New immigration programs to attract highly skilled workers a boon to tech sector: lawyer

Norton Rose Fulbright's Brigitte LeBlanc-Lapointe says quota to attract H1-B holders now full

New immigration programs to attract highly skilled workers a boon to tech sector: lawyer
Brigitte LeBlanc-Lapointe, Norton Rose Fulbright Canada

The federal government’s additions and enhancements to its immigration programs will go a long way to Canada’s first Tech Talent Strategy, a positive move that could help tech companies struggling for the right talent, says Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP Brigitte LeBlanc-Lapointe.

“Canada is working hard to cement itself as a leader in global tech, and talent recruitment is a huge part of attracting highly skilled workers who understand and can build the technology to create the companies who will be the employers of tomorrow,” says LeBlanc-Lapointe, who is based in Ottawa.

She says the recent measures, announced in June, aim to address labour shortages, promote innovation, and support growth in the thriving tech sector by attracting highly skilled workers and start-up founders. The programs also acknowledge that the delays embedded in current programs “have not been workable” when it comes to the needs of tech companies such as those she works with.

“I think that’s a key development to ensure that there are sufficient resources to process applications for these highly talented workers and help ensure that employers are quickly getting the people they need here in this fast-paced environment.

The enhancements include:

  • A new innovation stream under the International Mobility Program: This stream is designed to attract highly talented individuals in the tech sector and is expected to launch by the end of 2023. It would involve a new exemption from the Labour Market Impact Assessment process to help high-growth employers and contribute to Canada’s innovation priorities.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is currently considering two options for this stream. One is the creation of 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 the country’s industrial innovation goals. The other is allowing open work permits for up to five years for highly skilled workers in select in-demand occupations.

  • Attracting digital nomads to Canada: With the increasing popularity of remote work, the Canadian government aims to attract digital nomads. While current Canadian immigration rules allow digital nomads to stay in Canada under visitor status for up to six months, IRCC is collaborating with public and private partners to explore additional policies. These measures will help provide opportunities for digital nomads to transition to temporary work permits or even permanent residence if they receive job offers from Canadian employers.
  • Enhancements to current tech-focused immigration programs: As part of the Tech Talent Strategy, specific existing immigration programs catering to workers in high-skilled tech occupations, such as the Global Skills Strategy and the Start-up Visa, will be improved.

The first would provide a 14-day service standard for processing labour market assessments and work permit applications. The second provides a path to permanent residence for foreign entrepreneurs supported by a designated Canadian venture capital fund, an angel investor organization, or a business incubator.

IRCC has also revised the temporary work permit option under this program to allow every member of the entrepreneurial team to apply for an open work permit, which can be valid for up to three years. The Canadian government also announced it would prioritize applications supported by committed capital or endorsed by a business incubator that is also a member of Canada’s Tech Network.

  • Streamlining work permits for H-1B visa holders in the U.S.: There is a new streamlined work permit process for H-1B specialty occupation visa holders in the United States. The program started in mid-July and allows H-1B specialty occupation visa holders in the United States to apply for an open work permit for up to three years, enabling approved applicants to work for any employer throughout Canada.

Their accompanying immediate family members will also be eligible to apply for a work or study permit. Please note that for the moment, this measure will remain in effect for one year or until IRCC receives a total of 10,000 applications, if sooner.

As an example of the potential for attracting highly skilled tech talent to Canada, LeBlanc-Lapointe, who worked as a corporate law lawyer in New York for several years, notes that within 24 hours of the H-1B program launched on July 16, the quota of 10,000 applications was filled. “So that just goes to show the level of interest in these programs.”

She notes the open nature of this program – where successful applicants would not be tied to one employer while in Canada – is a “very attractive” component of the program.

Labour is always a key challenge for any employer, LeBlanc-Lapointe says, “but particularly in the tech sector, where they must attract individuals with a very narrow skill set and highly trained. Finding those people and then enticing them to Canada can be challenging. 

She adds that these programs align with what her clients are telling her. 

“I think the government has heard stakeholders and is trying to address the issues.” Given the competition for these skills, Canada must compete with other countries – like the U.S. or Australia – in attracting this potential labour pool.”

LeBlanc-Lapointe’s practice covers the full spectrum of businesses, from start-ups to public companies, venture capital, private equity, underwriters and other investors. She has worked on transactions in various industry sectors, particularly technology, life sciences, renewables and cannabis. 

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