Every evening after dinner, Naseem Ahmed Pasha would don his dress pants and dress shirt, and say goodbye to his three boys, telling them he was leaving for work in hospital.
By the time Pasha, a family doctor from India, got to his worksite, he would change into his uniform, the uniform of a security guard, for his 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at a Toronto condominium – for $8.50 an hour.
Before Pasha arrived Canada in 2006 under the skilled immigrant program, he was confident he would soon be able to use his skills and contribute to this country in a meaningful way.
After all, he has a medical degree from India’s University of Mysore and practiced medicines first in India and then in Saudi Arabia for 15 years. In his two years as a security guard here, he studied and passed all the qualifying exams and had his credentials certified.
Yet today, instead of treating patients and curing diseases, Pasha is sweeping floors and lifting heavy merchandise at a Toronto home improvement hardware store on survival wages.
“It’s a very tough pill to swallow,” said the 44-year-old, choking back tears. “I wasn’t prepared for this kind of jobs. But coming here, you have to survive and put bread on the table.
“I didn’t tell my kids because I come from a culture where being a doctor is an honourable and noble profession. Now my status has dropped, doing blue-collar jobs. It would have a bad impact on my kids.”
There are many highly educated and skilled immigrants like Pasha who have their skills wasted and look for Ottawa’s investment in the talents already here.
Of all the professions, physicians are probably the most highly regarded but also among the internationally-trained immigrants most likely to fail to get back into their field of training. (A Statistics Canada study found that 60 per cent of new immigrants failed to work in the same field.)
According to the Association of International Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, a self-advocacy group, there are more than 7,500 immigrant doctors in Ontario alone, about 2,000, like Pasha, having passed the exams but unable to secure a residency spot, a prerequisite.
This week, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney proposed a new policy requiring applicants wanting to immigrate as federal skilled workers to have their foreign credentials assessed and verified before their arrival in Canada.
While the change is welcomed as it would give future migrants a better understanding of how their credentials are measured against Canadian standards and hopefully help them hit the ground running quicker, many like Pasha also fear those who are already here would be forgotten.
Although the Conservative government has tripled its immigrant settlement budget since 2006, it has reduced the investment in newcomers’ programs such as language training and employment services since 2010. Ontario alone has lost almost $75 million settlement funding. Further cuts are expected.
To address the issue of the waste of immigrant skills, Ottawa established the Foreign Credentials Referral Office in 2006 to provide better licensing information to newcomers and launched orientation sessions for approved immigrants before arrival. The program is available in 25 countries.
So far, the credentials referral office has developed the Pan-Canada assessment and recognition tools for eight occupations and physicians is one of the six target professions in 2012.
“Our government is building an immigration system that is focused on economic growth and ensuring that all Canadians, including immigrants, are able to contribute to their maximum capacity,” said Kenney.
In 2010, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario issued 3,708 postgraduate training certificates to physicians in residency training and practice certificates to others, including 636 international medical graduates.
However, Mitra Arjang of the Association of International Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario said those international graduates are mostly made up of Canadian-born graduates from medical schools overseas.
“Residency program directors prefer residents to be young, to be familiar with the Canadian culture as much as possible. Immigrant doctors are real doctors and not just graduates with no experience. They are just too qualified,” said Arjang, adding that only a small number of those selected for residency are actual immigrant doctors.
It should be viewed as a health care issue when qualified physicians are prevented from practice as patients are made to wait for medical procedures and live without a family doctor, said Arjang.
The real solution, she added, is to offer transitional licenses for international trained physicians to work in a supervised environment to prove their skills.
“I don’t want to waste my skills. My parents made a lot of sacrifices for me to go through medical school. Canada must invest in skilled immigrants. It is good for us. It is good for Canada,” said Pasha, who has failed to secure a residency spot twice and is making a third attempt.
“I applied for a job as a ‘medical messenger’ to deliver drugs, but I’m not even good enough to deliver drugs.”