Improved labour mobility within Canada and across North America

CIC News
Published: December 22, 2008

Many Canadian employers have been feeling the pinch of chronic labour shortages over the past few years and Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) and Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Canada (CIMC) have been responding with various measures to alleviate them.  The most recent good news is the expansion of the NAFTA temporary foreign worker program, now granting three year work permits to American and Mexican professionals to work in Canada.  In addition, provincial and federal trade ministers recently announced a plan for full labour mobility across the country as of April 2009.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly stated that the country's shortage of skilled labour is one of the most significant long-term challenges for Canadian policy-makers.  His Conservative government's goal is to align immigration policy more closely with current labour market shortages, says CIMC Minister Jason Kenney.

In response to this, CIMC recently announced the expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) temporary work permit program, making it easier for Canadian employers to hire and retain American and Mexican professionals.  Under the NAFTA program, workers will now be granted temporary work permits of three years in duration.  Previously, these work permits had to be renewed every year.

"NAFTA work permits are an excellent option for North American professionals seeking to work in Canada including lawyers, doctors, dentists and teachers.  In addition, this will also help Canadian employers remain competitive by ensuring they have access to necessary skilled labour," stated Minister Kenney.  He also highlighted that the duration extension will provide greater continuity and stability for both Canadian employers and foreign workers.

NAFTA was created in 1993 to facilitate trade between Canada, the United States, and Mexico – including the trade of skilled labour. Given Canada’s workforce shortages and its consequent heavy reliance on immigration and foreign workers to maintain its economic growth, there are many career opportunities North of the border for American and Mexican citizens.  The three countries have agreed on labour mobility standards for 63 professional occupations, for which professionals can work in another member country without having to re-qualify under the host country's certification standards.

Canada grants around 5,150 of these temporary work permits every year, most of them to Americans.  Americans and Mexicans must have a valid job offer from a Canadian employer to obtain a NAFTA work permit.

Another announcement this month makes it easier for newcomers and established Canadians alike to live and work in different regions across Canada.

By April 2009, Canada will have a truly national labour market, whereby workers in regulated occupations, such as architects, accountants, plumbers, and doctors, will be able to freely move across provincial and territorial borders, without having to be re-certified by the province or territory to which they are relocating before they can start working.

The Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) was signed in Ottawa this month by provincial, territorial, and federal trade ministers as part of Canada's Agreement on Internal Trade.

"This is an important step forward, and we need to continue to work on removing similar barriers to trade and investment, so we have full trade and labour mobility across the country," stated British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, who has been advocating for greater labour mobility in Canada for some time.

This is good news for Canadian immigrants, some of whom need to re-certify themselves for work in Canada upon arrival.  If they later wish to move to another province or territory, they will no longer have to repeat this process.

Immigration is an important solution to Canada's current labour shortages.  CIMC has been working to align the immigration system more closely with labour market needs to ensure both the strength of the Canadian economy and the success of new immigrants in Canada.

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