TORONTO — A group representing 150 of Canada’s fastest growing and most promising technology companies wants the federal government to pilot a new visa stream allowing high-skilled tech workers to enter the country without a job offer.
The visa proposed Thursday by the Council of Canadian Innovators would target in-demand professions like software developers and data scientists, allow recipients to work, switch jobs or employers and help them extend their stay and attain permanent residency without needing to switch into another visa category.
The idea is one of 13 the council included in a new report aimed at addressing the country’s critical shortage of skilled tech talent and helping startups compete against Silicon Valley giants and multinationals.
“There’s over 200,000 positions in the tech space that are not being filled in Canada,” said Benjamin Bergen, the council’s president.
“At the onset of COVID, borders basically collapsed and the problem that we were seeing in terms of lack of skilled workers in the country was only exacerbated by the fact that foreign firms can now come into Canada and hire people to work remotely, increasing the pressures … on the general labour market.”
On Tuesday, Facebook owner Meta announced it would hire 2,500 Canadians over the next five years with many working remotely.
They’re joined by Microsoft, DoorDash, Amazon, Google, Wayfair, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and Netflix, which revealed Canadian hiring plans during the pandemic, causing homegrown startups to fret about how they’ll compete with these companies’ big names and salaries.
“If you’re an Amazon or you’re Facebook or you’re Google, you’ve already set up in Canada…you’re able to bring in technology talent through some of the immigration streams that already exist…because they’re doing it at such a massive scale,” said Arif Khimani, the president and chief operating officer at MobSquad, a Calgary company helping businesses with recruitment and visas.
Many companies he works with are looking to hire a small number of people to work from Canada, and trying to figure out immigration rules, tax policies, payroll, benefits, office space, and remittances can be difficult for them.
Khimani feels they would be helped by more policies targeting immigration and giving workers better pathways to permanent residency, which the council’s report advocates for.
The council also wants to see programs better reflect emerging talent needs. Khimani notices the most in-demand job roles right now are full-stack and software engineers and developers, and jobs related to artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“Given how quick tech innovation changes, looking for a salesperson who has experience on X, Y or Z product, that happens to only reside in a specific jurisdiction often doesn’t apply for some of those programs, so we’re really pushing for an expanding (of current policies),” Bergen said.
Immigration changes could be accompanied by a “digital nomad strategy,” which the council envisions including clarity around taxes and length of stay for Canadians working remotely and internationally and foreigners who locate to Canada for part of the year.
The council also recommended the country target talent retention with a 12-month student loan repayment grace period for new graduates who work for Canadian firms and tax-advantaged loan repayment benefits for employers who make contributions towards their employees’ outstanding student debt.
Finally, the council wants to see talent generation prioritized. It asked the government to consider funding for Canadian businesses developing up-skilling or retraining programs and incentives to encourage post-secondary institutions to offer more experiential learning opportunities like longer co-op placements.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2022.
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press