In response to a shortage of global talent in Canada, the government has moved to reduce the processing time for skilled foreign worker visas to two weeks. The government’s decision has been welcomed by the country’s tech industry, which they see as improving Canada’s competitiveness by making it easier to recruit top foreign talent on Canadian visas.
Bill Morneau, Canada’s finance minister, announced the new policy as part of an economic update. He said: “Ottawa will reduce the processing time for visas and work permits to two weeks, a drop from the many months it takes now.”
The scheme, which is aimed at high-growth businesses, will also feature a temporary work permit that will enable foreign workers to work in Canada for 30 days a year. It’s expected that the new initiative will begin in early 2017.
Employing overseas nationals on Canadian Visas creates Labour market benefits
Under the terms of the scheme, companies will be required to demonstrate how recruiting foreign talent on Canadian work visas will lead to labour market benefits like investment, training and Canadian job creation for Canadian companies and global corporations investing large amounts of money in Canada.
Alexandra Clark, the head of government relations at one of Canada’s biggest tech industry success stories, Shopify said: “One of the big things that this now creates is certainty. This is a direct response of this government hearing from Canadian companies that labour and access to talent has been a major barrier for us to be competitive.”
According to sources, the Canadian government has identified the tech industry as a way of attracting investment and jobs that could lead the economy out of a ‘slow growth environment.’
It’s long been known that failure to attract the necessary talent stifles tech companies to scale up their businesses and they argue that access to global talent is key to taking their companies to the next level.
CEO of Cambridge-based cybersecurity company eSentire, J. Paul Haynes, said: “This has been a conversation for 10 years and we’re just so happy the government is acting. The changes make Canada one of the most accommodating countries in the world for foreign tech talent.”
Tech jobs outnumber the talent available in Canada
Haynes says that the tech industry’s growth has resulted in a high number of vacancies going unfilled, particularly in areas of cybersecurity. He said that his firm has been working with Canadian colleges and universities to identify home-grown talent for these roles, but it has not been enough.
President of the Canadian Labour Congress, Hassan Yussuff, expressed his concerns with the new scheme and said that a ‘fast-track process could allow companies to circumvent the requirement to search for a Canadian worker initially.
Yussuff said: “Nobody should have a carte blanche and simply show up without having to prove it and I don’t think it’s fair to Canadians with fairly high unemployment in the country.”
According to Chris Plunkett, director of external affairs at Waterloo-based tech hub Communitech, Canada’s tech industry finds itself in a very ‘specific predicament’ and argued that recruiting the right talent from overseas could be the key to domestic job creation in the future.
Plunkett said: “You’re not trying to protect the one job; you’re saying ‘if you bring in one other, how does that then create 10, 20 or 50 or more jobs down the road.’ That’s a big shift and it’s the right shift when you’re trying to create a high-skilled economy.”
Plunkett stressed that the scheme would be crucial to companies such as Clearpath Robotics, which rely on highly specialized personnel like those with PHDs in human robot-interaction.
He said: “Think about the number of people in the world who have that, and even if you have a couple Canadians who have that specialization, they might be working in Silicon Valley, or another company — they’re not sitting around looking for a job.”
“For highly technical companies that can’t bring the talent they need into Canada, relocation is a very real possibility. They either have to grow slower because they can’t build the product that they want or they’re going to have to open an office elsewhere,” Plunkett added.
Shopify’s Alexandra Clark said that the benefit of the government’s scheme will filter down and spread across Canada. She said: “This is not about Canadians missing out on opportunities. This is actually bringing opportunities for Canadians in the workforce and especially in tech companies here in Canada.”