Canada to introduce new work permit for U.S. H-1B visa holders

Julia Hornstein
Published: June 27, 2023

Today, Canada’s Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced additional measures aimed at attracting more global tech talent to Canada. These measures comprise the launch of what Fraser and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) are referring to as Canada’s first-ever Tech Talent Strategy. 

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New 3-year open work permit for H-1B visa holders

IRCC will improve labour mobility in North America by creating a streamlined work permit for H-1B speciality occupation visa holders in the US to apply to come to Canada. Right now, many workers in high-tech fields are employed in companies with operations in Canada and the US, and those working in the US often have a H-1B speciality occupation visa.

As of July 16th 2023, H1-B holders in the US and their accompanying immediate family members will be eligible to apply to come to Canada. The approved applicants will receive an open work permit for up to three years, which means they can work for almost any employer in Canada. In addition, their spouses and dependents can also be eligible to apply for a temporary resident visa.

IRCC believes this will expand available opportunities for skilled workers to continue to pursue careers in the high-tech sector and contribute to economic growth in North America. This measure will remain in effect for one year or until IRCC receives 10,000 applications.

New Innovation Stream under the IMP

IRCC will develop a new Innovation Stream under the International Mobility Program to attract highly talented individuals. After consulting with tech industry stakeholders, there are still labour shortages in key tech occupations, and broadening Canada’s talent base should continue to be a goal.

The Canadian Government will therefore launch a new Innovation Stream by the end of 2023, that will create an exemption from the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process to help employers and talented workers in support of Canada’s innovation priorities and high-tech industries.

IRCC is considering two options:

  • Employer-specific work permits for up to five years for workers destined to work for a company identified by the Government of Canada as contributing to our industrial innovation goal
  • Open work permits for up to five years for highly skilled workers in select in-demand occupations

Attracting digital nomads

IRCC will also promote Canada as a destination for digital nomads. A digital nomad is a person who can perform their job remotely from anywhere in the world. In the months ahead, IRCC will collaborate with public and private partners to determine whether additional policies to attract digital nomads to Canada would be desirable.

Under current Canadian immigration rules, a digital nomad can remain in Canada for up to six months as a visitor while they perform their job remotely for a foreign employer. IRCC expects that some of these digital nomads who enter Canada will decide to seek opportunities with Canadian employers, bringing their skills to Canada by applying for a temporary work permit or permanent residence.

STEM-specific draw under category-based Express Entry draws

IRCC is also launching category-based selection draws for Express Entry candidates. IRCC will give preference to Express Entry candidates who have a strong French language proficiency or work experience in various fields, including the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions.

The categories were chosen based on labour market shortages and projections, and input received from IRCC partners, provinces and territories and stakeholder across the country. Statistics Canada released a report at the end of 2022 stating that there is a gap in skills needed in Canada’s STEM labor force.

Improvements to existing tech programs

Finally, IRCC will improve existing programs that cater to workers in high-skill tech occupations, including the Global Skills Strategy and the Start-Up Visa (SUV) program.

The Global Skills Strategy is designed to support Canadian employers seeking quick access to highly skilled talent around the world. IRCC processing times for these work permits have recovered to the two-week standard after delays throughout the pandemic. In addition, Employment and Social Development Canada is meeting the two-week standard for processing Global Talent Stream LMIA’s for employers.

The Start Up Visa (SUV) program is a path to permanent residence for foreign entrepreneurs who gain the support of a designated Canadian venture capital fund, angel investor organization or business incubator for their start up.

To address the lengthy wait times for applicants, more spots were allocated under this program, increasing from 1,000 to 3,500. This means targets have tripled the number of permanent residents expected in the Federal Business category for 2023, and this number is expected to increase even more for 2024 and 2025.

In addition, IRCC will change the temporary work permit option for SUV applicants and allow them to apply for an open work permit of up to three years, rather than a one-year work permit that limits them to work solely for their own start up.

This is in response to feedback from stakeholders that have made it clear that start-up entrepreneurs may not have the ability to make a full salary and being given the opportunity to earn additional income elsewhere can ease financial stress on these individuals and their families.

The work permit will be available to each member of the entrepreneurial team. Before this announcement, only members of the entrepreneurial team who were identified as essential and urgently needed in Canada could apply for a work permit.

IRCC will also prioritize applications that are supported by committed capital or endorsed by a business incubator that is also a member of Canada’s Tech network to move to the front of the processing line.

Schedule a Free Work Permit Consultation with the Cohen Immigration Law Firm

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