A Tech Strategy That Lacks Economic Benefits For Canada

In an attempt to help tech businesses, fill labour shortages and to become a “tech talent” leader, the Minister of Immigration Refugee Citizenship Canada (“the Minister”) recently announced six new measures.

  1. Open work permits for holders of H-1B visas: Foreign workers on H-1B specialty occupations visas in the US will be able apply for a Canadian work permit, study permit, and work permit options for their accompanying family members.
    • The H1-B specialty occupation visa holder work permit will commence from July 16, 2023 and will remain in effect for one year or until Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) receives 10,000 applications, whichever comes first.
    • Approved applicants will receive an open work permit of up to three years in duration, which means they will be able to work for almost any employer anywhere in Canada.

This initiative may help to buy time for foreign nationals that missed the H1-B draw in the United States but is unlikely to benefit Canadian businesses.  Instead, these foreign workers will likely continue to work for their American employers remotely from Canada. This will not assist Canada in building a strong tech workforce to benefit Canadians companies, but rather it will put more strain on the housing market as these 10,000 workers will need a place to live while they continue to work for their American employers from the comfort of their Canadian homes.

  1. An Innovative Stream under the International Mobility program: This new stream is intended to be an integral part of the tech talent strategy by attracting highly skilled individuals to Canada. This innovative stream will be exempt from a labour market impact assessment (LMIA).
    • Employer specific work permits for up to 5 years to workers destined to work for a company identified as contributing to Canada’s industrial innovative goals. If a company contributes to Canada’s industrial innovation goals, the company will be able to hire foreign workers without obtaining an LMIA.
    • Open work permits for up to 5 years for highly skilled workers in selected in-demand occupations.

It remains to be seen what the criteria will be for a Canadian company to meet the definition of “contributing to Canada’s industrial innovative goals”, and which occupations will be designated as “in- demand”.

  1. A return to 14-day service standard for work permits under the Global Skills Strategy: The Global Skills Strategy initiative was introduced prior to the pandemic to support Canadian employers seeking quick access to highly skilled talent from around the world was negatively impacted by the pandemic. Processing times far exceeded the 14-day service standard during the pandemic. The Minister confirmed that Employment and Social Development Canada is now meeting the two-week standard for processing Global Talent Stream labour market assessments for employers and IRCC is also now meeting their two-week standard for processing GSS work permit applications. The is welcomed news for Canadian employers.
  2. Canada will become a destination for digital nomads: Apparently, individuals that work in technology will be allowed to work in Canada for six months as a visitor.

This announcement is puzzling, because our immigration legislation already allows visitors to work remote from Canada, as long as they do not receive compensation from a Canadian source. So, it is unclear how this announcement will enhance the current talent pool. Meanwhile these individuals will need accommodation, and potentially other resources, such as healthcare. Perhaps when details are announced the benefits might reveal themselves.

  1. Express Entry STEM-specific draws: To further support the recruitment of skilled individuals, a STEM-specific draw under the Express Entry Program was announced. The first draw occurred July 5, 2023, and selected candidates with expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Invitations were issued to 500 individuals with a comprehensive ranking score (CRS) of 486. Given that recent regular draws invited individuals with CRS of 488, initially there doesn’t seem to be a huge advantage to these STEM candidates as they likely would have received an invitation in any event.

  1. Improvements to the Start-up Visa Program (SUV): The Start-up Visa path to permanent residence targets foreign entrepreneurs who gain the support of a designated Canadian venture, capital fund, angel investor organization or business incubator for their start up. These applicants are intended to come to Canada to work in startup companies. More spots have been allocated under this program as a step toward addressing the lengthy wait times for applicants. Recognizing the long application wait times due to significant interest in the SUV program, IRCC will change the temporary work permit option for SUV applications and will allow them to apply for an open work permit for up to three years, rather than a one-year work permit that limits them to work solely for their own start-up. Work permits will also be available to each member of the entrepreneurial team, in comparison to the current policy, where only members of the team who are identified as essential and urgently needed in Canada can apply.

The announced improvements to the SUV program appear to be counterproductive to the intention of the program. It remains to be seen how allowing these entrepreneurs to work for any company, as opposed to exclusively working for their own start-up will assist the start-up in succeeding.

Hopefully, as more details of these measures become available, the economic benefit to Canadian businesses will become more apparent. In the meantime, Canadian businesses shouldn’t rely on these initiatives to assist them with challenging labour market conditions. Canadians instead will have to compete with the digital nomads and 10,000 H1-B holders for housing. Perhaps the Canadian Government hopes these tech workers will “like Canada enough”, that they will eventually apply to work for Canadian companies. This seems like a big leap of faith, especially if the workers continue to be paid in US currency at traditionally higher paying salaries.

If you have questions about any of these initiatives, please contact one of our Canadian immigration legal professionals by phone (416 368 1111) or via email: caruso@cilf.ca; fagan@cilf.ca; bonisteel@cilf.ca; ali@cilf.ca; mukherjee@cilf.ca; garciafialdini@cilf.ca.