Canada to launch 'digital nomad strategy,' other measures to woo international talent

The federal government is looking to poach talent from abroad through three new initiatives announced at a technology conference on Tuesday.

Canada's immigration minister announced three new initiatives Tuesday to attract talent from abroad

Man in grey suit
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The federal government is looking to poach talent from abroad through three new initiatives unveiled at a technology conference on Tuesday — an announcement one industry group called "a breakthrough" for Canada's skills shortage.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced what he called a "digital nomad strategy" that will allow workers with a foreign employer to stay and work in Canada for up to six months. If they get a job offer while in the country, he said, they can remain in Canada even longer.

He said those workers will "spend money in communities in this country."

Fraser's remarks to the Collision tech conference in Toronto were focused on the need to attract qualified workers to Canada's technology sector. Some of his announcements were targeted specifically at that industry — part of what the ministry is calling a "tech talent strategy."

By the end of this year, Fraser said, the federal government will be developing an immigration stream for "some of the world's most talented people that will be able to come to Canada to work for tech companies, whether they have a job offer or not."

He did not explain exactly who will qualify or how many people will be admitted to the stream. A news release issued after his remarks said the government will create an "innovation stream" under its international mobility program for skilled workers who are "in select in-demand occupations" or are destined for work with companies the government selects as "contributing to our innovation goals."

The third new program announced Tuesday was specifically aimed at the United States. By July 16, Fraser said, the government will create an open work-permit stream to allow 10,000 American H-1B visa holders to come and work in Canada.

In its news release, the ministry said the program will also provide for study or work permits for their family members.

H-1B visas allow foreign nationals to temporarily work in the U.S. in certain specialized occupations, including the technology sector. Tech companies went on a hiring binge during the pandemic but have since starting laying people off in large numbers. That's left a lot of H-1B visa holders scrambling to find new jobs before they're forced to leave the U.S.

Fraser said he's been watching that dynamic very closely and sees it as an "opportunity" for Canada.

'Starved for talent'

The Council of Canadian Innovators, a group chaired by former Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie to advocate for the Canadian technology sector, praised the new programs as a strong step toward filling a serious skills shortage.

"Canadian companies are starved for talent and the reality is we're not currently training enough," said Nick Schiavo, the council's director of federal affairs. "The announcements today are such a breakthrough and such a game-changer."

Schiavo said the new pathway for H-1B holders is especially promising because it focuses on workers who already have cleared a vetting process.

"We just don't have enough talent here, so the faster we can get that talent that has been vetted and accredited in the United States into our companies, into our communities, the better," he said.

As for the digital nomad strategy, Schiavo said it will build linkages with talented people who will be more likely to invest their time and skills in Canadian companies.


Arthur White-Crummey is a reporter at CBC Ottawa. He has previously worked as a reporter in Saskatchewan covering the courts, city hall and the provincial legislature. You can reach him at arthur.white-crummey@cbc.ca.