Delays in work visas negatively impacting Canadian business, survey says

Shelby Thevenot
Published: August 9, 2022

Canadian companies, academic institutions, and government-funded organizations that access immigration are being negatively impacted by delays at Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

The Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC), a not-for-profit that is particularly interested in workforce mobility matters, conducted a survey during the month of June 2022. A total of 33 organizations that regularly access the International Mobility Program (IMP) responded to the survey. It is the second edition of a comparable survey from January 2021.

Between June and July, the overall backlog of applicants at IRCC grew from 2.4 million to 2.7 million, a 12% increase. Over that same time the backlog for temporary foreign workers grew by 21% from 408,733 to 493,746 applicants. The backlog is driving up processing times well in excess of IRCC's service standards.

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Of those employers participating in the survey, 97% hire international talent through work permit programs and 53% access economic immigration. Most, 90%, of participating organizations employ over 2,000 workers and 31% employ more than 10,000 workers.

When asked about the importance of international talent to business, 100% agree with the statement, “The contributions of international talent are important to our business.”

Yet the processing delays at IRCC are having a negative impact on 97% of respondents' operations within the next year. About 94% of organizations cancelled or delayed projects as a result of processing delays. For 55% of organizations, the delays are resulting revenue losses. Several Canadian universities participated in the survey, of which 29 percent reported cancelling or postponing educational programs, as well as delays in research projects.

The CERC survey says the need for Canadian employers to access international talent on an expedited basis will be vitally important in rebuilding the Canadian economy in a post pandemic world. Experts also agree that immigration will be a key strategy in surviving a possible recession.

The survey also notes that as vaccination rates increase and serious COVID-19 infections decrease, mobility and travel are increasing and Canada's ability to manage the increased rates of travel visa applications will be critical for the Canadian economy.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser's mandate letter calls for him to reduce the application processing times, including to address delays that have been impacted by COVID-19. Also, to work with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion to establish a Trusted Employer system for Canadian companies hiring temporary foreign workers. Also, simplify work permit renewals, and uphold the two-week processing time of the Global Talent Stream and establish an employer hotline.

Fraser has said that processing times are expected to return to normal by the end of the calendar year. IRCC has made efforts to improve wait times for applicants by adding about 500 more staff to its 11,000 employees, as well as modernizing the immigration system. There is also a $827 million budget meant to digitize the current immigration system, plus an additional $85 million to speed up processing for certain lines of business, such as study permits, work permits, and PR card renewals.

Fraser told CIC News in a June 21 interview that thanks to these efforts IRCC has welcomed 200,000 new permanent residents and work permits have increased nearly 250% compared to 2021.

Despite changes to the system, CERC says much work remains to be done and progress has been slow, particularly in reducing delays and establishing a Trusted Employer system.

"Reallocation of resources, modernization of systems through better use of technology, and consideration of expedited processing channels, such as a Trusted Employer Program, are measures that should be adopted with urgency," the survey says.

Discussions of developing a Trusted Employer Program has been ongoing for many years, CERC says. In addition, 73% of respondents in the survey said they would be willing to pay 10% to 25% more in additional fees for expedited application processing. The fees would cover additional government costs to expedite processing.

Survey participants were also asked to share their recommendations for improving processing times. Five key themes emerged from this question. Namely, that the Canadian government should provide employers with efficient and predictable processing times. Employers also want to see a program that provides Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) exemptions and fast tracks applicants in high demand occupations. Respondents also called for IRCC to hire and train more staff to modernize the outdated processing systems currently in place. Finally, they called for the government to implement a Trusted Employer Program that meets the needs of employers that hire international talent.

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