The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—the UN Refugee Agency—estimates that there are currently 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. UNHCR has data on 3.9 million stateless people but believes that millions more exist around the globe. Forced displacement has become a key concern in international education because access to higher education and employment remains difficult for people who leave their countries without official documents or proof of study in hand, especially when contacting their former institutions is not an option.
If you will be leaving your country to settle in the United States or Canada as a result of political unrest, conflict, natural disaster, or another, related phenomenon, you will have different options when considering how to transition into either an academic program or professional position.
Neither the U.S. nor Canada has a centralized system of administering licensure or education processes.
State, provincial, and territorial organizations typically have individualized programs and requirements.
It is therefore practical to learn about your desired area of study or professional industry in the geographic area where you plan to study or work. It may be helpful to try resettling in an area where you will have better access to academic institutions or the job market. If you know you will want to complete further study, you will also need to narrow down your search to particular schools to learn about their requirements.
Official documents remain the most reliable proof of qualification. When planning to leave your country, obtain official academic and professional documents, such as transcripts, exam results, and licenses, whenever possible. Ideally, these documents should be in sealed envelopes from the institution that issued your documents.
Tips for Success
Even with limited documentation, you can succeed in North America. Here is a list of tips to consider before leaving your country and upon arriving in the U.S. or Canada.
If you plan to leave your country:
- Find photocopies and digital versions of school documents if you cannot obtain official documents. In addition to transcripts and degree certificates, these documents can include course or credential syllabi, letters of recommendation, institutional correspondence, or proof of employment.
- Learn about professional and academic requirements for jobs or academic programs of interest. In terms of schools, will you need to save money for qualifying exams or tuition? What documents will you need for your application, and in what format will you need them? What deadlines will you need to keep in mind? In terms of jobs, how do people in your field find work in the U.S. or Canada? Will you need to get licensed or certified? How much experience will you need for your desired role? Are you familiar with how to write a résumé or cover letter?
- Improve your foreign language skills. In the U.S., university placement tests and state licensing exams will be in English. In Canada, these assessments may be in English or French, depending on the province or territory you settle in. Language proficiency will facilitate your global mobility, so it is helpful to start improving your English or French as soon as you can.
- Develop a list of references: U.S. and Canadian universities often require letters of recommendation. Hiring managers often contact previous employers directly to develop a better sense of your qualifications. You will be sufficiently prepared if you know who can write a letter, answer an email, or make a phone call on your behalf.
If you have already arrived in the U.S. or Canada, consider the following options:
- Complete online or community college coursework, certificates, or bridging programs that do not require official documents as part of the admissions process.
- Look into professional opportunities that offer some flexibility in entry requirements. This may include provisional or temporary employment or conditional registration for licensing. You can find further information and clarification in this paper.
- Consider taking a lower-level job in your desired professional field if it will take a long time for you to transition into a role at your previous level of employment. For example, licensure for medical doctors can take years, so it might prove beneficial to work in a different position in the medical field as an initial point of entry. Contact a reliable career counselor, industry expert, or licensing body to find out whether this option makes sense given your experience and projected career path.
- Be prepared to take proficiency exams in your area of study or work. Licensing bodies and educational institutions may have exceptions to document requirements, but they could still often include skills assessments or other related tests.
- Determine whether you need a credential evaluation and if one would help you reach your educational or employment goals. Different professions and universities will have different standards, so consider whether you will be able to use a credential evaluation for your long- or short-term objectives.
- Contact immigrant and refugee organizations in your city, state, or province. They may offer free programs to help you apply to jobs or universities.
- Develop a network of professional associates. Networking is very important in the U.S. and Canadian job markets. Getting to know people in your community and field of expertise will help you learn about different opportunities and qualification requirements. It will also provide the opportunity to improve your soft skills. You can attend networking events, join local city, township, or regional organizations, or volunteer if time permits.
For individuals in Canada who have been displaced by conflict, political unrest, or natural disasters, the WES Gateway Program evaluates credentials for people from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela who meet certain program requirements.