Tech is booming in British Columbia, with Vancouver being home to established giants and thriving start-ups alike. Naturally, this has led to it becoming a recruiting hub for international industry talent. So, how does a gaming/tech worker navigate the Canadian immigration system if they want to stay long term? Our immigration lawyer Marius Adomnica shares some valuable insight.
Most tech workers looking to establish themselves in Canada care about two things:
- Obtaining permanent residence so they can remain in Canada long-term.
- Obtaining a work permit so they can work until their permanent residence application is approved.
In this blog post I will provide a comprehensive summary of the process and different program pathways available for each. The aim of the post is to act as a starting point for tech workers looking to understand their options for staying in Canada.
Permanent Residence (PR)
Permanent resident status lets individuals stay in Canada long-term and do everything a citizen can, like work and study without a permit. The status also does not need to be renewed every 1-2 years like most work permits. Obtaining PR should be the end goal for anyone who wants to stay in Canada long term. After 5 years as a permanent resident (3 of which must be spent physically in Canada) permanent residents can also obtain Canadian citizenship.
There are basically 2 steps to applying for PR status:
1. Create an Express Entry Profile.
The first thing most PR applicants need to do is create a profile under Canada’s “Express Entry” system. Once created, the profile is granted a set number of points (called Comprehensive Ranking System or “CRS” points) based on the applicant’s age, education, and work experience among other things.
Every 2-3 weeks the government does a “draw” where they select everyone in the applicant pool whose profile has at least a minimum number CRS points and invites them to apply for PR. The minimum number of CRS points needed to qualify varies with each draw. The purpose of this system is to allow the government to limit the number of PR applicants – the government essentially decides how many people they are going to invite to apply, then invites that number to apply based on their CRA points.
If you do not have the necessary number of CRS points to get invited after a draw, you cannot apply for PR under most applicable federal programs, so this Express Entry/CRS Points stage can be an obstacle for a lot of applicants. This calculator can give applicants an idea of how many CRS points they have. The number of CRS points needed to qualify for the most recent draw can be found online, including here.
2. Apply Under a PR Class.
Assuming an applicant has enough CRS points to get invited to apply for PR, the applicant must then also meet the requirements of one of Canada’s PR program pathways or “classes.” The three most commonly-used are:
- Canadian Experience Class – The main requirement of this pathway is that an applicant has accumulated 1560 hours of work experience in Canada for a Canadian employer in a “skilled” position in the past 3 years. This works out to about 30 hours worked per week for a year. A “skilled” position is a job that is at a level of “B” or higher on the Canada National Occupational Classification (NOC) Matrix. The NOC system is a categorization system the government uses for all Canadian jobs. More information is available here. Generally speaking, most tech jobs will be level “B” or higher.The Canadian Experience Class pathway does not have a separate points system or any other difficult to meet requirements, so if an applicant can get 1 year of Canadian work experience it could be the easiest pathway to qualify under. It is not necessary for applicants to have a job offer or be currently working for a Canadian employer to qualify. As long as applicants meet the work hours requirement they can even be living and working outside Canada when they apply.
- Federal Skilled Worker Class – This pathway does not have a Canadian work experience requirement, so it can be used to apply even if applicants have never been to or worked in Canada. A Canadian job offer is not needed to qualify (though having a job offer helps with the points system referenced in the paragraph below).However, the trade-off is that in order to qualify applicants need to go through points system, based on age, education, work experience, and other factors. At least 67 points are needed based on this matrix. Additionally, at least 1 year of “skilled” (NOC “B” or above) work experience is required, though this experience can be obtained outside of Canada.
- Provincial Nominee Class – The provincial government can “nominate” individuals for PR status. Applicants need to go through a separate application process for each province. Once that province nominates an applicant, they receive documentation that allows them to apply for PR with the federal government. One important thing to keep in mind about this pathway is that being nominated by a province will grant applicants an additional 600 CRS points under the Express Entry system, greatly increasing the chances you will qualify at the next draw. Thus going through the provincial nomination pathway can be a good option for those who do not have enough Express Entry CRS points to obtain an invitation to apply. The BC Provincial Nominee Program website can be found here. The program has multiple pathways, including but not limited to, high-skill workers and Canadian university graduates.One downside of the provincial nominee approach is that it requires two applications – first with the provincial government, then if that application is successful a second application with the federal government. Thus the time and effort commitment for this pathway is higher than with the federal programs discussed above.
Those are the broad strokes of the Canadian PR application process. There will be a plethora of documents to gather and submit along with language tests. Processing times generally range from 6 months to 1 year for most federal PR applications, and longer for the provincial nominee class because of the two-application requirement.
The above programs are not the only pathways to PR status. There are other programs for specific circumstances (for instance if your spouse is a citizen or permanent resident they can sponsor you) but they are how most tech workers in BC obtain PR.
I should also note that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the government has been severely restricting the number of PR applications they accept. They did not conduct an express entry draw for Federal Skilled Worker applications in 2021, and the last Canadian Experience Class draw was in September 2021. Currently, only the Provincial Nominee Class is having regular draws and accepting applicants. This is unusual, as pre-pandemic all PR classes had draws every few weeks, however Canada’s immigration minister Sean Fraser announced in April that Express Entry invitations to FSWP and CEC candidates would resume in early July.
The IRCC have also revealed that the number of invitations for Express Entry draws could resemble pre-pandemic figures once they resume this summer. The information comes from an internal briefing memo dated March 28, 2022 that was obtained through an access to information request and shared online in May 2022. Although the estimated number has been redacted, the memo refers to a draw size similar to pre-pandemic days. This means we can expect around 3,000 plus candidates to be invited per draw.
Tech workers who only wish to stay in Canada temporarily, or whose Permanent Residence application is in process, will generally need to apply for a work permit while they wait, as without one they will not be able to legally work in Canada to support themselves. A summary of the options tech workers have for obtaining a work permit is set out below:
1. Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA)
Obtaining a LMIA is the “default” requirement for most people applying for a work permit in Canada. A LMIA is a separate application an employer makes to the government before the applicant applies for a work permit. The purpose of the application is to show there are no qualified Canadians who can take the position, as the government wants to encourage employers to hire Canadian citizens/permanent residents first.
The process basically works as follows: First, a Canadian employer offers an applicant a job (please note that you need a job offer from a Canadian employer to qualify for a LMIA). Second, the employer has to post ads for the job and leave them up for 30 days. Third, the employer has to apply file a LMIA application showing none of the Canadian citizens/permanent residents who applied are qualified and they should hire the applicant instead. There is a $1,000 application fee, and the employer usually has to commit to taking certain steps to transition to Canadian citizens or permanent resident employees for the position in the future. The process can be cumbersome, often meaning that a lot of employers are hesitant to commit to it.
Assuming the LMIA application is successful, applicants would take that positive LMIA decision and make a separate application to the government for a work permit. Generally this work permit application is straightforward, and obtaining a LMIA is the biggest hurdle for most applicants.
A LMIA application can take 3 months or longer to process, then the work permit itself can take another 3 months or longer, so a total of 6 months would be a good if not best-case outcome for the whole process, but this process can take longer.
It is also important to note that most LMIAs/work permits will only be valid for 1 or at most 2 years, so applicants will need to constantly repeat the process if they want to stay and work in Canada long-term without PR status.
2. LMIA-Exempt Work Permits
Per the above, the LMIA process can be cumbersome, and many employers do not want to go through with it, so for most applicants obtaining for a work permit means trying to find a way to avoid this process. There are a few categories of work permits that do not require LMIAs. A summary of each is listed below, and you can find more information by clicking the links.
- Post-Graduate Work Permits – Applicants who graduated from a Canadian post-secondary institution recently can get a work permit without an LMIA for up to 3 years, based on the length of their program. For example, applicants who studied in Canada for 3 years will receive a 3 year permit, applicants who studied 1 year in Canada will receive a 1 year permit. Starting in summer 2022, former international students who are in Canada and have a post-graduation work permit expiring between January and December 2022 will qualify for an additional open work permit of up to 18 months. Further details will be announced by the IRCC in the coming weeks.
- International Experience Canada. Applicants under 35 or 30 from a set list of countries can come to Canada to work for 1 to 2 years without an LMIA. The application process for this is fairly smooth, so it can be a good option for applicants who meet the requirements, though the programs have a limited amount of spots and are sometimes first-come-first-serve, so if you plan to use this option you need to be aware of when applications open for your country of origin. Details vary year-to-year so it is best to check the requirements online.
- Free Trade Agreement Work Permits – Some free trade agreements Canada is party to like NAFTA (now called USMCA) will let some professionals from other countries (like US and Mexican citizens) work without an LMIA. The initial length of the permit can be up to 3 years. The catch is that only certain professions qualify, and most of them have significant educational requirements. A list of qualifying occupations and degrees for NAFTA/USMCA can be found here (scroll to 3.8).
- Global Talent Stream – Technically this is actually a separate LMIA category, not a LMIA exempt work permit. For certain high-level tech positions, the government will process an LMIA on an expedited basis (as short as 2 weeks) and shepherd applicants through the LMIA and work permit steps. The main obstacles are that the process is a bit intensive and requires a number of approvals/support letters from local organizations, so applicants would need an established company to offer them a high-level tech position to take advantage of this category.
- Start-up Visa – Applicants coming to Canada to launch a start-up that have either been accepted into a list of incubators, or have gotten a VC or angel investor to make a minimum investment ($200,000 or $75,000 respectively), can get a work permit without a LMIA. The requirement that applicants must be funded or have been accepted by an incubator makes this a difficult pathway for many people, though a lot of local organizations exist that can support applicants in this process. A list of qualifying incubators and VCs/angel investors that need to support Start-up Visa application can be found here.
- Intra-Company Transferee – If an applicant has worked in a senior capacity for a foreign company for at least 1 year and the company is transferring them to an existing Canadian office or setting up a new office here, they can get a LMIA-exempt work permit.
- Entrepreneur Work Permit – Applicants who own at least 50% of a business and want to come to Canada to operate that business may be eligible for an LMIA-exempt work permit, if that business will create economic benefits for Canada. It should be noted that acceptance under this category will be based on a somewhat subjective assessment to the economic benefit the business will have in Canada. In practice this can be a difficult category to qualify under, and is sometimes seen as a “last resort” for applicants who do not qualify under other LMIA-exempt work permit categories.
- Spouses of Work Permit Holders – Applicants with a spouse that hold a work permit and work in a “skilled” job with a NOC Skill Level “B” job or above (most tech jobs will qualify), will also be eligible for their own work permit for the duration of their spouse’s work permit.
- Bridging Work Permit for PR Applicants – Applicants who have already applied for PR and received confirmation of their application are eligible for a “bridging” work permit that will let them work in Canada until a decision is made on their application.
These work permits do not cover every situation, and there are also other types of work permits for some more fact-specific scenarios, but the above are the most commonly used LMIA-exempt work permit categories for tech workers in Canada/BC.
If you have any questions about immigrating to, or staying in Canada, as a tech worker, please don’t hesitate to contact the writer, Marius Adomnica, at [email protected].
***The above blog post is provided for informational purposes only and has not been tailored to your specific circumstances. This blog post does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice and may not be relied upon as such.**