Foreign Workers In Canada

John Jaffey

Every year, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, more than 90,000 foreign workers move to Canada "working temporarily to help Canadian employers address skill shortages."

Before most of these foreign workers could obtain work permits that would allow them to work in Canada, they had to undergo a lengthy and complicated application process. And even before applying for a work permit, they had to have a Canadian job offer in hand and (in most cases) be approved by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. (Apart from a lengthy list of exemptions, HRSDC has to confirm the job offer and provide a "labour market opinion," which can take up to a year.)

A smaller group of foreign workers wanting to work in Canada as performing artists, news reporters, military personnel, clergy, judges and athletes, to name a few examples, are exempt from the work permit requirement. In addition, because of certain free trade agreements, business people such as professionals and investors may work in Canada without a work permit.

The process boils down to two simple questions: First, do I need a work permit to work in Canada? Second, do I need HRSDC approval? Unfortunately the answers are far from simple; it is often extremely difficult to figure out whether the numerous exceptions and exemptions for both the work permit and the HRSDC approval apply in individual cases.

The application process is outlined on CIC's website at Individual circumstances will dictate just how straightforward or treacherous the process will be.

It is possible to apply without a Canadian lawyer, advises Benjamin Trister of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, an immigration specialist and author of numerous books and papers on immigration law. But, he says, even aside from the perils and pitfalls in the application process, some people will find the system in Canada too difficult to navigate themselves. There are many options. And one mistake can set the process back months before the rejected form is returned and the applicant must start applying to work in Canada again from scratch.

Trister also points out that it is next to impossible for applicants to get information about the status of their files. On the other hand, "a good Canadian labour and employment lawyer will have engendered some respect among Canadian immigration officials, and can tend to get information that even members of Parliament cannot obtain."

To further complicate matters, the granting of a work permit does not assist a foreign worker to become a Canadian immigrant. If the applicant's goal is to immigrate to and work in Canada, the procedure is different.

Applicants for immigration to Canada are accepted based on a point system, which evaluates their education, work experience, language skills and financial independence. In September of 2003, Citizenship and Immigration Canada changed the pass mark to 67 from 75 for skilled workers wishing to immigrate to Canada (to all provinces except Quebec).

Application fees vary greatly, from a mere $150 to apply for a work permit to $1,050 for a permanent resident visa by an "investor, entrepreneur or self-employed person."

John Jaffey is a staff writer at The Lawyers Weekly.

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