Is Canada’s skilled labor pool half full or half empty? It you tend to look at things on the bright side, then you’ll see a highly educated and experienced workforce that’s larger than those of other countries. If you’re more of a pessimist — or have had trouble filling positions — then you know that there are more openings than available applicants.
Either way, you’re selling your company short by neglecting skilled foreign workers. Many established and emerging economies are turning them out in spades, and they see Canada as nothing less than a land of great opportunity.
However hiring from abroad means cutting through a lot of red tape. Here’s what you need to know.
The first step in most cases is to visit Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) to get what’s called a Labour Market Opinion (LMO), which is essentially permission to get a work permit application, says Sandy MacDonald, director of HRSDC’s Foreign Worker Program. “We’re looking to determine the potential impact on the Canadian labor market,” she explains. “We look to see what the nature of the job is, what the requirements are and what efforts the employer has made to recruit Canadians.”
There’s no fee to apply for an LMO and the process takes about 15 business days. You can learn more about the criteria HRSDC uses in assessing an application and download an LMO application at the ministry’s website. Note that employees from certain countries (such as Mexico and the U.S.) or fields (such as information technology) may be exempt from the LMO process.
After you’ve received LMO approval, you can begin to search for qualified candidates. Where should you start? Do-it-yourselfers can run job ads on Internet-based job sites, which can be read from anywhere in the world, and in trade magazines and international journals that target the field in which you’re hiring.
But consider turning to the pros. A recruiter with international contacts can do the legwork for you and provide you with a shortlist of qualified, interested applicants to choose from.
There may be provincial or federal government programs that can help in your search. Max Systems Inc., a software firm in Winnipeg, took advantage of the Canadian International Development Agency’s Industrial Cooperation Program (CIDA-INC) to both establish an overseas operation and bring foreign workers to their Canadian office. (CIDA-INC’s mission is to provide financial support and advice to Canadian businesses planning business activities in developing economies.) In addition to funding a trip to the Ukraine, the program helped the firm apply for work permits, says company president Barry Banek. “It has worked out tremendously well.”
Get the permit
When you’ve found your candidate, you’ll have to apply for a work permit from another government agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Your new employee (or you on their behalf) can only apply for a work permit after you’ve made the job offer. There’s a $150 fee to apply for a permit and the application process takes about a month, though it can be fast-tracked.
Some companies choose to use immigration lawyers to make sure all the i’s are dotted, particularly in more complicated cases such as when an employee and his or her family will also be applying for permanent resident status. But with legal fees starting at about $1,000, the cost can be prohibitive and often not entirely necessary. Max Systems handled all the paperwork for their two hires internally and, says Banek, “It was not a difficult exercise.”
The process doesn’t end with the paperwork. There are a number of cultural and comfort considerations you need to address to make the transition easier on your new employee(s), including assistance in finding accommodations, visas for family members, and integrating them into their new community. Max Systems employed a very Canadian-style approach to immersion. “I encouraged my employees to open the door to the [foreign workers] and make them feel at home,” says Banek. “It didn’t take long for them to get invited to go out to the bar with the guys.”
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© 2004 Allan Britnell