Canadian immigration for tech workers: Express Entry, PNPs, and work permits
Canada offers multiple immigration and work permit programs for highly-skilled tech workers.
Tech workers, with their education and experience, do well in many of Canada’s leading broad economic immigration pathways, both at the federal and provincial or territorial levels.
These multilayers of government have developed innovative and specific programs to attract and retain tech workers, such as the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), and a host of provincial programs, such as the Alberta Opportunity Stream (AOS). Let’s have a look at some more of these programs across Canada.
- Global Talent Stream
- CUSMA Professionals
- Intra-Company Transfer
- British Columbia
If one looks at the programs managed under Express Entry, the importance of technology workers is clear. These programs have no explicit preference for technology workers, although certain provincial streams aligned with these programs do have such preferences. But in the most recent Express Entry Annual Report, the three most common occupations of individuals who received invitations to apply under Express Entry were all technology occupations.
In Summer 2017, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) launched the Canadian Global Skills Strategy. A major component of this plan is the Global Talent Stream (GTS), which is part of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program. The idea behind the GTS is to allow for two-week work permit processing for temporary high-skilled workers.
There are two categories under the GTS. Category A is for high-growth companies that can demonstrate a need to recruit unique specialized talent from abroad. Employers in this category must be referred to the Global Talent Stream by a designated referral partner, which is generally a governmental or quasi-governmental organization devoted to incubating business or developing in a given area.
Category B is for employers looking to hire certain highly skilled foreign workers for occupations found on the Global Talent Occupations List, which have been determined to be in-demand and for which there is insufficient domestic labour supply. This may change periodically, but it is currently composed of jobs falling within 12 National Occupation Classification (NOC) Codes, all of which are technology occupations.
For both categories, the employer must pay the employee a salary that is comparable to the average salary in Canada for that position. Category A employers are required to create jobs for Canadian citizens and permanent residents either directly or indirectly. Category B employers are required to commit to increasing investments in skills and training for Canadian citizens and permanent residents.
Once one is present and working in Canada, they have the options to either extend temporary status or apply for permanent residence. Many permanent immigration programs place a high value on Canadian work experience, and some require it. So even as a temporary option for coming to Canada, arriving as a tech worker is an excellent way to prepare for one’s permanent move.
Citizens of the U.S. or Mexico with job offers in certain occupations may be eligible for a work permit under the Canada-United-States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). This is an expedited program for Canadian employers who hire foreign workers , as they do not need a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).
There are 63 occupations that could qualify under the CUSMA Professional work permit. Eligible occupations in the technology field include computer systems analysts, computer engineers, graphic designers, and technical publications writers.
Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) is for workers who are employed with a company that has a qualifying relationship with a location in Canada, meaning a subsidiary, affiliate, parent, or branch. The Canadian employers do not need an LMIA to secure workers under this work permit program.
The foreign worker must have been employed at that company for at least one year. There is no list of eligible occupations, but workers must hold a managerial position, or else demonstrate that they have specialized and proprietary knowledge of the company or its products. This may include programmers and developers who have designed a company’s software products, or computer engineers who have designed specific programs for the company’s internal use.
British Columbia launched its Tech Pilot in May 2017. The BC PNP Tech Pilot is not a stand-alone program per se. Rather, it is an expedited system for processing applications submitted made to existing streams, and which also meet the specific requirements of the Pilot. In this sense, the BC Tech Pilot is quite similar to the federal Express Entry system. The major difference is that the BC Tech Pilot, as the name suggests, processes only tech workers, whereas Express Entry handles all applications for Federal Skilled Immigration.
Two of the five BC immigration streams that can qualify for the Tech Pilot are aligned with Express Entry, and three are not.
The BC Tech Pilot identifies 29 specific technology occupations that qualify. Every week, the program issues invitations to candidates who qualify. A candidate must: qualify one of the five allied existing streams, and have a job offer (lasting for at least one year, with a minimum 120 days left at the time of application) in one of the 29 identified fields. The benefits of this pilot include priority processing over other immigration applications; weekly draws; and dedicated concierge service to guide employers.
Saskatchewan does not have a dedicated tech worker immigration stream as such. However, the province, like others, can choose to restrict a specific round of invitations to apply for provincial nomination to a specific occupation or group thereof. Saskatchewan has done exactly this. Last September, it issued invitations to apply to 621 workers who had applied to either the Occupations-in-Demand or Express Entry streams of the province’s International Skilled Worker category. Saskatchewan limited its invitations to workers who had work experience in three tech occupations.
The Manitoba Provincial Nomination Program (MBPNP) conducted a Tech Talent Recruitment Mission to Buenos Aires from October 18 to 21, 2019. The trip was an excellent example of organizations, both public and private, working together to attract tech talent. Two other partners in the voyage were YES! Winnipeg, the economic development hub for Manitoba’s capital city, and Bold Commerce, a private, Manitoba-based company which provides online shopping platforms.
Ontario operates a special technology talent recruitment system that operates in tandem with existing immigration streams. The Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) has identified work experience in specific technology occupations as being eligible for periodic tech-only draws. Applications selected in such tech draws benefit from fast treatment and enhanced service. In 2020 alone, Ontario issued no fewer than 4,385 invitations through this program.
The most recent, and perhaps most unusual, major development in technology worker pathways has occurred in Quebec. The province already boasts a flourishing technology industry. Accordingly, Quebec announced a dedicated new immigration pathway for workers in the artificial intelligence, information technologies, and visual effects sectors. Annual intake for this entire pilot is set at 550 applicants.
Tech workers have at their disposal a plethora of options for coming to Canada. Just as technology grows and evolves, no doubt, will Canada’s means of identifying, selecting, and integrating foreign tech workers. The developments of the recent past years are exciting, but the best may be yet to come.
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