100 job applications later, this newcomer still can’t restart his engineering career in Canada

The Current18:51Skilled migrants tied up in red tape

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Rex Gonzales worked as an industrial engineer and project manager for 16 years in the Philippines. But he’s struggled to find work in his field since moving to Canada — despite applying for almost 100 jobs.

“Unfortunately, until now, after two or three months of applying for a job, I haven’t received any call for an interview,” he told The Current’s guest host Duncan McCue.

Gonzales moved to Vancouver in July 2022 with his wife and young daughter. Hoping to improve his chances in the Canadian job market, he worked as a deli clerk while completing a master’s degree in business administration. He also got a certification in project management. 

He’s currently working as a shift supervisor in a fruit and vegetable retailer, which he described as a “survival job.”

“The struggle is taking its toll financially, given the [housing] situation here in Vancouver and, of course, rising cost of living,” he said. 

Premier David Eby speaking at a microphone.
On Oct. 23, B.C. Premier David Eby announced a bill that, if passed, will remove some barriers for professionals trained outside of Canada to gain employment in B.C. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Last month, B.C.’s provincial government introduced legislation aimed at helping immigrants with foreign credentials resume their careers in 29 professions, including engineers, lawyers, teachers and social workers. 

Bill 38, the International Credentials Recognition Act, would remove barriers such as redundant language testing, as well as requirements that workers gain professional experience in Canada. Many migrants struggle to secure that Canadian work experience in their field, precisely because they are not yet licensed to work.

David Lee, the director of employment, language, and social enterprise at MOSAIC — which helps immigrants and refugees settle in Canada, told CBC News last month that some migrants have left Canada because they couldn’t find work in their field.

WATCH: Work barriers hurt both employers and employees, says advocate: 

The struggle to recognize international credentials hurts employers and employees, advocate says

David Lee of MOSAIC, a Vancouver non-profit that helps newcomers to Canada, tells BC Today host Michelle Eliot that some internationally-trained skilled workers are forced to return to their home countries due to struggles getting their foreign credentials recognized in Canada.

“That doesn’t help anyone,” he said. “We need people to work in these fields and we know that they have the professional training to do this work.”

If the legislation passes, it is expected to come into effect in summer 2024. 

Lengthy process

Wasseem Makhoul worked as an engineer in his native Syria and the U.A.E. before moving to Canada in 2015. He applied for the engineering certificate in 2016, and everything was completed around late 2020. During that period, he worked in construction and plumbing to make ends meet.

“When I landed with my family, the ultimate goal was finding a job to put food on the table,” said Makhoul, who now lives in Bradford, Ont. “I knew there would be a point that I need to get my professional engineering certificate validated, but that was not my number one concern.”

On Thursday, Ontario’s government announced proposed legislation to ban employers from requiring Canadian work experience in job postings or application forms.

The move follows legislation passed by the province two years ago, also aimed at reducing employment barriers for immigrants. That paved the way for Professional Engineers Ontario to remove Canadian experience as an applicant requirement — the first association to do so.

An Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada sign is seen on the side of an old building in Montreal.
Many newcomers to Canada take on lower-paying jobs to make ends meet, while they search for jobs related to their previous training. (Ivanoh Demers/CBC)

But Makhoul worries an engineer who has trained and worked exclusively outside Canada may not know provincial building codes well enough to design infrastructure here.

He would like to see the application process shortened, including the academic requirements and the validation process.

Gonzales also said professional engineers from other countries should have some sort of eligibility assessment if they want to work in Canada.

“But I agree with Wasseem that the time should be reasonable enough …  for us to be certified here to work as an engineer, not like what Wasseem has experienced: three to four years,” he said.

WATCH: Social worker from Hong Kong describes arduous path to employment in B.C.

Social worker from Hong Kong describes arduous path to employment in B.C.

Alice Wong, a social worker trained in Hong Kong, says she is thankful she’s finally found employment in B.C. and hopes new laws will make it easier for others to find work in the province.

If passed, the proposed legislation in B.C. would also set caps for maximum processing times, and require credential-assessment information be available online.

A report from the office of B.C.’s Workforce Development Minister Andrew Mercier — which was made public earlier in October — showed that it took up to six months for the Engineer and Geoscientists BC to review applications.

If passed, the new provincial act will require regulators to track the time between being accredited and becoming employed.

Making sacrifices

Despite the obstacles faced by new migrants, Makhoul says Canada’s job market is not the hardest one to crack.

“It’s a long process. It’s a painful process. However, I would say there is an opportunity for every skilled person, regardless if he or she are an immigrant or not, to find a proper job,” he said.

In the meantime, Gonzales continues to search for a job in his field.

“Obviously it is very frustrating. But as immigrants, we are resilient,” he said.

“We have sacrificed financially, emotionally, being away from our family and from our home country — and this is just a setback…. We can overcome this, I think.”