Toronto, Canada

Eliminating Barriers for Displaced Individuals

WES Gateway Program

May 15, 2019

Credential assessment for immigrants displaced by political unrest, conflict, and natural disasters when verifiable documents are not available

Talar Chitjian gained admission to York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School using a credential evaluation issued through WES’ refugee pilot project

In recent years, millions of individuals, many of them highly educated and skilled, have been forced to flee their home countries due to circumstances beyond their control. Many arrive in Canada with some official record of their educational accomplishments, but without complete and verified documentation. In many cases, the institutions they attended have been damaged or destroyed, and such records may no longer be accessible.

A credential evaluation is an important tool for internationally educated professionals to prove their qualifications in familiar terms. Recognition of academic credentials is a springboard for pursuing education, employment, and professional licensure. It is a critical piece to the successful integration of newcomers to Canada.

The Gateway Program, a new initiative from World Education Services (WES), aims to help those seeking to enter higher education, employment, or a regulated profession in Canada by providing credential evaluations, even when verification of official documents is not possible. A similar program for the United States is currently being tested.

The WES Gateway Program provides qualified participants educated in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, or Venezuela with a high-quality credential evaluation report that can be accepted and recognized by employers, higher education institutions, and regulatory bodies throughout Canada. The program is for individuals who are unable to obtain documents from their institutions but may have documentation in their possession.

“This is very exciting,” says Shamira Madhany, managing director for WES Canada and deputy executive director for WES. “Through the WES Gateway Program, people whose careers were put on hold now have a reliable way forward. It’s very gratifying to know that we can help them meaningfully reclaim their professional lives.”

Talar Chitjian, a former Syrian refugee now studying at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, knows first-hand the value of getting a credential evaluation from WES. She received an assessment during the pilot phase of the program: “WES’ assessment was really beneficial to me. It provided me with the validation of my documents that I needed to go to law school and ultimately pursue my passion of practicing law. The evaluation changed the course of my path in Canada—for the better.”

Promising practice

To conduct these evaluations, WES draws on more than 40 years of expertise working with academic credentials and extensive knowledge of international education systems. The organization can confidently use credible documents in an individual’s possession to validate credentials and provide a reliable assessment of their equivalency in Canada.

Carmen Jacques, student recruitment manager at CPA Ontario, echoes Chitjian’s belief about the strong value of the program: “It’s critical that we break down barriers to ensure the path to professional licensure is fair and accessible to all those who wish to pursue it,” she says. “The Gateway Program helps Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (CPA Ontario) move closer to that goal.”

WES works with partner organizations across Canada to refer clients to the WES Gateway Program. These referring organizations confirm applicants’ eligibility, submit documents for evaluation, and provide additional information and resources to support program participants in achieving their professional and academic goals in Canada.

In a pilot study concluded in 2017, WES worked with documents Syrian refugees had in their possession and that signified they had attended or completed a program of study. In some cases evaluators were able to reconstruct the course of study using partial documentation, information in the organization’s archives, and knowledge of the Syrian education system. Using a stringent methodology, WES was able to confidently provide a credential evaluation to Syrian refugees to pursue their professional and academic goals in Canada.

To expand the program, WES conducted in-house research to examine a group of countries experiencing turmoil and producing large numbers of refugees, asylum seekers, or individuals in refugee-like situations.

The report provided evidence and rationale for the seven countries of education currently eligible as part of the WES Gateway Program. WES considered a number of factors including:

  • Turmoil in country (such as conflict with significant violence, persecution, significant natural disasters)
  • Number of refugees, asylum seekers, and other individuals in need
  • Number of highly educated individuals with the ability to work in Canada
  • Need for assessment (individuals experiencing challenges accessing verified documents)
  • WES’ ability to assess qualifications from the country

WES will continue to assess the climate in several countries where global and local change could create greater need in the coming years.


WES provided credential assessments to 337 Syrian refugees – 100 percent of applicants – during the pilot phase of the program. Most have used or plan to use their report, either to apply for education, for licensure/certification, or for employment — some for more than one purpose. Of those using the report for education, three-quarters said they had been offered admission, in programs ranging from accounting to early childhood education to master’s in common law; none reported having their application rejected. Of those using the report for professional licensure or certification, 84 percent reported passing the initial review. Among those using the evaluation for employment, more than 60 percent reported receiving at least one job offer.

As part of the ongoing evaluation of the program, WES monitors international conflicts, natural disasters, and shifting global trends in order to identify emerging need. The program is scalable and may expand to serve those being forcibly displaced in other countries.

Making it Work for You:

  • Maintain rigour to sustain program credibility and the value of the credential evaluation
  • Build collaboration into program design
  • When building a new solution, be agile; test the idea on a small scale, then expand and enhance; lead with research, evidence, data to get buy-in from your stakeholders

For this Good Idea contact:

Beatrice Kohlenberg Senior Manager, WES Gateway Program, World Education Services
Toronto, ON, Canada,