By Muskan Sandhu
Photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash
As the war against COVID-19 rages on, Canada is being forced to consider enlisting soldiers its systems have deemed misfits in the past. The Ontario government’s decision to issue a 30-day license to foreign-trained doctors so that they can share the burden of the times has ignited enthusiastic discussions in various ethnic media outlets. These stories go on to shed light on the dull but recurring ache of immigrants who are unable to fully integrate into their new home owing to the lack of acceptance of their credentials; as if their professional training is an irretrievable suitcase left behind in the former homeland.
The conversation often begins with what is seen as a long-standing injustice of the system against doctors and other professionals with foreign credentials. An editorial in the Caribbean Camera, a weekly Caribbean newspaper in Toronto, wrote: “Many in Toronto's Caribbean community may at some time or other have met ‘overqualified’ immigrant cab drivers or security guards...Many immigrants from places such as the Caribbean, Africa or India still recall their disappointment when they first tried to find work in their specific fields in Canada. They were often told that they lacked ‘Canadian experience,’ and others were turned away with the news that they were ‘overqualified.’”
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown noted in an interview with the Punjabi Channel Y Special TV program that, “These brilliant minds who have passed all Canadian exams are working in packaging plants, driving taxis, or delivering pizzas. They are not even allowed to volunteer.” Similarly, Councillor Charmaine Williams in an interview with Prime Asia TV, a Punjabi channel from Brampton, pointed out the issues faced by doctors who do clear Canadian equivalency exams: “Many people are foreign trained and have gone through all of the Canadian qualifications, but they are in limbo because they are waiting for a residency position. Canada seeks out the best of the best for immigration, and doctors are highly favoured. But when doctors come here, they have to take tests, which are not frequent, and then they have to wait for a residency. Only about 350 foreign-trained doctors were given a residency last year, out of 1,700 who applied.”
In this context of feeling undervalued by the system in pre-corona days, Ontario’s decision to give these doctors a chance to join the fight against COVID-19 has drawn a response of elation and optimism from several media outlets. The Mandarin Fairchild Radio FM 96.1 radio program in Vancouver deemed Ontario’s move “Good news!” worthy of reference. Current affairs expert Manan Gupta from Toronto’s Punjabi CIAO AM 530 Frontline Radio described Mayor Patrick Brown’s demand for permitting foreign-trained doctors to help out during the crisis as “very positive in the current scenario.”
Host Harjinder Thind from Vancouver’s Punjabi Red FM 93.1 Harjinder Thind Show appreciated the letter written by city councillors to the BC health minister, urging him to allow foreign-trained doctors to help out in the pandemic and perhaps permit them to continue practicing later on. He called the councillors’ approach “far-sighted.” The media also reports of individuals who see this opportunity as a chance to show gratitude to Canada. The Toronto Chinese newspaper New Star Net highlighted a refugee who “worked as an obstetrician and gynecologist in Syria” and who “after learning about this measure in Ontario...plans to apply so that he can pay back Canada, the country that gave him another chance to survive.”
Amidst the appreciation for the step forward by Ontario, the oddity of a licence that expires after 30 days is not lost on the media. Will the doctors who prove themselves during the pandemic revert to being misfits after helping out for 30 days? A headline in the Toronto Polish newspaper Goniec simply asked, “Temporary doctors?”
As if elaborating on this precise question, immigration Lawyer Dr. Jagmohan Sangha commented on the TV program OMNI News: Punjabi Edition that: “Policies need to change if the government ever wants foreign-trained professionals, including doctors, lawyers, teachers and nurses, to practice in Canada. Doctors are not seasonal workers, to be given 30-day licenses. Professionals come to Canada and work in other fields and their talent goes to waste.” As with other things, time alone will tell if 30 days will transform into years of service for these doctors, or if their degrees will go back to gathering dust in the archive of lost dreams.