Nova Scotia

N.S. community doubts refugees recruited as health-care workers will ever arrive

An international health-care worker in Nova Scotia is calling on governments to make a federal recruitment program more efficient to help others who have been waiting to immigrate to Canada and fill the gaps in the health-care system.

International workers who applied under federal program face lengthy delays

Woman wearing a stethoscope takes care of a man wearing a green hospital gown.
Bahati Maganjo, right, a health-care worker who was born in Rwanda and came to Canada from Kenya in June 2021, now works at Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, N.S. She was among the first to arrive under a federal program, the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot. (Dave Laughlin/CBC )

As Bahati Maganjo helps care for a patient who has just had a hip replacement in New Glasgow, N.S., she says her passion for working in health care is fuelled by the reality of growing up on the doorstep of war.

Born in Rwanda, just weeks before the 1994 genocide, she fled with her family to the Democratic Republic of Congo and then on to Kenya, where she lived as a refugee her entire life. Now 29, she came to Canada to be a health-care worker two years ago.

Maganjo was among the first to arrive under a federal program, the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP), intended to recruit skilled refugees to help ease Canada's shortage of workers.

Now that she's been in Nova Scotia for two years, she's calling on governments to make the program more efficient to help others who have been waiting a long time to immigrate to Canada and fill the gaps in the health-care system.

A woman wearing white scrubs and a pink stethoscope poses in a hospital.
Maganjo, 29, who lived her entire life as a refugee, is now a permanent resident in Canada and in the final stages of becoming a registered nurse in Nova Scotia. (Dave Laughlin/CBC )

"I know what it feels like. I know that someone's life stops in anticipation of what's to come," she said in a recent interview with CBC News at Aberdeen Hospital.

Employers in Nova Scotia have made 121 job offers under the program — the greatest number of any province — but only 17 of those people have actually arrived.

'We do have a significant need'

MacLeod Group Health Services, which owns and operates seven nursing homes across Nova Scotia, is awaiting the arrival of 28 international health-care workers to help staff a new facility it is building to replace its existing one in the town of Mahone Bay. The company was expecting the first six to arrive by the end of March.

Patricia Kamssor and Abdifatah Sabriye, who live in a refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, are among those six workers, but they say they have no idea when they'll arrive in Canada.

"They have not told us anything," Kamssor said during an interview at her home inside the camp in March.

A woman stands in a yard near her home in a refugee camp.
Patricia Kamssor, who lives in a refugee camp in Kenya, is among 28 international workers chosen by MacLeod Group Health Services in Nova Scotia to staff a nursing home facility in the town of Mahone Bay. She was supposed to arrive by the end of March but is still waiting word from the government. (Duncan Moore)

The company's settlement co-ordinator, Tina Hennigar, who was hired specifically to help people in the program, said the nursing home currently has 60 full-time positions, including continuing care assistants and nurses, and the new facility will require doubling the staff to 120.

"We do have a significant need," she said recently at the construction site.

Hennigar said people in the community know they need health-care workers and are excited to welcome newcomers — 88 of the town's roughly 1,000 residents showed up at a community meeting about the program on Feb. 2, offering to help. But she senses the momentum is fading, noting people regularly stop her while she's out walking her dog.

"Some of the community members ... maybe seem a little skeptical, like, 'Is this actually going to happen?'" she said.

The matter is now in the hands of the federal government because the workers can't come to Canada until they get their permanent resident status, Hennigar said.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser wasn't available to comment for this story. 

Government explains delays

His department issued a statement similar to one it provided to CBC News for a story from Kenya in April. It states that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) aims to process the majority of cases linked to the program within six months or less but that delays depend on a number of factors, including missing information, challenges obtaining the necessary exit permits to travel to Canada and delays getting medical exams.

Kamssor and Sabriye said they have demonstrated their experience in health care and passed the necessary English exams, but they had not been asked for any additional information to support their applications.

Two days after CBC's story was published in April, they both received emails from IRCC asking for their offers of employment letters and documentation proving their educational backgrounds — information they both said they had already provided, having been working their way through the program for more than two years.

A brown and white building under construction with a sign saying, "Come work here!" at the front.
A sign at the new nursing home under construction in Mahone Bay advertises the need for more workers. The international workers hired under the federal program can't come to Canada until they get their permanent resident status. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

The emails stated that if the candidates didn't provide the information within 30 days, IRCC would assume they were no longer interested in admission to Canada and would "proceed accordingly with the refusal of your application."

Both Kamssor and Sabriye said they sent the requested documentation again on May 1. Now, they're back to waiting.

Maganjo, who also waited more than two years to come to Canada, arrived in Nova Scotia in June 2021, and immediately began working as a continuing care assistant. She is now participating in the province's "bridging program" and is one month away from becoming a registered nurse.

She's also deeply involved in advocacy work and is calling on those involved in the EMPP at every level to see the "urgency and humanity" of the people still waiting, as well as the desperate need for help in Canada's health-care system.

WATCH | Canada looks for badly needed health-care workers in refugee camps: 

Canada looks to refugee camps for health-care workers

5 months ago
Duration 7:15
Canadian provinces are looking to refugee camps abroad to fill desperately needed health-care worker positions, but delays have kept many of them from coming — including about 120 people in a Kenyan camp.


Kayla Hounsell

Senior reporter

Kayla Hounsell is a network reporter with CBC News based in Halifax. She covers the Maritime provinces for CBC national news on television, radio and online. She welcomes story ideas at