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Talking about Canadian experience (fact sheet)

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In October 2012, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) hosted an online survey to learn more about the experiences of both job seekers and employers in dealing with requirements for Canadian experience. The survey was not about statistics – it was about giving people an opportunity to talk about the barriers they faced, and in the case of employers, the reasons for keeping or removing requirements for Canadian experience. We included many of stories and comments we heard in our new Policy on removing the “Canadian experience” barrier. The following sections highlight some of the recurring themes we heard, and some of the more poignant stories of people facing discrimination because they did not have Canadian experience.

About the survey

We sent the survey, available in English and French, out across the OHRC network, including over 260 community and professional organizations in Ontario that work with newcomers, and 276 organizations with access to networks of employers (such as chambers of commerce, business sector organizations, and small business and business development associations). We also used print, electronic and social media to spread the word.

We estimated that 100 people might respond, and were very surprised when almost 1,000 people, including more than 130 employers, shared their thoughts with us. No valid statistics can be gleaned from an open-ended, voluntary survey – we can assume that many people filling out the survey did so because they had faced the Canadian experience barrier. But we can draw one important conclusion – the sheer volume of responses confirms that discrimination based on a lack of Canadian experience is a serious problem for many newcomers.

What job-seekers said...

Job-seekers who faced Canadian experience barriers came from across the world, including:

  • India
  • Philippines
  • Pakistan
  • Colombia
  • Iran
  • China
  • Jamaica
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Egypt
  • United States
  • Bangladesh
  • United Kingdom
  • Venezuela
  • Peru
  • Turkey
  • Mexico
  • Nigeria
  • Jordan
  • Sri Lanka

People reported many different ways that requirements for Canadian experience served as barriers to them in getting or keeping jobs that matched their skills.

When sending in an application

“I felt I was well qualified and experienced for the job but did not even get an interview. Once I removed from my cover letter that I was a recent immigrant, my chances to get an interview were improved.”

“I feel I would have received a much better response for my application if I had an anglicised name. I have an ethnic name, common to people of Indian origin.”

Not recognizing relevant international education or training credentials

“I am qualified as a Master of Healthcare Management and have 13 years of work experience in Malaysia and India. I have done credential evaluation by [World Education Services] (WES), Canada and … I have an equivalency of a Master’s degree in Canada.”

“…applied for more than 500 jobs in field of agriculture/environment, but refused since no Canadian experience in my field, even though my academic credentials were recognized equivalent to Canadian education by World Education Services, Toronto.”

Not accepting relevant international experience

“Having worked in Human Resources and a CIDA project in India – just before coming here, I thought that the skills were transferable…as I worked per Canadian systems. But the common refrain was “Have you worked in Canada?”

“The director of operations sent an email to his counterpart in Canada, everything pointed that I would be able to continue my ascending career…in my new home (Canada), but I was wrong… It didn’t matter that I was coming from the same firm, that I had the same training as the sales force in Canada, that I knew and managed all the products in the company portfolio, because at the end of the day I didn’t have the so-called Canadian experience and I didn’t know how the business… was conducted here.”

Being forced to work in entry-level or volunteer jobs

“…Pharmacist in Japan, however, experience not taken into account at all – required to complete volunteer time (no pay), eventually working as assistant at minimal wage. No consideration given into my experience in setting role/salary, although employer was more than happy to leverage my experience whenever it was to his advantage…”

“…I was offered a non-paid position with promise of it to become a paid job within
5-6 weeks but this promise has never materialized. It left me with the impression this company abused volunteer positions and used complaints about the lack of Canadian experience to lure professionals to work for free.”

Difficulty with licensing procedures and regulatory bodies

“…is very complicated to get certified in my profession because the body that regulates it imposes many barriers, so it is a vicious cycle.”

“Licencing of all the professions/occupations also causes problems perpetuated with the indirect assistance of these industries. The… process is cumbersome, lengthy and with all possible roadblocks under garb of quality and safety…”


 “When I got my permanent residence the first advice I got from different resource managers is to delete all work experience and Dutch education as I was over-qualified and as it was Dutch experience and education not taken in account for similar positions in my field of experience…”

“People at times say you are over qualified. Fact is that as soon as a person does not give a name of organization from Toronto or within Canada, the resume goes directly in the bin.”

Local references and connections

“They ask for Canadian references and referrals. Networking and contacts is a clever way of keeping immigrants out of the best paid jobs. THIS IS CALLED SYSTEMIC DISCRIMINATION!”

“…then during the interview it will come up or when asking for references and having worked abroad they would still insist it has to be a local reference to be legitimate.”

Inability to do background and police checks for newcomers

“They are saying that they prefer people with local experience since it is hard for them to do background checks on internationally trained professionals.”

“I was asked for Canadian experience and I had to have a criminal record check done by the local police. Since the police couldn’t give any information about me (I had just landed 4 weeks prior) I could not get the job I was qualified for…”

Real or perceived language skills

“I think for me it is more about the evidence that I speak English. I need to prove that even if I did not go to school in Toronto, I am able to work in English, especially write in English.”

"Canadian culture”

“Employers feel that I am yet to integrate into Canadian Society and am not aware of its culture.”

“My perception is that employers think newcomers cannot effectively perform one’s daily tasks because they (tasks) require ‘Canadian’ application according to mores and customs. Moreover, employers believe that people from other countries are not familiar with the Canadian work ethics and are unwilling to hire newcomers…”

“Somehow employers think that my country is out-of-date in technology or the way we do things in my country is dramatically different from the way it is done here in Canada.”

What employers said...

Employers identified the following jobs they felt required Canadian experience:

  • Teachers
  • Counselling (including business and employment)
  • Project management
  • Accounting
  • Maintenance or manufacturing (chemical production)
  • Management positions
  • Settlement service workers
  • Social workers
  • Community service workers
  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Dietitian
  • Administrative personnel
  • Medical secretary
  • Receptionist
  • Tourism
  • Customer service
  • Membership services
  • Trainer and instructional designer
  • Jobs with cleaning company
  • Scientist
  • Postdoctoral research
  • Executive director

Note that the number of times each job was cited is not included here. Instead, the goal is to show the wide variety of positions that are affected somewhere in Ontario. Here are some of the reasons employers gave for requiring Canadian experience:

1. Need for familiarity with “Canadian culture”
(encompassing practices, policies, law, standards, etc.)

“[N]ewcomers without ‘Canadian Experience’ are an absolute risk as in many cases a newcomer individual does not adapt well to the new workplace environment, can make it awkward and uncomfortable for themselves and co-workers at times in trying to help the newcomer ‘settle in,’ and in many cases if the newcomer becomes offended or doesn’t see the company doing enough to help them (in their opinion), they claim racism or discrimination – something no employer wants to have to deal with. The risk and inconvenience is too high considering many newcomer applicants…”

“The job candidate may well have solid skills which relate to the position, but if they cannot communicate or they do not understand that a lack of cultural knowledge can cause types of miscommunication to occur, this can be problematic and a risk. So, by asking for Canadian workplace experience, it is in fact an attribute and positions an individual to succeed more quickly.”

“A trainer can walk into big problems if he/she is unable to communicate or understand innuendo or how to treat individuals who may be women that are assertive and talkative. There can be any number of ethnic/cultural experiences which can affect how a person delivers or writes training materials…”

2. Need for language and communication skills

“We need employees that can speak English or French fluently so that they can work at all levels in companies across North America…”

“…directly related to lack of language abilities in English or French…”

3. Knowledge of Canadian business practices
(including policies, laws, procedures, qualification requirements, etc.)

“You need to know about Canadian Mortgage qualification requirements, why we cannot just have an employment letter written by hand and need legitimate pay stubs etc. It seems that other countries don’t follow rules, they find ways around them, in Canada we have strict and specific rules to avoid fraud, risk, etc.”

…Human resource manager – required to be familiar with Canadian law, HR practices and nuances. If the candidate has training in the subject matter, we will consider him/her.”

4. Need for specific training or education

“At the time we needed a person with Accpac and Accpac payroll…”

“…and preferably an education from here.”

5. Need for local references and connections

“No way to check out of country references…”

“…Relationships with the business community.”

For more information

For more information or to see the OHRC’s Policy on removing the “Canadian experience” barrier, see our website: