Nova Scotia

Immigration strategy may be overlooking foreign childhood educators already here

There's a pool of foreign early childhood education students already in Nova Scotia who are training or who have recently graduated. Some won't qualify to stay because of a policy blunder.

Newly trained foreign students already here should be first in line for jobs, says immigration lawyer

Anna-Kay Clarke attended the school as an international student from Jamaica, taking a two-year diploma program she believed would allow her to gain a work permit upon graduation. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

As the provincial government prepares to invite 180 international early childhood educators to Nova Scotia, some with knowledge of the industry worry there are newly trained workers already in the province being left out. 

Daycare centres have long said there is a shortage of qualified workers, stemming  from the relatively low rates of pay in the industry. With the province's expansion of pre-primary, the problem has become acute. 

Some worry the new provincial immigration stream announced Thursday won't solve the problem.

Halifax immigration lawyer Elizabeth Wozniak said the program announced yesterday may help some, but in her view, not the people it needs to reach.

 
Halifax immigration lawyer Elizabeth Wozniak says foreign students already trained and living here are being overlooked in the province's new strategy. (CBC)

"The government should be targeting those people who are already here, on the ground," she said. "I think that Nova Scotia needs people who are going to want to stay here, who are demonstrating an intent to remain in Nova Scotia."

Wozniak said there's a pool of foreign early childhood education students already in Nova Scotia who are training or who have recently graduated. Some won't qualify to stay because of a bureaucratic policy blunder. 

In previous years, many private colleges in Canada told students they could get a work permit after graduation from the federal government. The federal government did issue these permits, however it later stopped doing so. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada officials said the work permits had been issued in error. 

Halifax's Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Educators was one of the private colleges that attracted students who hoped to graduate and receive a work permit. In 2017 approximately 50 students at the college discovered their diploma did not qualify them for the permit

Nova Scotia Immigration Minister Lena Diab at University Children's Centre in Halifax on Thursday. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Students like Anna-Kay Clarke were left unable to work, having just spent thousands for a diploma they couldn't use. But Clarke says many of her fellow students have a desire to settle and work in Halifax childcare facilities. 

"We are already here, and we know we want to be here. We have families here," she said. "I think there is a need to help those who are here now."

"There are many students here who would still need some help, or if the process could go a bit quicker so we could get settled here," she said.  "I mean I already call Nova Scotia, Halifax, my home. So to be able to make it permanent."

Clarke was eventually able to find work at a childcare facility in Halifax that assisted her with the paperwork to get a one-year work permit. 

Small claims decision 

Clarke said many of the early childhood education students left the country or gave up the profession. However she chose to try to recoup some of the tuition money she spent. She says her former school told her she would qualify for a work permit, which turned out to be untrue.

 
Anna-Kay Clarke went to small claims court to recoup money she spent on her college training after she found out she was not eligible for a job due to a federal government policy blunder. (Shaina Luck)

"I thought long and hard about it, and I believe the school had to be held accountable," she said.  

Clarke took the Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Educators to small claims court, and was awarded the maximum possible amount of $25,000 in May. Her sister, who was in a similar circumstance, was awarded $10,000. 

The small claims court adjudicator found the school "knew, or ought to have known" that its students would not qualify for a work permit, and that it "misled" the students. 

Clarke said being able to recover the tuition money that she paid has helped her move forward with the process of getting her permanent residency, which can cost thousands of dollars and is taking her roughly 19 months. She hopes to one day complete her master's degree in social work.
The provincial government says it is preparing to invite 180 international early childhood educators to Nova Scotia because of a shortage of trained workers. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

"It just helps us to be able now, with the shorter timeline that we have, to have the financial resources to be able to pay to get settled here as permanent residents," she said.  

In a statement, the college board chair Shawn Tracey said, "We sincerely hope the new stream will provide the needed avenue for recent graduates to remain in the province since the federal government changed the way it applies the criteria for the post-graduate work permit in 2017."

Tracey did not comment on the Clarkes' small claims suit, but added that some of the school's graduates have left the province, and "lost the opportunity to add to Nova Scotia's economy and future."

Pre-primary students are shown painting. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Read more stories at CBC Nova Scotia

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca

now