In my last column, I looked at the Fraser Institute’s report on proposed changes to Canada’s immigration system. Many of those proposals focused on the need to have foreign workers in Canada and what Canada needs in relation to family versus business immigration. For this column, I want to discuss what the business client seems to need with respect to immigration.
As we all know, business has changed dramatically over the last decade. Not too long ago, companies operating in more than one country were big and bold conglomerates, well-positioned as industry leaders. The little guy had a little business that was maybe national, but international? No way.
Today it seems that most companies are able to support a wide range of cross-border business, whether it be through a direct corporate/company presence, an Internet presence, or home and virtual offices.
It’s a fine balancing act. Global business often results in country-specific skill sets that become needed for both short- and long-term projects abroad. Global contracts with these companies can result in R&D in country A, initial building in country B, and final implementation in country C. Global workers need to be able to engage on-site throughout these projects in order to ensure cost-effective and efficient delivery of goods and services.
The net result of this type of business is that foreign workers need to be mobile. They need the ability to transfer into a project and out again when necessary in order to facilitate the completion of work. Companies and employees need transparency in the process and sometimes require long-term temporary solutions. But how do you further balance a country’s need for permanent immigration solutions with a global market that appears to be depending more heavily on temporary foreign labour?
Jason Kenney, the minister of Citizenship and Immigration, is in the process of reviewing this issue through a series of recent national consultations with respect to the direction Canada should be moving. The press release for these consultations states: “The purpose of the consultations is to seek feedback on immigration levels, including the appropriate level of immigration for Canada, and the most suitable mix between economic, family class and protected persons. Discussions on system management to provide improved services, such as reasonable processing times, and addressing issues such as fraud, will also be included.”
In a recent CBC interview, Kenney indicated one of the areas these consultations are focusing on is the interplay between temporary and permanent foreign workers. Recent amendments that have come into force have limited the amount of time many temporary foreign workers can stay in Canada. In many instances, skilled professionals are limited to a four-year cap on the amount of time they are allowed to be working.
The purpose of this limitation is ostensibly to promote the permanent residence application process in foreign nationals and/or Canadian employers who wish to remain in Canada long-term. I have business clients who can point to long-term projects in Canada that are scheduled to take place over the course of the next seven to 10 years that require specialized services of one or more foreign nationals. A foreign subsidiary of this Canadian employer may have been in the process of R&D for two years and want to transfer members of that team to Canada for the purpose of further on-site development and, ultimately, implementation.
The employer may not be interested in hiring these foreign nationals long-term outside of the project, and for the moment, let’s just assume that the foreign national is not interested in remaining in Canada long-term. Applying for permanent residence is not really an option for either. Capping that employer’s ability to employ the foreign worker at the four- or five-year mark hinders the employer’s options and forces both sides to apply for permanent residence as the only possible option for keeping this skilled worker on-site for the duration of the temporary project.
You now have a reluctant “new” immigrant who may very well let his or her immigration status lapse due to disinterest. This is inefficient, taking up government resources for processing, and the possible allotted space for a legitimate potential immigrant.
But the question remains, how do we balance a quickly changing global marketplace with our need for further immigration advancement? I am hopeful in the minister’s consultations with business leaders, strong leadership and sensible solutions will be presented to ensure that Canada’s immigration system, one of the world’s most generous, will remain open and fair but become ever more responsive to the growing needs of the global business community.