Canada’s economic immigration system is the largest, most comprehensive, and elaborate among OECD countries, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which called the system a benchmark for other nations.
The report took a comprehensive look at Canada’s entire immigration system, and while it provided some recommendations to address “inconsistencies”, offered an overall glowing review of economic immigration policies in the country. Among the policies that were examined by the OECD, which is an intergovernmental economic organization with 36 member countries, were the federal government’s Global Skills Strategy, as well as the Startup Visa Program.
Global Skills Strategy
The Global Talent Stream (GTS), which was made permanent in the federal government’s Budget 2019 earlier this year, has seen more than 1,300 companies use the GTS, accounting for 23,900 work permit applications that have been processed since it began as a pilot program in June 2017.
As part of the Global Skills Strategy, the GTS aims to help companies quickly access international high-skilled talent that is otherwise unavailable in Canada. The program reduces the processing time of visa applications for temporary workers to two weeks, and has targets of creating more than 40,000 new jobs for Canadian and permanent residents, and develop 10,000 co-op placements.
“The sheer problem is that there’s just not a lot of executive experience out there that want to come to Canada.”
According to Ahmed Hussen, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, more than 40,000 highly skilled workers have already entered into Canada through the overall Global Skills Strategy, since June 2017. OECD’s report found that in 2018, over 80 percent of new work permits under the Global Skills Strategy were completed within 19 days; compared to highly skilled workers who did not benefit from the accelerated process, experiencing wait times of 56 days.
Hussen stated that the acceleration of work permits is, in fact, working. He noted that when speaking to participants who have gone through the program they often confirm to him that the process did only take 10 businesses days.
However, despite the OECD’s glowing report, Canada is still facing a shortage of nearly 220,000 skilled workers by 2021. While the OECD and organizations like the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), a long-time advocate for the Global Skills Strategy, have stated that the programs are working, Canada still faces the challenges of having created more tech jobs than it can fill, and has a need for executive-level talent to help Canadian companies scale.
“It’s been a lot of STEM, and now we’re looking at C-suite executives,” Dana O’Born, director of strategic initiatives for CCI told BetaKit. “The Global Talent Stream does address that [but] the sheer problem is that there’s just not a lot of executive experience out there that want to come to Canada.”
“We’re working with our members, we’re working with the government and it’s all about helping companies scale up,” she added. “I think it’s just a talent shortage across the globe.”
While Minister Hussen also stated that 25 percent of the 40,000 individuals coming through Global Skills Strategy programs have been from the United States, O’Born said she hasn’t seen any data to support a “reverse brain drain” of talent coming into Canada from its southern neighbour.
“Obviously, a lot of companies have been recruiting from the United States, but there’s never been any solidified data saying that everybody’s walking back to Canada,” she said, noting that issues around competitive salaries still remain in trying to draw top talent to Canada.
Another challenge that the CCI is still hoping the government will address is the NOC (National Occupational Classification) codes, which under the Global Skills Strategy are currently restricted to NOC 0, management-level jobs, and NOC A, professional jobs that require a university degree.
“The National Occupation codes didn’t address all of the titles of the jobs that I think a lot of the tech space occupies,” O’Born said. “So we’ve been working really closely with the ministry on supporting that and highlighting some of the areas which are new and upcoming, in terms of preparing and modifying some of this NOC codes, [which] haven’t been updated for almost two decades.”
“Technology is moving faster than our ability to change the NOC codes to reflect the emerging job titles … that’s one challenge we have to resolve,” Minster Hussen stated.
The OECD report also examined the Startup Visa program, which is offered as a more permanent labour migration policy. The Startup Visa program began as a pilot in 2013 and was made permanent by the federal government in 2018; it aims to attract foreign talent looking to actively pursue business ventures in Canada.
OECD found that during the five years it operated as a pilot, the Startup Visa program accepted 132 entrepreneurs, as well as their spouses and dependents, for permanent residency. The report also found that program immigrants tended to be younger, higher educated, and had better language skills than the participants of Startup Visa’s predecessor, Entrepreneur Program.
The report noted, however, that “due to the termination of the investor and the entrepreneur classes,” the number of business class applicants landing in Canada has declined. It noted that in 2017, the group made up less than 2 percent of labour immigrants. OECD also noted that in its 2018-2020 Immigration Levels Plan, the federal government outlined plans to further reduce the number of individuals admitted under programs like Startup Visa, with a target of just 700 entrepreneurs, spouses, and dependants between 2018 and 2020.
Minister Hussen did note, however, that the government plans to invest more money “to make sure that we attract more startups to Canada.”
The minister also acknowledged that the government still has areas it needs to address, noting that it has already been working on some of the recommendations laid out in the OECD report. He argued that increasing awareness of government programs is an important part of addressing the talent skills gap, also pointing to other issues that still need to be addressed, such as updating the NOC codes and expanding to programs to allow in more types of workers.
“[The federal government] needs continue to listen to the to the sector and continue to engage,” Hussen said. “I’m also confident that we will learn a lot from the assessments in the [OECD] report on what more we can do to improve our already great system.”