Recommendations to a Senate of Canada committee exploring solutions to global displacement

The Senate of Canada’s Human Rights Committee invited TalentLift to join the committee as a witness on a study that focuses on innovative solutions to global displacement. Our Dana Wagner joined fellow panelists Abdulla Daoud of The Refugee Centre and Kathy Sherrell of the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia.

Dana spoke on the promise of the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP) to unlock more solutions for people living as refugees globally. She focused on three issue areas and recommendations to address them, that would provide talented candidates in displacement with broader and more equitable access to Canadian job and skilled visa opportunities. 

Her remarks are below and can also be viewed by video.

Opening statement at the Senate of Canada Human Rights Committee

My name is Dana Wagner and I’m the Co-Founder and Managing Director with TalentLift. 

We support employers to recruit internationally from within refugee populations, using skilled visas, as a solution to skills shortages in Canada and displacement worldwide. The Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot or the EMPP is the policy framework that makes this work possible. My remarks are about how to improve it. 

I will preface by pointing to the dissonance created by Canada’s will to lead on solutions to global displacement, and unwillingness to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. We have lost more than 7,000 Palestinian children and more than 30 Israeli children, we have 80% of Gaza displaced, and we need an immediate ceasefire.


Now, The EMPP is unlocking remarkable opportunities: A manufacturer recently set a hiring target of 100 skilled workers for facilities in Guelph. In October, the Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services hired 49 nurses living in Ethiopia as refugees. These are nurses who don’t have full rights including work rights, or a pathway to permanence where they’re living.

Recent innovations including a new federal EMPP pathway launched in June, hold promise to scale this impact.

But as always in Canada, we can do better. 

Issue number one: The EMPP is still too narrow. 

How do we measure its success? The best reference point is the whole economic stream, of permanent and temporary pathways. Until the EMPP framework and flexibility encompasses the whole economic stream available to everyone else, we don’t have full access or equity for displaced talent. 

More than 604,000 people arrived on work permits last year, in 2022, but the EMPP flexibility doesn’t apply to those programs. It also doesn’t apply to the Express Entry programs and others like the Self-Employed Persons Program.

Recommendation: Our recommendation to close this gap is to mainstream access across the economic stream, including permanent and temporary pathways. One way to begin is to conduct (following the example of a gender-based analysis) what our team calls a displacement-based analysis of the economic stream.

Issue number two: Language levels and testing are too inflexible 

The new federal EMPP pathway has language levels that are proving prohibitive to many otherwise qualified candidates. We know this because we often have employers that require lower language than the visa pathway. 

Now, onto language testing. Currently, if you apply for a skilled visa with an English language requirement outside Canada, you must take the British Council IELTS test, and you must write the exam in-person. That means that right now – candidates from Afghanistan who are living in Pakistan are risking deportation to leave home and take their IELTS exam. 

Other barriers encountered by our candidates are: testing site availability (none in some countries, or outside major cities); inconsistent access for candidates with non-traditional documents; high cost; restrictive payment methods; and – last but not least – a difficult test that does not accurately reflect working knowledge of English.


To address the too-high language level, we recommend removing the minimum English/French level in higher-skilled jobs (TEER 3-0) (and there are precedents for this in some provincial nominee programs, in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador), potentially replaced with an affidavit from the employer that the candidate has the language needed to safely perform the job. 

To address too-restrictive English testing, we recommend accepting an online version of the British Council IELTS test; and accepting an online test by a second provider, like Duolingo.

Issue number three: Risk of uneven access across diversity dimensions

I noted that Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services hired 49 nurses living as refugees in Ethiopia. Some are living in the capital Addis Ababa, some are living in camps spread out around the country. 

Currently, a medical exam is required during EMPP visa processing before approval. Those in Addis can take one nearby. Those in most camps in Ethiopia need to take a flight to get to the nearest medical exam facility. 

Friction like this means it takes more time, and costs more money, for camp-based candidates to access the same opportunity – ultimately, that could be a competitive disadvantage.

Recommendation: We recommend investing in equitable access within talent pools, with a focus on improving access by women, those living in refugee camps or other remote areas, and those who are LGBTQ. This investment can be in funding and in targeted policy solutions. 


In closing, underlying these recommendations is the idea that people with talent and potential who live in refugee situations should have the same access to opportunities as talented people of any other background. If we build that world, then many more of the 35+ million people living as refugees can use their skills to leave situations of limbo and reduced rights, and use regular routes to reach safe new homes.

Candidates living in refugee circumstances and seeking a job in Canada can join TalentLift. Employers seeking global talent while engaging their team in something transformative can start hiring.