Temporary Foreign Workers in Nursing and the Trades in Alberta

Temporary Foreign Workers in Nursing in Alberta PDF Document

Temporary Foreign Workers in the Trades in Alberta PDF Document


Alison TAYLOR, University of Alberta
Jason FOSTER, Athabasca University
Winston GERELUK, Athabasca University (Emeritus Professor)
Joan SCHIEBELBEIN , University of Alberta
Carolina CAMBRE, University of Alberta
Cynthia ARKU, University of Alberta


Prairie Metropolis Centre 

Statement of Problem and Rationale

Our research explores the lived experience of TFW policy using case studies that focus on two occupational groups—nurses and trades workers—in Edmonton and Wood Buffalo respectively.

This research addresses the question: How does the TFW program in Alberta work for these occupational groups?

Sub-questions include:

  • How are workers’ qualifications assessed and by whom?
  • Is training provided for these workers to gain Canadian certification? If so, how, and what are the outcomes? What opportunities are provided to workers to use and enhance their skills in the workplace?What opportunities for mobility are provided? Are workers encouraged to seek permanent residence?
  • How are the experiences of TFWs affected by economic changes (e.g., recession)?

Like other countries experiencing shortages, Canada actively recruits qualified nurses from other countries (Iredale, 2005). The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta assesses the qualifications of foreign nurses, and upon successful completion of a Substantially Equivalent Competence (SEC) assessment, they may work as Graduate Nurses and then write the licensing exam to become a registered nurse. Similarly, tradespeople certified in other countries must complete their Red Seal qualification in Canada within six months of arriving.

The focus on these two occupational groups will provide insights into gender differences as well as differences in work conditions and locations for TFWs. Attention to training will highlight issues related to workforce development strategies. Exploring the experiences of TFWs that arrived before and after the beginning of the recession in late 2008 provides insights into the impact of labour market fluctuations on TFWs.

Purpose of Research

The purpose of our research is to explicate how the TFW program works in practice with a focus on credential assessment and training. We examine different players’ perceptions of their roles and responsibilities, practices, and pathways for TFWs.

Literature Review

The review of the literature reveals a growing body of research on guest worker programs, including the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and the Live-in Caregiver Program, but little research focused specifically on TFWs in Canada. Related research considers the integration of immigrant workers and international labour trends (e.g., Li, 2003).

The issue of credential recognition and portability of qualifications is also examined. Sawchuk (in press) observes that occupational regulatory bodies in Canada have shown “significant ‘foot-dragging’ on the issue of recognizing foreign credentials and experience” (p. 4). Iredale (2005) explores several models of qualification assessment of professional migrants adopted in different countries and highlights the exclusionary practices of professional bodies and unions around credential recognition. She also identifies lack of access to training as a problem. Clearly, gaps in the current research highlight the need for more extensive research on credential portability as well as ongoing skill development, particularly for TFWs.

Action Plan and Participants

The two case studies look at construction trades workers in Wood Buffalo (the site of oil sands mega-projects) and health services workers in Edmonton. Serious shortages in nursing and trades have been identified in recent years and processes have been established to assess credentials and provide training to these TFWs. Focusing on these occupations highlights diversity in workers’ experiences related to type and location of work, gender, and countries of origin.

Data collection involves interviews with different stakeholders involved in the two cases, including representatives from employer groups, organized labour, foreign worker recruiters, community services, professional/trade associations, government (municipal, provincial, and federal) and TFWs themselves. We are also collecting documents related to the program and available statistics to develop a profile of TFWs in these occupational areas.

Summary report from the TFW in Nursing symposium, 19 October 2010 PDF Document