UPDATE: Canada reaches cap of 10,000 applications for U.S. H-1B visa Open Work Permit stream

Kareem El-Assal, Edana Robitaille
Published: July 16, 2023

Update: The cap of 10,000 applications was reached on July 18, 2023. Click here to explore other Canadian visa options if you are an H-1B visa holder. The original story continues below.

As of today, those who hold a United States H-1B specialty occupation visa may be eligible to apply to work and live in Canada.

The measure was announced by Canada’s Immigration Minister, Sean Fraser, on June 27 and aims to improve labour mobility in North America. It may impact thousands of workers in high-tech industries in both Canada and the United States, as well as their immediate family members.

Those who are approved will receive an open work permit valid for up to three years. An open work permit means that they can work for almost any employer in Canada. This also applies to their spouses and dependents who can apply for work or study permits as needed.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) says the measure will last for either one year or until the cap of 10,000 applicants has been reached. This cap is on principal applicants and does not include family members.

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Eligibility criteria for Canada's H-1B visa holder open work permit

To be eligible for Canada's H-1B visa holder open work permit, you need to:

  • have a valid H-1B specialty occupation visa, and
  • currently live in the U.S.

In order to apply for the open work permit, you need:

  • a copy of your current H-1B visa
  • Form I-797/I797B, Notice of Action (the letter from the U.S. government confirming your H-1B application was approved)
  • proof that you live in the U.S. (such as Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, a recent utility bill, an income tax report, or any document that proves you live in the U.S.)

IRCC targeting STEM occupations

On June 28, IRCC announced that it would hold the first Express Entry draw for those with work experience in Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) occupations. The draw is part of the category-based selection criteria announced by the Minister on May 31.

The department followed through on July 5 and invited 500 candidates with work experience in STEM, many of which may also be eligible for the new H-1B open work permit. Those who were invited were already in the Express Entry application pool.

There are five new Express Entry categories for those with work experience in specific occupational fields. The sixth category is for those with strong French language ability. The categories were chosen following research and discussion with IRCC partners and stakeholders as well as provincial and territorial governments who are likely to be more in tune with local labour shortages.

IRCC said inviting candidates through the Express Entry STEM category was a milestone in Canada’s commitment to attracting top global talent and remaining at the forefront of global research, development, and innovation.

For example, in Budget 2023, Canada’s government announced that would invest $20 billion to support the building of major clean electricity and growth infrastructure projects. Much of this development will require the skills and knowledge of STEM professionals.

Canada’s tech talent attraction strategy

In addition to the 3-year open work permit for H-1B holders, IRCC is also working on developing a new Innovation Stream under the International Mobility Program (IMP). Minister Fraser said the Innovation Stream will be launched by the end of this year.

The options for the stream are being developed and informed by the feedback of stakeholders received through several consultations in recent months.

There are two options under consideration

  • 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

Further, the minister announced a return to the 14-day service standard for work permits under the Global Skills Strategy, the promotion of Canada as a destination for digital nomads and improvements to the Start-up Visa Program such as more spots allocated and extending the length of the work permit from one to three years.

STEM job vacancies in Canada

The latest job vacancy data from Statistics Canada shows that there were 42,900 job vacancies in professional, scientific, and technical services in April, down by 7,700 (-15.2%) from March, and by 30,600 (-41.6%) from its peak of 73,600 in April 2022.

Ontario and Quebec continue to have the highest number of vacancies in the country. To help fill these vacancies, especially in the STEM sector, Ontario recently removed the Canadian work experience requirement for newcomers seeking licensure in engineering.

On June 30, Ontario's Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development also announced that regulated professions in Ontario will be required to make and communicate registration decisions on applications from internationally trained newcomers within six months. This measure aims to make it easier for skilled newcomers, especially in licensed professions such as some under STEM professions, to fill job vacancies and close the skills gap.

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