Ottawa vows to cut wait times for foreign workers joining tech firms

June 14, 2016

By Sean Silcoff and Michelle Zilio, Globe and Mail |

The Canadian government is promising to speed up immigration of skilled foreign workers joining fast-growing technology companies, a drawn-out process that the employers say is thwarting their growth.

On Tuesday, the government launched its innovation strategy with yet another consultation process that was long on broad themes and short on specifics, identifying six areas where it will seek public input this summer, including building clusters and making it easier to do business in Canada. “We want to make innovation a national priority,” Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, told reporters.

When pressed on specifics, several ministers agreed one goal was to cut waiting times for expanding tech firms to hire skilled foreigners, a process that often takes at least six months. “That will be a key component” of the plan, Mr. Bains said.

The government delays, tech firms say, prevent them from recruiting top candidates from places such as Silicon Valley.

“We have all heard too many horror stories of agile companies facing challenges when trying to bring in bright new employees to support business growth and opportunities,” Small Business Minister Bardish Chagger said. “Highly skilled workers, researchers and entrepreneurs should be welcomed in Canada in higher volumes and at a faster rate than other OECD countries.”

Immigration Minister John McCallum, speaking at a separate event, acknowledged that for many domestic tech firms “their idea of a quick [immigration] processing time is more like six days rather than six months.” The government says it hit its six-month target 80 per cent of the time last year. “Six days would be a stretch,” he said. “But at the same time … we want to open our doors to the best and the brightest … so, obviously, I will be working very hard to try to accommodate their needs as best I can.”

Under the Express Entry system introduced by the last government, employers who offer jobs to foreigners must get government approval for a “Labour Market Impact Assessment” [LMIA] showing they couldn’t find Canadians to do the job. While the approach targeted abusers of the low-skill temporary foreign worker program, fast-growing tech firms had to submit to the same drawn-out process, often when those with relevant skills were only located outside Canada. Some frustrated employers instead hired people to work outside Canada, or stopped looking for skilled foreigners altogether.

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