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Ana Works as an advocate for international nurses rights.

Lack of uniform hiring rules in BC pain Filipino nurses

Ana Cagas Tabella knows first-hand being accredited as a nurse with international credentials in Canada can be a lottery for…

By Ursula Diaz , in Health , on December 2, 2009

Ana Cagas Tabella knows first-hand being accredited as a nurse with international credentials in Canada can be a lottery for new immigrants.

Cagas, a former nurse in Philippines, came to Canada as a member of the Live-in Caregiver Program. She was surprised that she would have to wait for a couple of years before she could get a license to work as a nurse.

Under caregiver program, workers must spend two years working and living in the home of their employer before they can apply to have their foreign credentials officially recognized in Canada.

“I had no idea the things that I need to go through… in order for me to get that landed immigrant status,” said Cagas. “When you apply how they put it is: you complete the 24 months trial and you are landed immigrant, but that’s no how it is.”

Ana Works as an advocate for international nurses rights.
Cagas now works as an advocate for international nurses rights.

Shaping the process

The challenge for foreign professionals immigrating to Canada is that every regulated profession has its own association and validation procedures. The lack of a standard processes for assessing foreign credentials is a headache for new immigrants

Don Davies, MP for Vancouver Kingsway, is campaigning to make the process easier. He represents one of the most multicultural ridings in Vancouver, where more than 50 per cent of the population speak English as a second language.

“In Canada we have probably well over 400 professional associations, and it is those associations that really make the decision on whether or not a person entering Canada will have his credentials recognized,” said Davis. “It is a complete mess.”

Davies put forward a motion in the Parliament on October 29. He wants the federal government to talk to other national governments with a view to reach agreements that mutually recognize the educational and professional credentials of their respective citizens.

The motion is in an early stage. Davies hopes that it will come up for debate between now and June.

Validation process

British Columbia, unlike Ontario or Quebec, does not have a prescreening program to let immigrants know what to expect when arriving here or if their credentials will be enough to get a job in their field.

According to the Government of Canada´s program “Going to Canada”, there are two kinds of jobs: non-regulated and regulated.

Regulated jobs include pharmacy, medicine, engineering and nursing. For these jobs, a regulatory body assesses the foreign credentials before an employer can make hire the applicant.

Immigrants whose skills fall under this category need to go through the Foreign Credential Recognition, the process of comparing education obtained in another country to the standards established for Canadian workers.

Shortage of nurses

Nurses are one group affected by current process. As a coordinator at Migrante, an organization that protects Filipino immigrants rights, Florchita Bautista, has first-hand experience of helping foreign nurses negotiate the system.

Bautista´s main concern is the long period that international nurses need to spend before actually start working as nurses. Those that came under the caregiver program, need to refresh skills that might have become rusty while working as caregivers.  After the refresher, nurses need to apply for an open-work permit, a procedure that takes at least eight months, said Bautista.

“It´s more than three years to get the work permit, ” said Bautista. “If they are needed in Canada, then they should be treated just like any other worker that is needed by the society.”

The Canadian Nurses Association predicts there will be a shortage of 78,000 registered nurses by 2011 if the country continues with this process of registration,

Jose Tabella wears his uniform after obtaining his nurse registration in Canada.
Jose Tabella wears his uniform after obtaining his nurse registration in Canada. (Courtesy Ana Cagas)

According to the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia (CRNBC), 16 per cent of the nearly 35,000 registered nurses are international professions. In 2009, only 31 per cent of international applicants met all the requirements for registration, according to the statistics of the nursing regulatory body for the province.

Cynthia Johansen, the Director of Registration, Inquiry and Discipline for the association, said they assess every case individually.

She said they need to protect the public by making sure that the nurses have the working experience and level of education that is required by the provincial legislation.

The association provides feedback to applicants that do not meet the requirements to get registered. Johansen said sometimes applicants have knowledge gaps that can be fulfilled with small workshops. Other applicants might need to go back to school for several months.

Success story

It took three years for Ana Cagas to get all the paperwork to be able to work as a nurse in Vancouver.

Now, she is an advocate for the rights of international nurses. She helps newcomers work their way through the caregiver program and understand how to have their credentials recognized.

She offers workshops and counselor services for new immigrants.

Once Cagas became a permanent resident, she decided to sponsor her husband who had worked for ten years as a nurse in Philippines.

Because she already knew the process, it was easier for Cagas and her husband to complete his accreditation as a nurse.

Listen to the story of Ana and Jose:



  • I just want to ask how can I register at CNRBC? Because I have an application at Northern Health and they told me to register first at CRNBC..


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