An Introduction to Nursing Careers for Internationally Educated Nurses
Canada faces a shortage of nurses, which is expected to grow in the coming years. This presents opportunities for internationally educated nurses (IENs) interested in working abroad. Working as a nurse in Canada allows you to provide care in a healthcare system that is consistently ranked among the best in the world. Canada is also a multicultural country with a high quality of life. There is strong demand from Canadian employers looking to hire qualified nurses, particularly in regions with nursing shortages, such as rural and remote areas.
Understanding the requirements and process involved in getting a nursing license and visa can help interested IENs determine if Canada is the right destination for their career.
Technical Terms and Acronyms
Before diving deeper into the topic, it’s important to define some key technical terms and acronyms that will be used:
- IEN (Internationally Educated Nurse) – A nurse who has graduated from a nursing education program in another country and is seeking recognition of their nursing qualifications in Canada.
- CNO (College of Nurses of Ontario) – The regulatory body that issues certificates of registration and nursing licenses for the province of Ontario. Other Canadian provinces/territories have their own nursing regulatory bodies.
- NOC Code (National Occupational Classification) – A system used in Canada to classify skill types and skill levels of occupations. Nursing jobs fall under NOC Code 3012.
- LMIA (Labor Market Impact Assessment) – An assessment conducted by Employment and Social Development Canada to determine if there is a need for a foreign worker to fill an available job. Required for many work permits.
- PR (Permanent Residency) – Legal status obtained after meeting eligibility criteria which allows indefinite residence and work in Canada without the need for employer sponsorship.
Understanding these concepts will help provide context for the licensing and immigration processes discussed. Let’s now examine the options in more detail.
Understanding Canadian Nursing Licensing Requirements
The first step for IENs is to determine if they meet the licensing requirements to practice as a nurse in Canada. Each province/territory has a specific nursing regulatory body responsible for registration. Broadly speaking, the requirements include:
Nurses must hold an approved nursing degree or diploma from a post-secondary program equivalent to Canadian standards. Programs must be at least two years in length for practical nurses or three-plus years for registered nurses.
English or French language proficiency suitable for clinical practice must be demonstrated, usually through language test scores. Levels required vary but are generally at a professional working level.
Applicants must not have any criminal history or other conduct issues that would prevent them from safely practicing nursing. Police checks are usually required.
Many IENs need to complete additional assessments to verify their competency meets Canadian standards. This commonly involves things like skills assessments, supervised practice periods, and credential evaluations.
The specific requirements can differ between provinces. Regulatory bodies like the CNO provide detailed information on their websites for applicants to review eligibility. It’s important for IENs to verify they meet all criteria before pursuing licensing in Canada to avoid delays or barriers later on.
Securing a Canadian Work Permit as a Nurse
Once licensed, the next step is obtaining a work permit to legally work as a nurse in Canada. There are a few potential options for IENs, depending on individual circumstances:
Employer-Sponsored Work Permit
Many nursing positions involve a Canadian employer providing a temporary job offer and sponsorship to support a work permit application. Employers must typically complete an LMIA to confirm no Canadian citizens/permanent residents are available for the role. If approved, a 3-year open work permit is usually issued.
Provincial Nominee Program (PNP)
Several provinces like Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia operate streamlined PNP programs specifically for nurses. Candidates must normally have a qualifying job offer and work experience. If provinces nominate the application, applicants can receive a provincial nomination certificate serving as proof of arranged employment to support faster federal work permit processing.
International Mobility Program (IMP) Work Permit
For nurses from Chile or Mexico, the Canada-Chile or Canada-Mexico free trade agreements allow for IMP work permits for up to 3 years without needing a job offer or LMIA. Nurses can job search after arriving.
Spousal/Common-Law Work Permit
IENs living in Canada as the spouse/partner of a work permit holder or temporary resident visa holder may be eligible for an open work permit through this family sponsorship stream.
It’s important to thoroughly research eligibility for each option. Work permits provide legal authorization to pursue nursing jobs but require renewal or a transition to permanent residency status over longer time periods in Canada.
Pathways to Canadian Permanent Residency
Once settled in Canada as nurses, the next goal for many IENs is to transition from temporary status on work permits to obtaining permanent resident status, often called becoming a Canadian PR. There are a few main PR application programs nurses may pursue:
Federal Skilled Workers Program
This is open to skilled visa-requiring workers like nurses. Strong language skills, education, and work experience are assessed along with other supporting factors. A job offer is not required but can significantly boost an application’s competitiveness.
Canadian Experience Class
Targeted towards skilled temporary foreign workers already established in Canada, including on work permits as an IEN. Offers an expedited process for those with 1-3 years of skilled work experience and proficiency in English or French.
Provincial Nominee Programs
As mentioned previously, most provinces run PNP streams focused on recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals. Criteria range by province but usually include a job offer, experience, and language skills. Many streamline approved nominees straight into PR status.
Family Class Sponsorship
Once permanent residents themselves, IENs can eventually sponsor family members like spouses/partners and dependent children to also become Canadian permanent residents through this category.
All PR programs involve extensive application forms and evidentiary requirements. Consulting professional immigration advisors is highly recommended. Comparing eligibility options carefully helps select the optimal program given an applicant’s individual situation.
Relocating and Finding Nursing Jobs in Canada
With PR status or eligible work permits in hand, IENs can begin the process of relocating to Canada and finding nursing employment. Some helpful tips include:
- Research leading destinations like Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta which often have the most job openings due to higher populations and healthcare needs. Rural/remote communities also actively recruit.
- Use job banks specific to healthcare professions like Nurses.ca, JobBank.gc.ca, and provincial nursing association sites to browse current postings in desired locations.
- Consider specialty areas in high demand, like critical care, geriatrics, mental health, surgery, and emergency department roles.
- Contact regional health authorities, hospitals, and long-term care facilities directly about open positions and upcoming recruitment drives to express interest.
- Seek local networking opportunities like IEN mentorship programs and conferences organized by regulatory colleges. Connecting face-to-face aids in relationship building with employers.
- Consider internal job transfers within organizations, if possible, after gaining Canadian experience and references, which streamlines future hiring processes.
- Be prepared for additional supervised practice or assessments that may be required when transitioning specialties or between provinces. Staying abreast of individual regulatory body requirements is key.
Relocating internationally requires significant preparation and adaptability. Dedicated job searching combined with leveraging connections maximizes IENs’ ability to secure nursing roles and kickstart careering in Canadian healthcare.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions IENs may have when considering nursing careers in Canada:
1. How long will it take to complete the entire process from start to finding a nursing job?
The time required can vary greatly depending on individual circumstances, but a reasonable estimate is 12-24 months on average. Licensing assessment tends to take 6-12 months alone. Finding employment may be quicker with the right credentials, connections, and target destinations in areas of high demand. Faster pathways are available through certain visa programs like PNPs.
2. What are the costs associated with relocating and becoming licensed as a nurse in Canada?
Estimated direct costs may include: credential assessments ($500-1000 CAD each), language test fees ($500 CAD each attempt), registration application fees ($1000 CAD), allied health professions legal opinion (~$4000 CAD), immigration application processing fees (ranging from $550-5500+ CAD depending on program) and living/relocation expenses during a job search. IENs should budget $15,000-$25,000 CAD minimum.
3. Do Canadian work experience hours count towards continued competency requirements to maintain licenses?
Yes, generally, hours worked as a licensed nurse in Canada can be counted towards the continued competency requirements that nursing regulatory bodies in each province/territory have to maintain an active practicing license. IENs do not need to redo competency assessments after becoming licensed as long as they remain continuously employed.
4. What language proficiency level is required, and how can I improve my English/French if needed?
Regulatory bodies require nursing communication skills at the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 7 level minimum or equivalent scores on language proficiency tests like IELTS or TOEFL. Score requirements vary, so checking individual college websites is advised. Some options to improve language skills include taking language classes at a local college, using smartphone apps/tutoring, practicing with a language exchange partner, and immersive cultural experiences.
5. How much can I expect to earn working as a nurse in Canada?
Nursing salaries in Canada range widely depending on factors like location, years of experience, specialty, and whether shifts involve evenings/weekends/holidays. As a general guide, new graduate RNs in urban areas can expect to earn $60,000-$80,000 CAD annually to start. With 5+ years of experience and in high-demand specialties/locations, experienced nurses can earn over $90,000 CAD per year. Public healthcare workers are also eligible for benefits and pension plans, which are not always available in other countries.