Canada has a severe shortage of nurses. So why can’t these two fully certified nurses get the go-ahead to practice?

Katrina Deauna, a former intensive care nurse in the Philippines, has watched from the sidelines as Ontario, and all of Canada, grapple with the chronic nursing shortage that the pandemic has exposed.

While the foreign caregiver enjoys caring for her Canadian employer’s 18-month-old and six-month-old son, she says she prefers to use her front-line nursing skills and experience to help those who are fighting for their lives against COVID-19.

Deauna has met all licensing requirements of the Ontario College of Nursing. All you are missing is authorization to work, either through a letter confirming that you are eligible for permanent residence or an open bridge work permit.

“We are prepared to practice our profession. We are just waiting for our papers, ”says the 28-year-old, who worked in the intensive care unit of the Manila Medical Hospital, one of the best hospitals in the Philippines, for three years until September 2019, when she was hired as a babysitter. in Toronto.

“They are talking about the nursing shortage in Ontario and Canada. And here we are. The only thing that keeps us from our practice is an immigration role. “

According to the Ontario Regulatory Body for Nurses, there are currently at least 41 applicants who meet all of their registration requirements but are waiting immigration authorization to work in Canada. It is not known with certainty what the figures are for other provinces.

Statistics Canada reported that in the first three months of this year, the health care and social assistance sector had the largest year-over-year increase in job vacancies compared to other sectors, increasing from 27,700 to 98,700 vacancies, an increase 39 percent. The positions with the highest increase in vacancies were registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses. Half of those positions had been vacant for 90 days or more, according to Statistics Canada.

Ontario has been hit the hardest so far. With a ratio of 725 registered nurses per 100,000 people, it ranks as the lowest province in Canada and well below the national average of 811 nurses per 100,000 people, according to 2019 data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Hospitals in the province currently have an 18 to 22 percent vacancy rate for nurses, says the Ontario Nurses Association.

“Some smaller hospitals closed their emergency departments after four because they are understaffed,” says Vicki McKenna, director of the association, adding that some operating rooms operate at limited capacity for the same reason.

While complaints from internationally trained nurses have traditionally had to do with the lengthy registration and licensing process with regulators, McKenna said it is regrettable that those who have met the licensing requirement are being held back due to a delay in immigration. .

“We need these nurses, and we cannot allow them to languish on that list, and we cannot afford to lose them in other provinces. The nursing shortage isn’t just in Ontario. It’s all over the country and it’s an international problem, ”he said.

“The United States is recruiting a lot. Our nurses are going, in some cases, to what are considered to be greener pastures there, and we can’t afford to sit and watch. We have to do something.”

Reduced processing capacity due to blockades here and abroad, as well as travel restrictions around the world, have wreaked havoc on the immigration system during the pandemic.

As of July 31, more than 561,700 people were in the permanent residence queue and 748,381 had a pending temporary residence application as students, workers or visitors, while the delay for citizenship was 376,458 people.

Traditionally, many internationally educated nurses from the Philippines, the Caribbean, and Africa arrive and work as foreign caregivers while attempting to register and restart their licensing process in Canada once they are here.

Delays in permanent residence for foreign caregivers began long before the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. In April, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced a move to prioritize permanent residency applications from 6,000 caregivers by December 31st.

The immigration department said it had processed applications for a total of 3,253 people under the initiative as of Oct. 17, but it is not known how many of them were caregivers because the number included their family members. Officials could not say how much caregiver delays have been reduced since the announcement.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has prioritized applications for workers in essential occupations in agriculture and healthcare, where labor is most needed to protect the health of Canadians and ensure a sufficient food supply,” the spokesperson said. from the Rémi Larivière department.

“Applicants who intended to work in agriculture or healthcare but applied for an open work permit and did not have a valid job offer in advance would not be classified for priority processing.”

Deauna said she was delighted with the government’s announcement, but feels that those with pending nursing licenses should be expedited if Canadian officials are serious about solving the country’s nurse shortage in the wake of the pandemic.

He applied for permanent residence and open bridge work permit in August 2020, but only received an acknowledgment of receipt last June. Her work permit as a caregiver has expired since June.

Ontario’s licensing process requires applicants to have practical nursing experience within three years before a certificate of registration is issued.

Deauna fears that she will have to return to the Philippines to return to practice and restart the licensing process if her immigration and nursing certificate does not arrive before June.

“I cannot afford any more delays in my permanent residence or open work permit,” he noted.

Leslie Apurada: 'It is heartbreaking to see how strained the Canadian healthcare system is while we are here.  We have passed all the exams and we could have helped. '

Leslie Apurada arrived in 2018 under the home support worker program to care for an elderly man with dementia in Montreal and began her licensing process at the Ontario College of Nurses a year later.

The former Filipino RN with a psychogeriatric background underwent Canada’s National Nursing Assessment, enrolled in prep courses, and took, and passed, a couple of mandatory nursing exams, all while working full-time to care for her. customer.

Even though her employer supported her and tried to spare her from overtime work while studying for exams and attending courses, Apurada said she was mentally and physically exhausted from going through all the obstacles to pass the final qualification test at June. Since then, he has been waiting for his immigration clearance to work.

“During the height of the pandemic … the Prime Minister of Canada said that we are all in this together. But we caregivers feel like they always leave us on the sidelines. No one really answers us why the delay in caregiver programs has been so long, ”said the 31-year-old, who is now enrolled in an online nephrology course at Humber College.

“It is disheartening to see how strained the Canadian healthcare system is while we are here. We passed all the exams and we could have helped. “

Karla Ducusin, another former registered nurse from the Philippines, came to Canada in late 2018 via Israel to care for an elderly couple with medical needs in Markham. She is responsible for preparing their meals, administering their medications, accompanying them to doctor appointments, and helping with housework.

The permanent residency application she filed last October costs $ 1,050, and each time she extends her caregiver work permit, it’s another $ 155.

Since he is now in Canada with so-called implicit status, in transition with a pending permanent residence application in the system, Ducusin said he lost his OHIP, which requires a temporary foreign worker to have a valid work permit to be eligible. Her work permit as a caregiver expired last November.

“I want to be able to help my family more financially. My father is ill and my two younger brothers do not work. I could make a lot more money and pay more taxes as a nurse than as a caregiver, ”said the 32-year-old, whose file will be closed by the Ontario College of Nurses if there are no updates for two years.

“This is seriously affecting our mental health. You wake up every day and there is still no movement on your immigration application. It’s so frustrating “.

With files from Patty Winsa

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto reporter covering immigration for The Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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