Government to speed up permit processing for foreign high-skilled workers

A federal government initiative promises to make it easier and faster for companies to bring high-skilled, temporary workers to Canada, but one expert on innovation policy says the measure doesn't provide the long-term recruitment solutions Canadian businesses need.

Global Skills Strategy will also allow short, permit-free stays for certain workers from abroad

A new federal government initiative is meant to make it easier for certain companies to bring high-skilled foreign workers to Canada. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

A federal government initiative promises to make it easier and faster for companies to bring high-skilled, temporary workers to Canada, but one expert on innovation policy says the measure doesn't provide the long-term recruitment solutions Canadian businesses need.

The Global Talent Stream, part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, is available to employers who meet one of two criteria.

Employers that can demonstrate a need for foreign workers with specific skills in order to grow their business can be referred to the program by designated partner organizations of Employment and Social Development Canada.

The Global Talent Stream program is also open to companies that need skilled foreign workers with specific in-demand skills, as determined by ESDC's Global Talent Occupations List. The list includes high-tech occupations such as software engineers, web developers and digital media designers.

The challenge of finding skilled workers

The head of one technology startup on hand for Monday's announcement at Toronto startup hub OneEleven said recruiting skilled workers takes up about a third of his time, but is necessary to keep his company growing.

"It actually doesn't matter how big or small a company you are," said Raymond Luk, founder and CEO of Hockeystick, which provides financial data on privately-owned companies.

"When you are a very small company — we're 12 people — finding one or two or three people is huge for us."
Raymond Luk, CEO of tech startup Hockeystick, said recruiting top talent takes up about a third of his time. (Shawn Benjamin/CBC News)

​Hockeystick employee Fernando Ferrer, himself an immigrant to Canada, said his technology skills helped him find a job faster than other immigrants he's known.

"That's an indication of how starved Canada is for tech talent, and I think it's important that we have the government's ears to get things done, and hopefully improve the situation," he said.

The Global Talent Stream fails to solve a long-term recruiting problem for Canadian businesses, said Dan Breznitz, co-director of the innovation policy lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

Canadian high-tech firms need "high-level, seasoned managers and high-level, specific R&D workers," said Breznitz.

"Those two should have long-term visas. Preferably, we want them to become Canadian. Short-term temporary solutions are not what the industry is looking for."

Instead, Breznitz, suggested, the government could focus on repatriating high-skilled Canadians who were educated here but left to pursue work abroad.

"Those people also would love to come back to Canada, more than ever because of Trump and what's happening in the world, but we do nothing at all to attract them back," he said.

Initiative 'means more Canadian jobs': Bains

The Global Talent Stream initiative "actually helps create more Canadian jobs," Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains told reporters after making the announcement.

"When these individuals come to Canada, they transfer knowledge to Canadians, so they help Canadians succeed, which creates more opportunities for them. They help Canadian companies grow, which means more Canadian jobs are created," said Bains.

Eligible employers will have their applications to the Global Talent Stream prioritized, and foreign workers applying to those employers will get their work permits processed within two weeks, according to a government press release. Immediate family members of those skilled workers will also be eligible for faster processing.

Employers seeking to hire workers through the Global Talent Stream program must pay a $1,000 fee for each position, and can't make temporary foreign workers pay that fee. Employers are "encouraged to recruit Canadians and permanent residents before offering a job to a temporary foreign worker," according to an Employment and Social Development Canada webpage, and must describe those recruitment efforts as part of the application process.

Work permit exemptions

As of Monday, eligible skilled workers will also be allowed to stay in Canada for short periods of time without a work permit, for two weeks out of every six month stay or four weeks out of every 12 months.

Foreign researchers will be allowed to stay in Canada for four months out of every year without a work permit, if they are doing research with a publicly-funded educational institution or affiliated research institution.

Companies that apply to join the Global Talent Stream will be required to create a "Labour Market Benefits Plan," according to a background document from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

The plan should explain "the employer's measurable commitments to create lasting benefits for the Canadian labour market through activities such as job creation, investment in training and skills development, or the transfer of knowledge to Canadians."

Monday's announcement follows up on one of the government's commitments in its fall economic update.

With files from Shawn Benjamin, Renee Filippone, Jacqueline Hansen and Robert Parker