Immigration Minister details strategy for attracting foreign tech talent, digital nomads

Immigration minister Sean Fraser on stage at Collision
Work permits will be prioritized for entrepreneurs backed by VCs or angels.

Canada is in a global race for the worldwide tech talent pool, according to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser. In a bid to stay ahead of competition, Fraser introduced what he called the country’s first strategy focused on attracting foreign tech workers.

Several new initiatives and updates to Canada’s existing foreign worker programs were announced. Among them is a Digital Nomad strategy to promote Canada as a destination for people who can perform their job remotely from anywhere in the world.

“We’re targeting newcomers that can help enshrine Canada as a world leader in a variety of emerging technologies.” – Immigration Minister Sean Fraser

Currently, a digital nomad would only need to attain visitor status to relocate to Canada for up to six months at a time while they work for a foreign employer.

In this new digital nomad strategy, the federal government said its immigration and citizenship department will collaborate with public and private partners to identify additional policies that would attract digital nomads to Canada.

The digital-nomad strategy is one of 13 recommendations made by the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), a lobbying group that represents Canada’s tech companies. It said implementing this strategy would help make Canada a destination for “the growing ranks of remote workers.”

 Fraser also announced that Canada is developing a new innovation stream under the International Mobility Program, which lets Canadian employers hire foreign workers without a confirmation letter that shows a need for a foreign worker to fill the job and that no Canadian worker or permanent resident is available to do the job, also known as the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). 

With the mobility program’s new innovation stream, Canada will extend the LMIA exemption to companies identified by the federal government as a contributor to the country’s industrial innovation goals. 

“We’re enthusiastic about the ambitious goals we have set in immigration, because they aren’t just about numbers—they are strategic,” Fraser said. “With Canada’s first-ever immigration Tech Talent Strategy, we’re targeting newcomers that can help enshrine Canada as a world leader in a variety of emerging technologies.”

Canada has made several moves to address the tech talent shortage in the country in recent years. 

The Express Entry application management system was first established in 2015 with the aim of delivering faster permanent-residence processing times for  immigrant workers. Its initial iteration focused on certain economic immigration programs including the Federal Skilled Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program, Canadian Experience Class, and a portion of the Provincial Nominee Program. 

In May, Fraser revealed significant changes to the Express Entry program that are intended to make it more accessible. Starting later this summer, the program will allow Canada to issue invitations to apply to prospective permanent residents with specific skills, training or language ability. 

RELATED: Can the feds build a talent strategy for digital nomads?

To become eligible for the new iteration of the Express Entry program, applicants must have a strong French-language proficiency or work experience one of five fields: health care, STEM, trades, transport, or agriculture and agrifood. 

Another federal program meant to fill in-demand jobs in Canada is the Global Talent Stream, which launched in 2017. It delivers two-week processing times for work permit applications for certain “highly skilled” foreign workers, part of the country’s Global Skills Strategy.

Canada faced a backlog of applications for citizenship as well as temporary and permanent residence last year, with about 2.4 million outstanding applications as of June 2022

After pandemic-induced delays, Fraser said this week that processing times for work-permit applications under the Global Skills Strategy  have recovered and are meeting the two-week standard for processing. 

Fraser also addressed the lengthy wait times for the Startup Visa program, which the federal government introduced in 2013 to give foreign entrepreneurs the opportunity to immigrate to Canada in order to establish a new business. He said more spots have been added to the program, reducing the application inventory. 

In addition, applicants for the Startup Visa Program who are waiting to receive an approval will be allowed to apply for an open-work permit for up to three years, rather than a one-year work permit. Minister Fraser also said applications with backing from venture-capital funds and angel-investor groups will be prioritized.

RELATED: The Global Talent Stream needs streamlining

Canadian tech stakeholders have raised criticisms of the Global Talent Stream, however.

Last year, Vancouver-based tech talent sourcing network VanHack launched a petition to remove the Labour Market Benefits Plan from the Global Talent Stream Visa process, which requires employers to outline how their hiring efforts could deliver benefits and have a lasting impact on the Canadian labour market.

According to VanHack CEO Ilya Brotzky, the Labour Market Benefits plan slows down talent acquisition and makes it harder for smaller businesses to compete with larger companies to acquire talent.

Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Collision via Sportsfile.

Charlize Alcaraz

Charlize Alcaraz

Charlize Alcaraz is a staff writer for BetaKit.

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