On October 25, 2021, the Government of Ontario introduced several important amendments to the Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act, 2006 (FARPACTA), as part of the proposed Working for Workers Act, 2021.
These proposed changes build upon discussions that occurred during roundtable sessions convened in the spring and summer of 2021. These meetings were co-chaired by Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, and the Fairness Commissioner. They sessions were attended by regulators, immigrant advocates, industry leaders, settlement groups and faith-based communities.
The goal of the proposed amendments is to reduce barriers that internationally trained applicants encounter in their career journeys, so that they can more easily join the profession or trade of their choice. They will also help to address current and anticipated skilled labour shortages.
The FARPACTA changes, if passed, would serve to:
- Eliminate Canadian work experience requirements for professional registration and licensing unless the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development grants an exemption based on a demonstrated public health and safety risk.
- Reduce duplicative official language proficiency testing, so that newcomers need not complete multiple tests for the purposes of immigration, post-secondary / bridge training and professional licencing.
- Prescribe mandatory time limits for the completion of registration processes.
- Enable regulators to maintain the continuity of registration during emergency situations, such as a pandemic.
The proposed amendments are enabling in nature and, if passed, would be followed by consultations with regulators and other stakeholders to develop regulations to operationalize these provisions. Please note that the proposed changes would not apply to health colleges under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991.
A link to the news release and backgrounder pertaining to the proposed amendments may be found here and the bill is available here.
In addition, interested stakeholders may apply to appear before a committee of the legislature that will consider this bill. If you are interested in appearing, please click and register through the following link: Request to participate in committees | Legislative Assembly of Ontario (ola.org)
The 2020-2021 Annual Report of the Office of the Fairness Commissioner
The Office of the Fairness Commissioner (OFC) recently posted its 2020-2021 annual report, entitled The Path Forward
, on the agency’s web site. This report documents a tumultuous period for the registration of applicants to the professions and skilled trades, punctuated by the challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report begins with Commissioner Irwin Glasberg’s message, where he offers some personal observations, discusses what he describes as the fair registration practices ecosystem and provides a snapshot of the agency’s accomplishments during this 12-month period.
He then reviews the office’s successes and challenges and comments specifically on four longstanding issues, which involve labour market priorities and overall system coherence, the difficulty that internationally trained physicians encounter in obtaining residency positions, the intersection of technology and fair registration practices, and a more nuanced interpretation of the public interest.
The annual report then canvasses the mission, mandate and principles which inform the work of the OFC, and comments on the compliance obligations of regulators. It then highlights the four foundational fair registration principles of transparency, objectivity, impartiality, and fairness, and elaborates of the functions of the Fairness Commissioner. The report then addresses the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and discusses the launch of the agency’s new risk-informed compliance framework.
The document goes on to highlight several of the OFC’s ongoing projects, which are designed to assist regulators to comply with their legal obligations in a more effective and equitable fashion. These involve work on accountability measures for third party service providers, ways to reduce the impact of the Canadian experience requirement and the development of an inclusion and anti-racism lens for the registration of professionals and skilled tradespersons. The report concludes by summarizing the OFC’s performance measurement framework.
Please take a moment to review our annual report which can be found here Annual Report 2020-2021
Opportunities to Reduce Barriers and Improve English and French-language Proficiency Testing for Registration Purposes
Most professional regulators in Ontario identify the ability to communicate effectively as a core skill that applicants must possess to practice in their chosen profession or trade in a safe and competent fashion. These requirements are worded in different ways, but they essentially mandate that applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English or French language.
James Mendel, a Compliance Analyst with the Office of the Fairness Commissioner, has worked with regulators to assess these programs for many years. In the article that follows, James explores some of the complexities associated with these language proficiency requirements.
The first point to note is that regulators typically assess language skills through such methods as the completion of an academic program, competency examinations, standardized language testing, direct communication abilities, and/or through documents that offer evidence of these skills.
Generally, regulators recognize that applicants who have been educated in English-speaking countries, or who have completed relevant training programs delivered in English, will possess the requisite language skills. The Ontario College of Teachers, for example, publishes a list of countries whose residents will presumptively be deemed to meet the profession’s language requirements OCT- Language Requirement.
Regulators will, however, often require that internationally trained applicants from non-English speaking countries demonstrate proficiency in the language, by undergoing assessments that evaluate some combination of speaking, writing, listening and/or reading skills.
While these requirements appear, on their face, to be fairly straightforward in nature, there are a number of challenges that immigrants experience based on how language proficiency testing is conceived and implemented.
First, the federal government, through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), requires that most internationally trained applicants complete a standardized language test (the CELPIP or the IELTSexamination) before they can immigrate to Canada. This testing requirement is not, however, synchronized with the language proficiency requirements that professions utilize or that post-secondary institutions apply for academic upgrading.
This means that newcomers will typically be required to write separate, costly and, at times, duplicative examinations during their career journeys. The uncoordinated nature of these requirements is frustrating to applicants and delays the process through which immigrants can fully integrate into the Ontario economy.
Second, while some regulators have identified language proficiency standards based on rigorous review processes, in other cases, there is no clear rationale supporting specified proficiency objectives. In still other situations, academic and professional standards may be misaligned because of different communications objectives. Finally, the level of regulator transparency about the goals of such testing is sometimes insufficient to enable internationally trained applicants to fully understand the process.
Third, there are substantial differences between regulators in terms of their expertise and capacity to directly conduct alternative, objective language proficiency assessments or evaluations. For example, only a small number of regulators make use of in-person interviews as part of their overall assessment processes. While tailored approaches such as these can provide a more holistic perspective on an individual’s communications skills, they are typically more expensive to utilize. For example, a regulator would need to establish operational and evaluation protocols and ensure that evaluators were appropriately trained.
In addition, the personnel who score the clinical examinations that many regulators employ, may lack the training necessary to assess language skills. Thus, they may draw unwarranted inferences about the candidate’s language proficiency. Depending on the processes that regulators apply to their testing regimens, there may also be an enhanced risk of subjectivity or bias in language assessment that can materially impact the individual’s registration prospects.
The OFC’s Perspective
The OFC supports efforts to harmonize language tests for both immigration and registration purposes. Such an approach exists, for example, in Australia. The new framework would, ideally, enable applicants to complete a single language assessment to meet both requirements. As a way to kickstart this conversation, the OFC encourages regulators to consider whether they could rely on the IRCC’s CELPIP or IELTS test without elevating public health or safety risks.
In addition, it would be optimum if such a consolidated test could be offered to immigrants while they still remain in their home countries, where their support networks are often more robust.
The OFC also encourages regulators to design their policies so that language proficiency requirements reflect the actual competencies required to practice in the profession or trade. Our office also believes that regulators should develop proficiency standards at the national level, to enable regulatory alliances and consortiums to devote the resources necessary to support this important work.
We also consider it important that regulators provide full and accurate information to applicants about the level of language competency necessary to successfully complete the English and French-language testing regimen and, where available, how applicants from different countries have fared in this process. Regulators should also specifically advise applicants whether the successful completion of the IRCC test will also meet their own licensing requirements.
In our view, the current language testing landscape has evolved based principally on a silo-based approach that favours institutional interests at the expense of internationally trained applicants. Given that the government has proposed legislative amendments which, if passed, would reduce duplicative language proficiency testing, this represents an optimal time to explore these issues.
CELPIP – Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program
IELTS – International English Language Testing System
For more information on our organization’s mandate, please check out our internet site at https://www.fairnesscommissioner.ca or contact Zalina Dusoruth at email@example.com.