The Honourable Sean Fraser, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced a flurry of initiatives recently meant to attract and retain top talent from around the world under a newly announced Tech Talent Strategy. These initiatives are primarily geared towards those in the Science, Technology, Engineer, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, but some parts of the initiative will be accessible to other professionals as well.
Tech Talent Strategy
At a recent conference in Toronto, Minister Fraser announced the Tech Talent Strategy, which is a multi-pronged attempt to accelerate Canada’s access to professionals in in-demand industries.
H-1B Visa Holders
IRCC is creating an open work permit stream for H-1B visa holders to apply for a Canadian work permit. H-1B visas are U.S. work visas issued to foreign workers with specialized skills and have faced many criticisms despite the continued demand for them. For one thing, individuals must still go through a separate employer-specific green card process that can take decades. Another limitation is that if an individual is laid off, they are only given 60 days to find a new position before having to return to their country of citizenship.
With this new initiative, the Canadian government is hoping to capitalize on attracting individuals who have an H-1B visa and may have been affected by the almost 100,000 jobs that have been cut by the U.S. tech industry in the last few months. Canada’s initiative will offer up to 10,000 applicants the chance at an open work permit, along with providing open work permits for their spouses and study permits for their dependent children.
The program will go live on July 16, 2023 and remain open until the 10,000 application cap is met.
The Innovation Stream
Minister Fraser also announced a commitment to develop an Innovation Stream under the existing International Mobility Program. Under this stream, individuals may receive employer-specific, or closed, work permits for up to five years to work for a company that has been identified by the Government of Canada as a key player in Canada’s industrial innovation goals. Individuals in select in-demand occupations may also receive open work permits for five-year terms.
IRCC’s goal is to launch the stream by the end of 2023.
Start-up Visa Program
The Start-up Visa Program is a permanent residence pathway for entrepreneurs who have financial backing from a designated Canadian venture capital fund, angel investor, or business incubator for their proposed business in Canada. The program is currently weighed down by long processing times, where permanent residence applications are taking three years to process. In response, IRCC is introducing the option for permanent resident applicants in this stream to also apply for open work permits for up to three years to allow them to enter Canada and start working as their application is in process. IRCC hopes that the flexibility given to entrepreneurs through an open work permit will allow them to better supplement their earnings while supporting their families and getting their own business ventures off the ground.
As well, IRCC will start prioritizing applications where there is capital already committed to the project through venture capital funds, angel investor groups, or business incubators. This prioritization plan will be applied retroactively so that applicants currently in the backlog will benefit.
The cap on Start-up Visa program applicants will also increase from 1,000 to 3,500. This still represents only a modest increase given current government targets to increase the number of new permanent residents to 500,000 a year by 2025. Without a significant increase in allotted spaces for Start-up Visa applicants, they will still represent less than 1% of all new permanent residents in Canada each year.
The Tech Talent Strategy also aims to promote Canada as a destination for digital nomads, who are individuals that work remotely and often travel the globe while doing so. Details on how Canada plans to attract such individuals and any change in rules around their entry or ability to remain in Canada are not currently available. Minister Fraser has signalled that he will begin consultations with public and private partners to determine the best policies to draw digital nomads to Canada.
It is unclear whether the changes to Canada’s approach to digital nomads will include longer authorization periods than Canada’s immigration legislation currently allows. Visitors are already authorized to remain in Canada for six months while they continue working abroad. The delay in instituting a dedicated digital nomad visa puts Canada behind countries such as Portugal and Spain, where individuals can obtain one-year digital nomad visas. In Portugal, individuals also have the option of obtaining a residency permit that can be renewed for up to five years. As well, although Minister Fraser has indicated that individuals who arrive as a digital nomad and are able to find Canadian employment can obtain temporary work permits, it remains uncertain how many digital nomads will want to give up the freedom of globetrotting-while-employed to settle down.
Global Skills Strategy
Finally, Minister Fraser also promised a return to the 14-day service standards for work permits issued under the Global Skills Strategy, including ones based on Global Talent Stream Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs).
This processing timeline was originally promised in November 2016 when the Global Skills Strategy was initially announced. However, recent processing times have ballooned well past this two-week standard. It remains to be seen whether IRCC will be able to meet this ambitious target in a sustainable manner moving forward.
Category-based selection in Express Entry
To add needed flexibility to the Express Entry program, IRCC will be introducing category-based rounds of invitations. In these rounds, individuals who work in the specific occupations in healthcare, STEM, trades, transport, and agriculture, along with those who have French-language proficiency, will be targeted in Express Entry draws in 2023.
The first targeted draw happened on June 28, 2023, where 500 healthcare workers with a minimum Express Entry point score of 476 were invited to apply for permanent residence. Individuals with at least six months of full-time experience (or its equivalent) in the last three years in any one of 35 different healthcare fields were eligible. The healthcare fields identified under the category-based initiative included family physicians, surgery specialists, dentists, veterinarians, dieticians, massage therapists, nursing aides, pharmacy assistants, and practitioners of natural healing. A draw for an additional 1500 healthcare workers with a minimum point score of 463 occurred on July 6, 2023.
It is unclear the extent to which IRCC is coordinating with provinces to ensure that qualified individuals are able to get licensed and start filling the healthcare gaps that exist across the country.
Minister Fraser also committed to a STEM-specific draw being prioritized. This draw occurred on July 5, 2023, with 500 applicants with a minimum point score of 486 were invited to apply for permanent residence. Individuals with at least six months of full-time experience in the last three years in any of 24 STEM occupations were eligible. The STEM occupations identified include civil engineers, software engineers, web developers, computer programmers, urban and land use planners, and business systems specialists.
We will be following these developments closely as they are rolled out throughout the rest of this year, and beyond. We will particularly be keeping an eye on whether these initiatives to attract more applicants have an overall impact on the processing times for existing temporary and permanent residence streams. We do already know that IRCC has been moving towards digitizing more of their application processing and is looking at increasing their use of Artificial Intelligence tools moving forward. We will provide further updates on policy changes and operational capacity as they become available.
In the meantime, should you have any questions about how the above initiatives can help you or your company, please contact BDO Law LLP’s Immigration Services team at [email protected].