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5 Barriers Skilled Immigrants Face and How to Overcome Them

Thursday | February 2, 2017 | by Sahra Togone

skilled immigrant overcoming employment barriers

Over the past decade, American and Canadian job markets have experienced a shortage in skilled workers. Despite this, there are many barriers skilled immigrants face when it comes to finding jobs in their respective fields.

These challenges include encountering employers who are unfamiliar with international work experience and credentials, navigating the often complex trade and professional bodies, and facing employee discrimination and language barriers.

Here are five common barriers skilled immigrants face and how to overcome them:

Language and Communication

Although skilled immigrants have years of experience in their respective fields, most of them do not have experience working in the U.S. or Canada. Being unfamiliar with common workplace lingo could slow down your career progress, but there are many ways to overcome this gap.

For example, enrolling at a local college for a course in medical terminology could help you enter that job market.

In addition to language and communication development, the process of highlighting your relevant skills and marketing yourself effectively is also important in getting hired.

In Canada and the U.S., the art of “pitching” is having the ability to summarize who you are. This includes describing your professional background, your skills, and the relevant experience you have that makes you the perfect candidate for a position. Some skilled immigrants may not be used to the idea of self-promotion.

The goal with “pitching” is to show how well you fit role and show your passion for it.

Credential Recognition

As a skilled immigrant, you may be confident in your educational credentials, but they may not be recognized by local employers. When you are applying to jobs, employers may overlook your credentials simply because they are unfamiliar with the name of the education institution you graduated from.

The best way to overcome this barrier is by getting a credential evaluation to determine the Canadian or U.S. equivalency of your degree. This will help employers recognize the legitimacy of your degree. Be sure to have it evaluated by a reputable credential evaluation service such as World Education Services (WES).

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Getting Licensed in a Regulated Profession

If you are a skilled worker in a regulated profession (for example, an accountant, nurse, or teacher), then it may be difficult to start working in the same role in a new country. This is because many professional regulatory bodies are decentralized. This means that have different licensing requirements based on each province/territory and state. The process of relicensing in Canada and the U.S. is often costly and time-consuming.

It is important to do the necessary research and make preparations before applying for a role. If you find out you are unqualified in a regulated profession, you may consider starting a non-regulated job in your field first. This is also a great chance to use your relevant skills to gain experience working in a new country. Check out our related post to learn more about regulated and non-regulated professions.


For skilled immigrants, language and cultural differences can make networking difficult. In general, the goal of networking is to meet individuals in your field. They can provide tips and information that could potentially lead you to your next job. A lack of professional connections  continues to be an obstacle for skilled immigrants who are new to Canada and the U.S.

As a solution, consider the options below:

  • Join a professional immigrant network in your city or region to expand your connections.
  • Network with other immigrants by sharing your experience in approaching new job markets.
  • Network online with professionals by setting up a well-designed and up-to-date profile on LinkedIn.

Lack of Local Experience/Discrimination

Many skilled immigrants in Canada find themselves being discriminated against by employers because they do not have work experience in Canada. It can be extremely frustrating, because skilled immigrants feel that this requirement for every position to apply to is “disguised discrimination.”

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) created a policy to ensure that a lack of work experience in Canada cannot stand as a barrier for newly arrived skilled immigrants in Ontario. Regardless of this legislation, employers still consider local experience as an important factor in the hiring process. If you do not have any work experience, you can try volunteering. Join community programs to increase your networking and learning opportunities.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to not lose confidence. Always be on the lookout for training and networking opportunities. Remember: There are many different services available to help you achieve your employment goals.

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Sahra Togone

Sahra Togone is a Research and Policy Intern at WES Global Talent Bridge Canada.