Federal plan to fast-track foreign talent could capitalize on Trump's crackdown

The federal government will formally launch a new program to fast-track the process to bring "low-risk, high-talent" workers to Canada in June.

Global Skills Strategy program to streamline visas, work permits to kick in June 12

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains announced the Global Talent Stream initiative to fast-track visas for high-skilled foreign workers will kick in June 12. (CBC)

The federal government will launch a new program to fast-track "low-risk, high-talent" foreign workers to Canada this June.

The plan sets a two-week turnaround for processing visas and short-term work permits to give startups faster access to highly skilled workers. 

"Canada certainly could benefit from some of the international talent affected by the actions in the U.S. recently," said Patrick Snider, director of skills and immigration policy for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. "That being said, we have to expect other countries will also look to capitalize on this moment as well."

Snider said Canada is likely not going to be the only country to "see the potential from attracting global talent, so we will still have to make sure our system is fast and effective."

The Global Talent Stream is a key component of the Global Skills Strategy, announced last fall and designed to help Canadian companies get the unique skill sets needed to help grow businesses.

Navdeep Bains, the minister of innovation, science, and economic development, announced the June 12 launch during an event at Toronto's Peraso Technologies Inc. today. His message to the world was in stark contrast to the U.S. administration's steps to crack down on immigration and close its doors to travellers from six countries.

"We want to be more ambitious. We think globally, act globally. We want to be open to ideas, open to people, open to trade, open to investment," Bains said.

Snider said while most companies are optimistic about the direction of the federal strategy, there are still many details to be fleshed out around which companies and workers will qualify as "high skilled" and "in shortage."

"If the restrictions wind up being too tightly enforced, it could limit the benefits of this program and leave many companies stuck with the longer processing times, so these will have to be implemented carefully," he said.

More high-paid jobs for Canada

"We have already heard from companies looking to move operations into the country, which means more well-paying jobs for Canadians," Snider said.

Trump has temporarily suspended an expedited visa program that helped foreigners get quicker access to temporary jobs at high-tech U.S. companies. The visa had allowed graduate-level workers in several specialized fields, including information technology, medicine, engineering and mathematics quicker entry, but Trump said it was being exploited by outsourcing companies to bring in low-cost foreign workers.

Bains' announcement was welcomed by smaller business startups that have been hampered in past by bureaucratic red tape.

Benjamin Bergen, executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators, attended Thursday's announcement and said the new program will address a "critical gap" and streamline what is now a cumbersome, lengthy process.

Bergen, who previously worked in Liberal minister Chrystia Freeland's Toronto constituency office and worked on her 2015 election campaign, said messaging south of the border could give Canada an edge in tapping top talent from around the world.

"As some countries are closing doors and making it more challenging, Canada is actually having a more open policy and speeding up time. Between that difference there is an opportunity," he said in a later phone interview. 

Place to call home

Bergen said highly skilled workers from around the world are not only looking for a salary and title, but an attractive place they want to call home.

"When your tone is one of openness and acceptance, that is a very strong and powerful tool," said Bergen ‎who is registered to lobby various government departments and agencies on a number of policies and regulations, including the Immigration Department on visa time lines.

While the Global Skills Strategy targets the temporary workers, those who come here through the program can apply to emigrate to Canada on a permanent basis.

"As workers with in-demand skills and Canadian work experience, they will be well-positioned to successfully apply for permanent status through Express Entry if they choose to do so," said Faith St-John, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

"With an aging population and a relatively low birth rate, Canada's economy relies on a robust immigration system to help keep our workforce strong."

Victoria Lennox is CEO and co-founder of Startup Canada. (Twitter)

Victoria Lennox, CEO and co-founder of Startup Canada, called the Global Skills Strategy a "boon" for Canadian enterprises looking to recruit international talent. She said there is a lack of executives in the country with experience growing small businesses.

"Canada's diversity is our unique strength," she said, echoing a theme used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"Opening our doors will help early-stage companies to scale faster, and will also introduce Canada to new innovations and skills."


  • This story has been updated to clarify Benjamin Bergen's former employment with Chrystia Freeland.
    Mar 10, 2017 7:05 AM ET


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