Keeping Foreigners Out? The 1-Year Canadian Requirement for Engineers in Ontario

Jasmine CY Lam

A professional engineering (P.Eng) licence in Ontario can be both a blessing and a headache for newcomers to Canada. For newcomers, having a P.Eng on a resume says to potential employers: “I’ve been Canadianized! You can hire me!” But obtaining a P.Eng requires more than getting your academic credentials and professional experience recognized – you also have to demonstrate that you can talk like a Canadian, work like a Canadian, and behave like a Canadian. What cost does this impose on Canada, a country that values diversity above all else?

peoA P.Eng title is the official licence given to an engineer. In Ontario, Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) is the only organization that assesses applicants and determines eligibility for a P.Eng. Mandated under the Professional Engineers Act of Ontario, PEO ensures that all engineers in the province are qualified to perform engineering work with the highest standard of safety. Although engineers without a licence are still allowed to work, they must be supervised by a P.Eng licence holder.

In order to receive a P.Eng, an applicant must hold an engineering degree that is recognized by the PEO, complete PEO’s Professional Practice Exam, and demonstrate a minimum of 48 months of engineering experience—at least 12 of which must be acquired in a Canadian jurisdiction. While advocates for improving the foreign credential recognition process focus on how academic credentials are recognized, the greatest challenge for newcomers is obtaining the 12 months of Canadian experience prior to applying for their P.Eng. Essentially, newcomers are stuck in a double-bind—a P.Eng helps them find a job in a new country, but they are unable to get the required experience for a P.Eng until they obtain one.

We may think that newcomers will just have to deal with this situation, as PEO’s criteria are necessary for upholding public safety. But other countries are able to license newcomers while maintaining public safety through other approaches. Australia, a country that shares Canada’s demographics and migrant patterns, does not require any local experience to apply for their P.Eng equivalent. Rather, Engineers Australia, the association tasked with evaluating foreign credentials, requires applicants to demonstrate their local engineering knowledge through a written submission and interview. A similar approach is taken in New Zealand, where applicants are asked to demonstrate competency by explaining how they would conduct a project differently if it were implemented locally. This competency-based approach continues to uphold public safety in both countries, is highly transferable, and can relieve the barriers newcomers to Canada face.

Engineering is one of the most demanded skillsets in Canada, and at the current rate, local supply is not sufficient to fulfill the needs of the market. According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, engineering firms face the most difficulties when it comes to hiring someone with the right qualifications. Fortunately for Canada, more immigrants are migrating to Canada with specializations in engineering. This influx of labour supply could help meet Canada’s rising demand — but only if we seize the opportunity.

Many immigrants to Canada are highly qualified, and as a nation we should not maintain unnecessary barriers that prevent them from excelling in their expertise.

Ontario has already taken its first steps to uphold fairness in the treatment of immigrants in the labour market through the Fair Access Act. Even the Fairness Commissioner, tasked with ensuring that professional regulatory bodies provide fair access to the labour market, has asked PEO to consider alternatives to its current approach. However, since the province tends to leave discretion to professional regulatory bodies to change their processes, it is unlikely that we will see any changes soon.

As a country that advocates for diversity, it is ironic that some of our policies and regulations simultaneously devalue it. Many immigrants to Canada are highly qualified, and as a nation we should not maintain unnecessary barriers that prevent them from excelling in their expertise. It is both a detriment to our economy and a disrespect to the people we welcome into our country.

Jasmine CY Lam is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance, and holds a BA Hons in Political Science and International Development from McGill University. She has over 4 years of professional experience in the non-profit sector, with a passion to develop and implement effective policies and solutions that tackle social and equity challenges in Toronto and in Canada.

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