The Canadian Government has displayed renewed focus on the country’s blossoming role as a prime attraction for global tech talent. The aim is not just about meeting the demands of current job market but also about fostering an environment that attracts the required talent to shape the future job landscape.

Sean Fraser, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, has outlined a comprehensive approach, underpinned by four key pillars, that includes modifications and improvements to programs managed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

A highlight in the suite of changes is the development of an Innovation Stream under the International Mobility Program, a move largely influenced by the ongoing labour shortages in key tech occupations identified during consultations with tech industry stakeholders. The new Innovation Stream, projected to be operational by the end of 2023, will introduce an exemption from the labour market impact assessment process, designed to aid high-growth employers and talented workers in the tech sector in alignment with Canada’s innovation objectives.

Based on feedback from stakeholders, the IRCC is considering two options for the Innovation Stream, which are not mutually exclusive. These include employer-specific work permits for up to five years for workers engaged with a company identified as contributing to Canada’s industrial innovation goals, and open work permits, also up to five years, for highly skilled workers in select in-demand occupations.

The exact list of occupations that will receive LMIA exemptions is yet to be published.

The Innovation Stream is reminiscent of the old Software Pilot Project stream, which also allowed a fixed list of IT job titles to skip the laborious LMIA process. The latter program proved a boon to Canada for many years. We welcome the return of this program in its new format.

The Canadian Government also aims to position Canada as a favourable location for digital nomads – professionals who can work remotely from any location worldwide. Existing Canadian immigration rules already allow digital nomads to work remotely in Canada for up to six months on visitor status. The IRCC will further explore the possibility of additional policies to attract digital nomads to Canada in collaboration with both public and private partners.

Effective from July 16, 2023, a streamlined work permit application process will be available for H-1B specialty occupation visa holders in the U.S. Upon approval, they will receive an open work permit for up to three years. This is intended to enhance opportunities for these skilled workers to contribute to the high-tech sector and the economic prosperity of North America. The provision will remain in place for a year, or until IRCC receives 10,000 applications.

Existing programs that cater to workers in high-skilled tech occupations, such as the Global Skills Strategy and the Start-up Visa Program, will also see improvements. The Global Skills Strategy, introduced in 2017, helps Canadian employers gain rapid access to highly skilled global talent. The processing times for work permit applications under this strategy have now recovered after pandemic-induced delays.

The Start-up Visa (SUV) Program, which provides a path to permanent residence for foreign entrepreneurs supported by a designated Canadian venture capital fund, angel investor organization, or business incubator, will also undergo changes. More spots have been allocated to this program in the 2023–2025 multi-year levels plan, meaning the number of permanent residents expected under the Federal Business category for 2023 has tripled compared to 2022.

Additionally, the work permit linked with the SUV program will now be an open work permit valid for up to three years, instead of a one-year work permit restricted to the applicant’s start-up. Each member of the entrepreneurial team will be eligible for this work permit. Applications backed by committed capital or endorsed by a business incubator member of Canada’s Tech Network will be prioritized for processing. Further strategies to reduce processing times and improve program effectiveness are expected to be announced later this year.

With these innovative approaches, the Canadian Government aims to capitalize on the country’s potential as a leader in tech talent recruitment and attraction, ensuring its readiness for the jobs of the future.

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