June 12, 2017 3:16 pm
Updated: June 13, 2017 9:25 am

Starting today, some Canadian companies can bring in foreign workers in as little as 2 weeks

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Singh Bains responds to a question from the floor during a policy conference in Ottawa, Wednesday October 12, 2016. Bains said a new program that will fast track job permits for some foreign workers will help create more jobs for Canadians.

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A federal program to allow Canadian companies to bring in foreign workers within two weeks officially started June 12.

The plan, which was fleshed out in the federal budget, is part of Ottawa’s so-called Global Skills Strategy, an effort to help Canadian employers attract the world’s best and brightest. Today marks the start of a $7.8-million, two-year pilot run that will be a test case for whether the program should be made a mainstay of Canada’s immigration policy.

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The fast-track lane into Canada is reserved for “high-growth companies” hiring high-skilled workers with hard-to-find qualifications or unique expertise, the government said.

The program, known as Global Talent Stream, also allows employers, universities and some research institutions to bring in international talent for short periods of time with no work permit at all.

The thinking is that making it easier for Canadian companies to bring in international talent quickly “will result in more good-quality, middle-class jobs for Canadians,” Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said in a statement.

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Program could help divert top talent from the U.S.

Two-week processing times for work permits will likely help Canada syphon off some of the overseas talent that would normally be heading to the U.S., said Peter Rekai, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer.

“Who this helps is all those people who can’t get into head offices in the U.S.,” said Rekai.

The anti-immigration climate that has taken hold in the U.S. under President Donald Trump has created much angst among corporate majors and Silicon Valley giants, which were already struggling to navigate America’s labyrinthine work visa system.

Now international employers will find it even easier to “park” top global talent in Canada while their U.S. immigration applications work their way through the American bureaucracy, said Rekai.

But multinationals are also increasingly giving up on U.S. visas and moving their new hires to Canada on a permanent basis, said Rekai.

“We’re already seeing a lot of that,” he told Global News, adding that the Global Talent Stream program is likely to further accelerate the trend.

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A more hands-off approach to companies’ hiring decisions

The faster processing times are available only for companies that fit one of two requirements:

  • They need to fill vacancies that fit a short government list of eligible occupations.
  • They are among a group of government-approved employers that Ottawa believes will create significant numbers of Canadian jobs.

The first criterion is in line with Canada’s traditional approach to high-skilled visas, with the government trying to identify which skills are in high demand and to make more permits available for those positions.

That’s often a tricky proposition because, by the time bureaucrats have concluded the consultations necessary to identify which vacancies are hard to fill, the economy and industry have moved on, meaning the government’s job list is outdated, said Rekai.

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However, it appears that Ottawa is taking a more flexible approach this time, by also allowing some pre-approved employers to fast-track a broader range of international hires.

Even for companies that have the federal government’s blessing, though, two-week processing is only available for professional and managerial roles with salaries generally around $80,000 or more.

This appears aimed at avoiding companies using the program to hire cheap labour, according to Rekai.

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That was one of the criticisms levied against the U.S.’s H1-B visa program for high-skilled workers, which many companies abused to hire IT personnel from India and other low-cost jurisdictions. That ended up displacing American workers in some instances, according to reports.

On the other hand, the Canadian tech industry, which appears to be the main focus of the Global Talent Stream, has a track record of creating jobs at a much faster rate than the overall economy. The sector is also a top employer of young people.

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Waiving job permits for short-term work contracts also key

Allowing qualified foreign workers to come in for short periods without a work permit is also a major step forward for Canadian employers, according to Rekai.

That’s a “great help” to employers who need to bring in foreign experts quickly to work on a specific project, assist a client with a tight deadline, or oversee a corporate expansion.

Ottawa’s pilot project allows eligible workers to come work in Canada permit-free for 15 days every six months or for 30 days every 12 months.

Universities will be able to bring in international researchers for a 120-day period every 12 months without applying for a work permit.

That’s something higher education institutions have been asking for a long time, said Rekai.

Previously, being able to bring in international researchers quickly to work on specific project required “a lot of angels dancing on the head of a pin,” said Rekai. In other words, institutions had to meet a complex set of conditions, including ensuring that funding for scholars and scientists came from outside Canada.

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© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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