practice after an absence.
  3. Manitoba: In November 2022, Manitoba launched its Health Human Resource Action Plan, which entails adding 2,000 healthcare providers and investing $200 million to retain, train, and recruit healthcare staff across the province. By eliminating mandated overtime and providing substantial investment, Manitoba aims to attract and retain nurses within its healthcare system.
  4. Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia's Premier, Tim Houston, announced a recognition bonus of $10,000 for nurses in the province. Nurses who sign a two-year return of service agreement by the end of March 2024 will receive an additional $10,000 the following year. Furthermore, the province has actively engaged in international recruitment trips to countries such as Kenya, Singapore, the UAE, and the UK, offering conditional offers to healthcare workers, including nurses.
  5. Ontario: Ontario has implemented a range of changes to facilitate the integration of IENs. These changes include allowing internationally educated nurses to register in a temporary class and begin working sooner while they work towards full registration. The province has also introduced flexibility in reinstating non-practicing or retired nurses, easing the requirement of having practiced nursing within a certain period before applying for reinstatement. Ontario has also introduced a new temporary independent practice registration class for physicians from other provinces and territories, simplifying their ability to work for up to 90 days in Ontario.

Immigration Programs for Nurses

In addition to the provincial incentives, Canada offers a variety of immigration programs specifically tailored for healthcare professionals, including nurses. These programs are designed to attract skilled nurses from around the world to fill the existing vacancies. Notable programs include:

  1. Express Entry: Nurses may be eligible for Express Entry programs such as the Federal Skilled Worker Program or the Canadian Experience Class. These programs provide avenues for individuals with the required skills and experience to apply for permanent residency in Canada.
  2. Provincial Nominee Program (PNP): The PNP allows provinces to select skilled immigrants who have the potential to become economically established within a specific province. Several provinces have implemented specific streams under the PNP dedicated to healthcare professionals, including nurses. For instance, Ontario's Human Capital Priorities Stream, British Columbia's Healthcare Professional category under its Skills Immigration and Express Entry pathways, Saskatchewan's International Health Worker Expression of Interest (EOI) pool, and Nova Scotia's Labour Market Priorities Stream all provide opportunities for nurses to obtain provincial nominations.
  3. New Brunswick's IEN Program: New Brunswick offers the Internationally Educated Nurses (IEN) program, serving as a pathway for foreign nurses with English or French language proficiency.

Canada is actively addressing the nursing shortage by providing additional incentives and support for immigrant nurses. Provinces such as Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Ontario have implemented a range of initiatives to attract and retain nurses, including financial incentives, streamlined processes, and improved working conditions. Furthermore, Canada's immigration programs, such as Express Entry and the Provincial Nominee Program, offer pathways for nurses to immigrate and contribute their skills to the Canadian healthcare system. By prioritizing the recruitment and integration of immigrant nurses, Canada is taking significant steps to ensure the availability of quality healthcare services for its population. The ongoing efforts of Canadian provinces reflect a commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse healthcare workforce while addressing the critical nursing shortage in the country.


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