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Canadian Immigration Pathways for Nurses


In the past few years Canada has had issues with the supply of, and demand for, nursing professionals. In January 2021, Statistics Canada’s monthly labour force survey found that the health care and social assistance sectors saw the highest job vacancy rates of any industry surveyed. Even in 2009 the Canadian Nurses Association predicted a shortage of 60,000 full-time nurses by 2022, and this was before the COVID-19 global pandemic that began around March 2020. The pandemic had a twofold effect, with interest in nursing education rising along with instances of burnout and nurses leaving the profession entirely. The Government of Canada is about to introduce new immigration pathways targeting those in health care as well as other professions as another way to encourage skilled immigrants to settle and prosper in Canada.

Canada’s National Occupation Classification (NOC) recognizes two distinct categories of nursing professionals. Registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses are put under skill level A (for professions that generally require a university education) and NOC code 3012. Licensed Practical Nurses are put under skill level B (for professions that usually require a college education) and NOC code 3233. The NOC skill level can help determine eligibility for different immigration programs.

In terms of federal immigration programs, two of the major economic immigration programs are the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). Both programs require specific skilled work experience. Neither program requires candidates to have a Canadian job offer, but a Canadian job offer would count in a candidate’s favour. The FSWP asks for at least one year of work experience in an occupation with a skill level of 0, A, or B. The work does not necessarily have to be done in Canada but must have been done in the last ten years. A candidate must score a Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 7 in English or Niveaux de Compétence Linguistique Canadien (NCLC) 7 in French and also score at least 67 out of 100 on a test that assesses candidates’ education level, language skills, and whether they have a job in Canada, among other factors. By contrast, the CEC requires one year of Canadian work experience in the last three in an occupation with a skill level of 0, A, or B. A CLB or NCLC 7 is required for people applying with a skill level of NOC 0 or A, and a CLB or NCLC 5 is required for people with a skill level of NOC B.

Both programs fall under the federal Express Entry system, which also manages the Federal Skilled Trades Program. Approximately 80 per cent of applications submitted under this system are processed in six months or less. The federal Express Entry system uses the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) to assign a score to criteria provided by the applicant, such as work experience and education, among other factors. Applications with the highest CRS scores are likely to be chosen in one of the periodic federal Express Entry draws.

Nurses can also be eligible for certain immigration pathways within Provincial Nomination Programs (PNPs). Some target nurses specifically, while others are for nurses and other health care workers. Many require candidates to have a job or job offer in Canada to be eligible. Some provincial immigration pathways include:

  • Ontario’s Express Entry Human Capital Priorities stream: Two draws held by this program in 2021 included candidates with experience as a registered nurse or registered psychiatric nurse (NOC 3012).
  • New Brunswick’s Internationally Educated Nurses (IEN) stream: This stream offers assistance to nurses with international education or experience in becoming licensed to practice in the province.
  • British Columbia’s Health Care Professional category: This category is found in two of the province’s immigration pathways, the Express Entry British Columbia (EEBC) pathway and the Skills Immigration (SI) pathway.
  • Quebec’s Regular Skilled Worker Program (RSWP) and Quebec Experience Program (Programme de l’Expérience Québécoise, or PEQ): Both of these programs invite applications from nurses. The PEQ requires candidates to have worked and/or studied in Quebec, whereas the RSWP gives points for Quebec experience but does not require it.

To request information about immigration to Saskatchewan, please click here.