Canada’s immigration pathways for tech talent
Canada's tech sector is booming, and industry growth is expected to continue outpacing the number of skilled tech workers in the Canadian labour force. This growth comes from a mix of startups and large companies, such as Google and Amazon, investing more money and growing their businesses in Canada. This investment is a core piece of Canada’s economy and as a result there are over 250,000 tech workers in Toronto alone.
In response to the high demand for skilled tech workers, the federal and provincial governments offer many permanent residence and work permit options to hire workers from overseas. This article will explain some prominent options, whether you are an employer or tech worker yourself.
Temporary Work Permits
An employer considering hiring talent from abroad has several temporary work permit pathways to choose from. When there is a shortage of skilled Canadian tech workers, these programs aim to allow employers to quickly hire the tech talent they require for their business.
Global Talent Stream
The Global Talent Stream (GTS) is a prominent option in the tech sector. It was created to facilitate the growth of Canada’s tech industry and aims to achieve a processing standard of two weeks once the final application is submitted by the potential employee. This pathway acts as a temporary work permit and can be used as a steppingstone for employees who wish to be eligible for permanent residence.
It is considered part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and before hiring, employers must first obtain a neutral or positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to be eligible. ESDC evaluates if hiring workers from outside Canada will have a positive, neutral, or negative impact on Canada’s labour market.
Additionally, to be eligible to hire under this program, employers must meet the criteria in one of the following two categories:
Category A: This category is for companies that approach EDSC though a referral partner. Referral partners are typically governmental, local or government affiliated agencies or business that have a mandate to support local economies. The employees hired under this category are highly specialized in a specific part of the tech sector. If the candidate's occupation is already on the Global Talent Occupations List, the employer must apply under category B.
Category B: This is for employers who require employees who are employed in occupations that are already on the Global Talent Occupations list, such as software engineers, designers, or information systems analysts. These occupations are considered in-demand and the government has recognized a shortage of these skills in the Canadian labour force.
Labour Market Benefit Plan
Employers must also submit a Labour Market Benefits Plan (LMBP) to EDSC that outlines how they will commit to benefitting Canada’s labour market in the long term. The focus is different depending on the category.
A category A plan must outline how hiring through the GTS will benefit job creation for Canadian and permanent residents.
Category B LMBPs need to show how they are going to increase their investment in training Canadians and permanent residents to learn in-demand tech skills.
In both categories, there are conditions relating to how skilled workers are paid. Anyone hired through the Global Talent Stream must be paid at the prevailing wage or higher.
The prevailing wage is the highest of either:
- the median wage for the occupation on the Government of Canada’s Job Bank;
- the wage within the range an employer pays current employees in the same position at the same location, with the same skills and experience; or
- the minimum wage floor as defined in the Global Talent occupations list (if applicable).
If an employer is hiring tech talent from elsewhere in North America, they may be eligible for the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). Like the GTS, it is a temporary work permit.
This agreement can facilitate the mobility of talent between the countries. The agreement is further broken down into two categories that are relevant to tech workers.
Professionals: There are 63 occupations that qualify for CUSMA under the professionals category. Prominent tech occupations such as systems analysts and software engineers may be eligible.
Intra-Company transfers (ICTs): ICTs occur when employees of multinational companies move to the company's Canadian branch. The transferee is often someone in a management position or has other specialized knowledge.
Multinational companies eligible for ICT’s do not necessarily need to be located in Mexico or the United States. If any company has an established branch Canada, it may be possible for employees from other countries to transfer to Canada without an employer needing to obtain an LMIA.
Pathways to permanent residency in Canada
Tech talent may prefer to move to Canada as a permanent resident. The most common pathway for skilled tech workers to obtain permanent residence is through an immigration program that falls under the Express Entry application management system or a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).
Express Entry is the Canadian government’s largest entry stream for skilled immigrants.
Candidates with tech backgrounds are the leading recipients of permanent residence invitations under Express Entry.
Express Entry is designed to expedite applications for skilled workers. The most popular Express Entry option is the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP). This program is for those with at least one year of work experience that falls under National Occupational Codes 0, A or B, as most tech sector jobs do.
Alternatively, candidates who have completed one year of work experience in Canada in the past three years may be eligible for Express Entry through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) program.
Express Entry is a two step process:
- Candidates must self-assess if they are eligible for the program they wish to apply for.
- If they are eligible, they must upload a profile to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website. IRCC will assign a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score based on work experience, education, language abilities and other human capital factors in their profile. The higher the score, the more likely it is that a candidate will receive an invitation to apply (ITA) for permanent residence.
IRCC holds draws approximately every two weeks. If a candidate receives an ITA, they have 60 days to submit their final application to IRCC.
Provincial nomination tech talent streams
Canada offers over 100 economic immigration pathways and many of them are part of a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). All Canadian provinces, except Quebec and Nunavut, have PNPs that work in alignment with IRCC. These programs allow provincial governments to select candidates that they feel will be a good fit in the province. Several Canadian provinces have immigration streams designed to attract tech talent.
Here is a brief list of provincial tech talent streams:
BC Tech Stream: For this stream, candidates must be eligible for one of BC’s immigration programs and have a job offer of at least one year.
OINP Tech Draw: Under this Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program candidates need to be eligible for either the Federal Skilled Worker Program or the Canadian Experience Class.
Saskatchewan Tech Talent Pathway: Eligible candidates must have an employer specific SINP (Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program) Job Approval Letter for an eligible technology sector occupation. They need at least one year of work experience in that occupation within the past five years,
Alberta Accelerated Tech Pathway: Candidates need to meet the eligibility criteria for the Alberta Express Entry Stream. They need to either be currently working in Alberta or have a job offer in one of 23 eligible occupations.
Quebec offers its own program called the Quebec Immigration Program for Workers in Artificial Intelligence, Information Technology, and Visual Effects Sectors.
There are two tech categories under this program:
AI (Artificial Intelligence): There are two ways to eligible for this stream. If a candidate graduated from a Quebec college or university, they must have job experience and a job offer. If the candidate was trained abroad, they may not require a job offer but must demonstrate an education equivalent to a Quebec bachelor's degree.
IT and Visual Effects streams: Candidates must have two years of work experience in one of 10 eligible occupations, out of the past five years. They must also have a job offer in that field and the equivalent of a Quebec technical studies diploma or a bachelor's degree.
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