Quebec’s overseas health-care recruitment campaign a flop, documents show

The campaign was intended to hire 550 foreign workers annually. The Quebec government has added 78 foreign workers to the payroll since 2020.

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Faced with a labor shortage in its health-care network, the Legacy government has turned to overseas recruitment in an effort to fill the gap. However, the numbers obtained by Presse Canadienne show that when it comes to offline caregivers into the system, the campaign has been a dismal failure.

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In the spring of 2020, the Coalition Avenir Québec government pledged to recruit 550 caregivers annually. The pilot program has led to the hiring of 78 candidates, according to the documents obtained through the province’s access to information laws.

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The recruitment program was launched with much fanfare at the start of the pandemic and as COVID-19 raged through the province’s long-term care centers (CHSLDs).

During a much publicized press conference on May 28, 2020, then-immigration minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said: “With this pilot program we are sending a clear signal. We aim to select 550 caregivers because the needs are urgent, most notably in our CHSLDs.”

Jolin-Barrette, who is now justice minister, said at the time the program would be operational in less than a week. However, it would take almost a year before it was launched. It was announced for a second time by the new immigration minister, Nadine Girault, in March 2021.

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She said the program must result in the selection “of up to 550 candidates a year.” Those candidates could enter the health-care system via two paths: one for candidates who were already qualified and another for a work-study program that would allow candidates to be trained before being placed in the health-care network.

Since March 31, 2021, a total of 210 candidacies have been received, 197 of them in the “qualified” category. Of those 197 applications, 78 were accepted by Quebec.

The number of applicants for the work-study program has been redacted on the documents. The Health Ministry cited the need to protect personal information, suggesting the numbers are so small the information could be used to identify an individual candidate.

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Asked to explain the program’s lack of success, the Quebec Immigration Ministry said 550 candidates had been a “maximum threshold” rather than a target.

The ministry described the program as being part of other, “different initiatives by the Quebec government to ease labor needs.”

However, none of the other programs have allowed the government to recruit 550 caregivers a year from overseas.

Any real hiring wave is due to the Program special des demandeurs d’asile en period de COVID-19, the objective of which was to reward those dubbed “guardian angels” by François Legault during the first waves of the pandemic.

The program allowed the status of 1,643 workers to be confirmed between March 31, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2022. These people were already part of the health-care network and were not additional personnel.

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The Health Ministry, working in parallel with the immigration department, counted on its Recruitment Santé Québec program (RSQ) to fill the ranks of missing staff. But here, too, the numbers obtained by the Presse Canadienne suggest the program fell far short of attracting the hundreds of workers needed to tend to the elderly in CHSLDs.

The numbers were compiled between Sept. 1, 2019 and Aug. 31, 2020. During that time, 282 caregivers came to Quebec from abroad, most of them over the course of the last few months of the program. Between Sept. 1, 2022, and mid-January 2023, 185 workers were recruited from overseas.

The office of Health Minister Christian Dubé described overseas recruitment as “one of the solutions to finding more personnel for our health care network.”

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“There are great stories in our network at the moment with new workers coming from everywhere in the world and sharing their expertise in our network. We’re proud,” he said.

Most of the new arrivals from 2019 to 2020 were deployed in four regions. Montreal and Quebec City have each received 56 caregivers, 49 went to the Montérégie and 31 to the Eastern Townships.

According to the numbers compiled by the Health Ministry and used by Dubé to assess the state of the network, the staff shortages are increasing. When the foreign recruitment program started in June 2021, there were 2,703 jobs to be filled. According to the most recent number, compiled Dec. 17, that number had risen to 4,258.

The health content produced by the Presse Canadienne receives funding through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. The Presse Canadienne is solely responsible for its editorial choices.

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