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Policy on Removing the “Canadian experience” barrier

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Approved by the OHRC: February 1, 2013
Available in accessible formats on request

1. Introduction

Canada is home to immigrants[1] from all over the world. Seen as a place of opportunity, peace and democratic governance, Canada has been able to attract highly-skilled immigrants. In return, Canada’s culture, society and economy have been greatly enriched by their contributions.

With its aging population, shrinking birthrate, and shortage of skilled labour, Canada relies on the contributions of immigrants for its economic well-being. In the modern global economy, immigrants with foreign experience can increase Canada’s international competitiveness by enhancing the country’s “diversity advantage.”[2]

Therefore, it is a major concern when recent immigrants to Canada face high rates of both underemployment and unemployment. Statistics Canada reported that between 1991 and 2006, “the proportion of immigrants with a university degree in jobs with low educational requirements (such as clerks, truck drivers, salespersons, cashiers, and taxi drivers) increased.”[3] Even after being in Canada for fifteen years, “immigrants with a university degree are still more likely than the native-born to be in low-skilled jobs.”[4]

Immigrant groups identify many barriers to finding jobs that correspond to their education, skills and experience. These include:

  • employers not recognizing foreign credentials and experience
  •  language and communication difficulties (particularly relating to “occupational jargon”[5])
  • employers not helping them integrate into the workplace and not providing job-related learning opportunities
  • being rejected for positions because they are thought to be “overqualified”
  • arbitrary requirements for “Canadian experience”[6] 
  • outright discrimination.[7]

While the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) recognizes the significance of all of the barriers newcomers potentially face when trying to access the job market, this policy will focus on “Canadian experience” as an employment or accreditation requirement, and as a practice that raises human rights concerns. The OHRC’s position is that a strict requirement for “Canadian experience” is prima facie discrimination (discrimination on its face) and can only be used in very limited circumstances. The onus will be on employers and regulatory bodies to show that a requirement for prior work experience in Canada is a bona fide requirement, based on the legal test this policy sets out.

The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) states that it is public policy in Ontario to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination. The Code aims to create a climate of understanding and mutual respect, so that each person feels that they belong in the community and can contribute to it. 

Employers, unions, regulatory bodies, governments at all levels, social service agencies serving newcomers and newcomers themselves all have a role to play in making sure that barriers to employment are identified and removed. A number of “best practices” have emerged that can help organizations make sure that they are following the Code and human rights principles:

Best practices

Employers, representatives of employers and regulatory bodies should:

  • Examine their organizations as a whole to identify potential barriers for newcomers; address any barriers through organizational change initiatives, such as by forming new organizational structures, removing old practices or policies that give rise to human rights concerns, using more objective, transparent processes, and focusing on more inclusive styles of leadership and decision-making.
  • Review job requirements and descriptions, recruitment/hiring practices and accreditation criteria to make sure they do not present barriers for newcomer applicants.
  • Take a flexible and individualized approach to assessing an applicant’s qualifications and skills.
  • Give an applicant the opportunity to prove his/her qualifications through paid internships, short contracts or positions with probationary periods.
  • Provide newcomers with on-the-job training, supports and resources that will enable them to close “skill gaps” (i.e. acquire any skills or knowledge they may be lacking).
  • Use competency-based methods to assess an applicant’s skill and ability to do the job.
  • Consider all relevant work experience – regardless of where it was obtained.
  • Frame job qualifications or criteria in terms of competencies and job-related knowledge and skills.
  • Support initiatives designed to empower newcomers inside and outside of their organizations (for example, formal mentoring arrangements, internships, networking opportunities, other types of bridging programs, language training, etc.).
  • Monitor the diversity ratios of new recruits to make sure they reflect the diversity of competent applicants overall.
  • Implement special programs,[8] corrective measures or outreach initiatives to address inequity or disadvantage affecting newcomers. 
  • Supply newcomers and social service agencies serving newcomers with information about workplace norms, and expectations and opportunities within the organization.
  • Retain outside expertise to help eliminate barriers to newcomer applicants.
  • Form partnerships with other similar institutions that can help identify additional best practices.
  • Provide all staff with mandatory education and training on human rights and cultural competence.[9]

Employers, representatives of employers and regulatory bodies should not:

  • Require applicants to have prior work experience in Canada to be eligible for a particular job.
  • Assume that an applicant will not succeed in a particular job because he or she lacks Canadian experience.
  • Discount an applicant’s foreign work experience or assign it less weight than their Canadian work experience.
  • Rely on subjective notions of “fit” when considering an applicant’s ability to succeed in the workplace.
  •  Include a requirement for prior Canadian work experience in the job posting or ad, or a requirement for qualifications that could only be obtained by working in Canada.
  • Require applicants to disclose their country of origin or the location of their work experience on the job application form.
  • Ask applicants questions that may directly or indirectly reveal where their work experience was obtained.
  • Ask for local references only.

In a 2003 report, Statistics Canada identified a lack of Canadian experience as the most common barrier for newcomers looking for meaningful employment in Canada. This research showed that this barrier continued to exist two years after their arrival.[10]

A recent University of British Columbia study found that Canadian employers value Canadian work experience over international work experience.[11]

In 2012, the OHRC did a public survey on requirements for Canadian experience in the employment sector. The OHRC received more than 1,000 responses from job seekers, regulatory body[12] applicants, employers and others. In addition, the OHRC consulted with a range of organizations and individuals, including agencies serving newcomers, employers, government and regulatory bodies. This background work showed that newcomers face Canadian experience requirements from employers at the job search stage.[13] They also face these obstacles when they try to get professional accreditation, as many regulatory bodies will not admit new members without prior work experience in Canada.[14]

When facing a requirement for Canadian experience, newcomers are in a very difficult position: they can’t get a job without Canadian experience and they can’t get Canadian experience without a job.[15] Responses to the OHRC’s survey show that many newcomers turn to unpaid work (e.g. volunteering or internships) or “survival jobs” – low-skill work outside of their field of expertise – to meet the requirement for Canadian experience. For example, two survey respondents wrote:

[…] It took me a very long time to find a job and the one that I finally got was due to my many, many months of continuous hard work and long hours as a volunteer. The work I do now has nothing to do with what I went to college for. It was sad, depressing and a financially-draining struggle for me.

[…] The main reason that they cited [in support of their decision not to hire me] is lack of Canadian experience. I have all the qualifications and over 12 years of experience in a multi-cultural and fast-paced work environment, and I feel that I have good communication skills too. I have even offered to work without wages for a few weeks so that they can judge me and my work. I have started getting frustrated and am planning to go back. They say they need skilled workers but don’t recognize your overseas experience.

A newcomer will find it harder to integrate into Canadian society, and to contribute meaningfully to their new homeland, if they cannot earn an adequate wage.[16] Decent employment is needed for socio-economic well-being, which in turn affects health, access to education and access to services. As one British Columbia human rights tribunal observed: “it cannot be in anyone’s interest to continue to accept into this country some of the best and brightest individuals from around the world, and to then make it virtually impossible for them to use the skills that they bring with them.”[17]

Newcomers, employers and Canadian society at large suffer untold losses when people are not able to work to their full capacity. And, if Canada is seen as a place where it is impossible to find a good job, a job in your field, or where, as an engineer or a Ph.D. graduate you are likely to end up driving a taxi, it will no longer be a desirable destination for many of the world’s most skilled immigrants. They will simply choose to go elsewhere.

[1] The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) recognizes that there are inherent challenges in finding ways to best describe people. Terminology is fluid and what is considered most appropriate will likely evolve over time. Also, people within a group may disagree on preference and may choose to use different terms to describe themselves. This policy uses the terms “immigrant” and “newcomer” broadly, to include a person who originally had citizenship in another country, but who has entered Canada permanently. This includes refugee claimants, permanent residents and people who now have Canadian citizenship. The OHRC also recognizes that the experiences of recent immigrants may be unique and different from people who have lived in Canada longer, and may also differ from the experiences of second-generation Canadians.

[2] Gail Larose and George Tillman, “Valorizing Immigrants’ Non-Canadian Work Experience,” Canadian Council on Learning, 2009, at 9.

[3] Statistics Canada, “Immigrants’ Education and Required Job Skills,” available online at: (date retrieved: May 24, 2012)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Nan Weiner, “Breaking Down Barriers to Labour Market Integration of Newcomers in Toronto,” (2008) IRPP Choices, Vol. 14, No. 10 September 2008 at 6.

[6] Note that the phrase ”Canadian experience” is used in this policy to refer to work experience obtained in Canada. This is different than the so-called “Canadian Experience Class,” an immigration stream for temporary foreign workers or foreign students who graduated in Canada, speak fluent English and/or French, and would like to become permanent residents. For more information on the “Canadian Experience Class” see:

[7] For more detailed information on employment barriers facing newcomers, see, for example, V. Kukushkin and D. Watt, “Immigrant-Friendly Businesses: Effective Practices for Attracting, Integrating, and Retaining Immigrants in Canadian Workplaces,” (2009) Conference Board of Canada at page 12, available online at: (date retrieved: May 11, 2012); Weiner, supra, note 5; Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, The Facts Are In! A study of the characteristics and experiences of immigrants seeking employment in regulated professions in Ontario, (2002) at 22, available online at: (date retrieved: November 13, 2012).

[8] For more information, see the OHRC’s publication, Special Programs and the Ontario Human Rights Code: A Self-Help Guide, 2012, available online at:

[9] Wikipedia defines “cultural competence” as “an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures, particularly in the context of human resources, non-profit organizations, and government agencies whose employees work with persons from different cultural/ethnic backgrounds. Cultural competence comprises four components: (a) Awareness of one's own cultural worldview, (b) Attitude towards cultural differences, (c) Knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews, and (d) Cross-cultural skills. Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures.” See    (date retrieved: November 10, 2012).

[10] Statistics Canada, “Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada: Process, Progress, and Prospects,” 2003, at pages 33-34, available online at: (date retrieved: May 29, 2012)

[11] For example, employer callback rates for résumés that listed only foreign job experience was significantly lower than for those résumés that included work experience in Canada: see Philip Oreopoulos, “Why Do Skilled Immigrants Struggle in the Labor Market? A Field Experiment with
Six Thousand Resumes,” 2009, available online at: (date retrieved:
May 28, 2012).

[12] The term “regulatory body” is used in this policy to describe organizations (legislated or not) that oversee a particular profession and govern their members in the public interest. Some regulatory bodies issue licences to trained professionals to enable them to practise their profession in the Province of Ontario. In this sense, they are the gatekeepers to their particular profession or trade. Other regulatory bodies do not have a “gatekeeping” function as such. Although membership in this type of regulatory body may be voluntary, it may come with certain advantages for individuals seeking to practise in that particular profession, including a professional designation, certification, or accreditation. As mentioned above, many regulatory bodies derive their authority to govern a particular profession from legislation. It is important to note that, as a quasi-constitutional document, the Human Rights Code has primacy over this legislation, unless the legislation states otherwise.

[13] Feedback from the OHRC’s survey shows that while some employers ask for Canadian experience in their job ads, it appears to be more common for employers to ask about Canadian experience in more subtle ways (for example, through in-person interviews, or through recruitment agencies). Agencies serving newcomers told the OHRC that, in some cases, employers may disregard a résumé that lacks evidence of Canadian experience, without the job applicant ever knowing the reason why he or she was never contacted for the position. Employers may also form conclusions about an applicant’s lack of Canadian experience based on factors such as an unfamiliar résumé or cover letter format, references in a résumé to foreign work experience or foreign educational credentials, written communication style, etc.

[14] The Office of the Fairness Commissioner (OFC), an arm’s length agency of the Government of Ontario, was set up in 2007 to make sure that everyone who is qualified to practise in a regulated profession in Ontario can get a licence to practise here. It looks at barriers in the registration practices of some regulatory bodies. For example, the OFC asks whether international experience is sufficient to meet the objectives of a workplace or clinical experience requirement, and asks to what extent Canadian or Ontario experience is needed to practice a profession in Ontario. For more information, see:

[15] Larose and Tillman, supra, note 2 at 2.

[16] Some newcomers may find that while they are successful getting a job, their lack of Canadian experience negatively affects their compensation rates, and/or their opportunities for promotion and advancement within the organization. For example, in Clarke Institute of Psychiatry v. Ontario Nurses' Assn, [2001] O.L.A.A. No. 184, a grievance was upheld when the employer denied the grievors’ out-of-country credit on the salary grid based on their race and place of origin. The employer’s policies were discriminatory because they required that employees with African experience file verification of their out-of-country experience, yet they did not require an employee with experience from Ireland to file the same verification. See also Re Eastern Ontario Health Unit and A.A.H.P.O., [1996] O.L.A.A. No. 898.

[17] Bitonti v. British Columbia (Ministry of Health) (No. 3) (1999), 36 C.H.R.R. D/263 at para. 381.


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