CFNU’s Position Statement about Internationally Educated Nurses
In an attempt to address the nursing shortage crisis in Canada, which has been significantly worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, many provincial governments are turning to internationally educated nurses (IENs), both those currently in Canada and to their international recruitment.
The CFNU believes that a focus on recruiting nurses internationally as a first priority is misplaced. Recruiting nurses internationally should be part of a comprehensive health human resource plan. All efforts to address nurse shortages within the domestic context must be a priority for all provincial and territorial governments. A multi-pronged approach to health human resources must focus on both short-term and long-term measures to enhance the retention and recruitment of nurses within Canada, which would include IENs.
The CFNU endorses the ethical recruitment strategies as outlined by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and encourages governments and organizations, including employers, recruiters, and non-governmental organizations, to adopt the ICN principles, including:
In keeping with these principles, the CFNU would discourage the targeted recruitment of nurses from countries that are experiencing a chronic or temporary shortage of nurses. When international migration occurs, the CFNU will advocate to protect nurses’ interests and rights to ensure decent work. The CFNU also strongly supports IENs’ right to freedom of association, including the right to join a union in the pursuit of collective workplace goals arrived at through the collective bargaining process.
The CFNU recognizes that many internationally educated nurses currently in Canada are unemployed or underemployed. Internationally educated health professionals are significantly less likely to work in their field than their Canadian-born counterparts. Faced with many barriers to employment in their fields, many internationally educated nurses may experience deskilling. Getting a good data picture is difficult, but we do know that thousands of internationally educated nurses have applied to nursing regulators to work in nursing. Even as Canada desperately needs nurses on the front lines, non-practising nurses continue to be unemployed or underemployed. IENs may be working as personal support workers, as live-in caregivers, in home care, or even in non-health care jobs like retail – because the barriers to working as a nurse in Canada are onerous, expensive and time-consuming. According to World Education Services, many of these nurses will be unable to return to practise in their chosen field.
Internationally educated nurses have the right to expect appropriate clinical and cultural orientation, and supportive supervision in their workplaces. IENs have the right to fair and equal treatment on employment-related issues, including working conditions, promotion and access to career development. They must be educated about union rights and occupational hazards, including workplace violence. When nurses’ rights, benefits or safety are threatened or violated, appropriate processes must be in place to hear grievances in a timely manner.
The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) and its Member Organizations are committed to representing our IENs and ensuring that they are educated about the provisions in the collective agreement, and ensuring that IENs have access to all provisions within it and are supported by the union. Nurses will be provided with a union orientation, focusing on areas such as seniority, job postings, hours of work, overtime, no discrimination/harassment, etc., to ensure that they are aware of their rights and are able to actively participate in the workplace. Nurses’ unions will actively engage with employers to ensure that IENs have conditions of employment as favourable as those of other nurses in Canada, and to encourage a workplace environment that is culturally safe, and respects diversity and multicultural perspectives. IENs will be provided contact information for union representatives, who will provide advocacy and support for workplace issues.
On an immediate basis to help address the nursing shortage, Canada and employers must act to better utilize internationally educated nurses in Canada.
Federal and provincial governments must adopt a pan-Canadian approach to addressing the underutilization of IENs systematically, and in a coordinated and coherent way, including:
The employer must demonstrate accountability for third parties contracted to recruit nurses, including the following:
Ensuring that any recruitment initiatives do not create additional fees or barriers to IENs obtaining employment in Canada and joining one of its affiliate bargaining units
 International Council of Nurses (ICN). (2019). ICN Position Statement. International career mobility and ethical nurse recruitment. Retrieved from https://www.icn.ch/nursing-policy/position-statements