Medical Residencies In Canada Go To Foreign Nationals Over Canadian International Medical Graduates

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Canadian medical schools continue to find room for foreign “visa trainees” from countries including Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia despite about 1,000 Canadian international medical graduates (IMGs) being turned away every year from residencies.

IMGs are those medical graduates who completed their medical degree/certification outside Canada and now wants Canada jobs. This includes both foreign and Canadian nationals.

In order to gain licensure to practice medicine, however, it is a must that IMGs complete their medical residency in Canada.

This process becomes increasingly complicated when they are told that it is not possible to come home to work because resources and the number of residency positions are limited.

Data from the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CRMS) shows that 1,810 Canadian IMGs educated in countries like Australia, Ireland, and the UK applied for a residency in the current academic year, but only 370 of them were successful.

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The resultant brain drain involves qualified Canadian physicians moving to the U.S., where residency positions are more readily available.

What makes the situation even more concerning is the fact that this data comes in the midst of Canada’s acute healthcare shortage, which is predicted to create a need for roughly 44,000 doctors – including more than 30,000 family doctors and general practitioners – by 2028.

“Though 2,400 family physician positions were advertised on government websites by the end of 2021, just 1,496 family doctors exited residency training that year,” asserts RBC in its Proof Point: Canada Needs More Doctors – And Fast report.

Tasker posits that this situation could be traced to Ottawa’s “blessing” to medical schools, which exempts them from immigration laws that require Canadians to be prioritized for a job.

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In 2010, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) implemented Bulletin 230, which exempted Canada medical schools from conducting labor market impact assessments (LMIA).

This is a deviation from the federal law that requires that jobs and training opportunities go to Canadians or permanent residents, and an employer is permitted to bring in a foreign national if they can not find a Canadian to do the work.

Foreign nationals often have benefactors that pay much more for medical residencies than the sums paid by provincial governments for Canadian residents.

“Canadians trained abroad get very poor and limited options and they are subject to a quota. These foreign nationals can just buy their way in,” said Rosemary Pawliuk, the president of The Society for Canadians Studying Medicine Abroad (SOCASMA). “It’s all about the money. Money talks.”

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“We need to revoke Bulletin 230 so foreigners can only come if there isn’t a Canadian or permanent resident to fill those jobs. Until then, there are thousands of Canadian doctors who are sitting unlicensed.”

Critics have cited the dismantlement of the foreign “visa trainee” program, which – according to them – would free up positions for Canadian IMGs to work in Canada and eradicate the physician deficit plaguing the country.

However, the number of foreign trainees is only increasing in Canada.

Increase Of 70% In Three Years

In 2019, 87 foreign trainees started the first year of residency in Canada, as per data from the Canadian post-MD Education Registry (CAPER), which is the body that tracks IMG data.

In 2022, 148 foreign trainees were admitted, which is a 70 percent increase in just three years. As per CAPER, there were 727 foreign trainees in medical residencies in Canada just last year.

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Simultaneously, the number of Canadian IMGs who were admitted to residencies has remained static over the same period, increasing by just 1.5 percent between 2019 and 2022.

The situation is all the more concerning considering the fact that foreign trainees are required to go home eventually, with the Saudi government and Saudi Aramco (two of the entities paving the way for some visa trainees) demanding they leave Canada after their residency is over.


The residents, therefore, are not serving rural and remote areas in Canada that lack basic physician care. Nova Scotia is a prime example of a province suffering from such issues, with around 142,000 people (roughly 14 percent of its population) on the waiting list for a family doctor.

Pawliuk told CBC News that “we’re in a dire doctor shortage and there are literally thousands of Canadians who are not only prepared but also willing and qualified and desperate to do the job they were trained to do.”

“But they are sidelined by their own government in favour of people who come from these oil-rich countries.”

“Thousands of Canadians are dying every year because of delayed access to health care,” she added. “And we’re training foreigners who take away spaces from Canadians who want to be doctors.”

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Colin Singer
Colin Singer is an international acclaimed Canadian immigration lawyer and founder of featured on Wikipedia. Colin Singer is also founding director of the Canadian Citizenship & Immigration Resource Center (CCIRC) Inc. He served as an Associate Editor of ‘Immigration Law Reporter’, the pre-eminent immigration law publication in Canada. He previously served as an executive member of the Canadian Bar Association’s Quebec and National Immigration Law Sections and is currently a member of the Canadian Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Colin has twice appeared as an expert witness before Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. He is frequently recognized as a recommended authority at national conferences sponsored by government and non-government organizations on matters affecting Canada’s immigration and human resource industries. Since 2009, Colin has been a Governor of the Quebec Bar Foundation a non-profit organization committed to the advancement of the profession, and became a lifetime member in 2018.