‘Imprisoned’: Some internationally-educated nurses ready to work in Ontario, but can’t

Click to play video: 'Immigration backlogs preventing some internationally educated nurses from working' Immigration backlogs preventing some internationally educated nurses from working
WATCH: Immigration backlogs preventing some internationally educated nurses from working – Jan 12, 2022

Nurses that received their education outside of Canada will now be allowed to work on the front lines of a number of healthcare settings, including hospitals, the province says.

It comes as the system grapples with significant surgery backlogs and extreme staffing shortages.

Despite the dire need for staff, some internationally-educated nurses that have met requirements needed to work here still do not qualify, as permanent residency applications stall amid the pandemic.

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COVID-19: Ontario to receive international nurses to assist with staffing shortages – Jan 11, 2022

Karla Ducusin did her education and training in the Philippines. She worked there as a nurse for three years before moving to Canada in 2018.

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“I complied with the college of nurses requirement. I did the examination,” among a number of other evaluations and certifications, she said.

Ducusin has since been working as a caregiver. She applied for permanent residency in October of 2020. To date, her application has not been processed.

“It’s just sad,” she said.

“You feel like you’re imprisoned because you really want to get out of it, you really want to go (to hospitals) and help but you can’t.”

Read more: Ontario long-term care workers feeling burnt out amid widespread staff shortages due to Omicron

John Shields, a professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University, says when it comes to permanent residency applications, “over half a million are still not processed and of course among that group would be a number of nurses.”

However, the province’s latest announcement has drawn concern from some Ontario ICU nurses like Nikki Skillen, who worry IENs could put more strain on the health-care system.

“I’m a little torn on this. We need all the help we can get,” Skillen said.

“Who is going to ensure they have the skills to work in our acute care hospitals right now? Who’s going to supervise them?”

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Tim Guest, president of the Canadian Nurses Association, echoes these concerns, telling Global News, “we need to make sure that we don’t create a situation that creates further chaos in the system, but make our best efforts to bring these individuals in, in a way that there’s a win-win.”

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Birgit Umaigba, a nurse and clinical practice instructor who teaches internationally-educated nurses at York University, disagrees.

“These nurses are very knowledgeable, they’re skilled. Some of them have over 10 years under their belts in different specialty areas,” she said.

“We need to be open minded to receive them. So far the process has been very racist and discriminatory, unfortunately, with credentials looked down upon.”

Ontario’s health minister said Tuesday more than 1,200 internationally-educated nurses had expressed interest in working in Ontario hospitals.

Read more: Canada headed for nursing shortage ‘beyond anything we’ve ever experienced’: experts

Hamilton nurse Amie Archibald-Varley says the province should have looked at utilizing these health-care workers much sooner.

“I think this is something we should have done a long time ago. I’m really happy we’re hearing this announcement.”

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Archibald-Varley said she hopes workers don’t end up being exploited.

“We need to make sure we’re protecting these workers as well. Many of them are racialized, we need to be ensuring that they have full-time work,” she said.

“This is not a band-aid solution that is ‘all of a sudden we’re doing this now’ and all of a sudden they go away and that we don’t have them here to help support.”

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