Reforming the International Mobility Programs

International Mobility Programs

The International Mobility Programs (IMP) include all streams of work permit applications that are LMIA-exempt under one umbrella. By exempting some foreign nationals from needing a labour market impact assessment before being able to work in Canada, the IMP aims to provide competitive advantages to Canada and reciprocal benefits to Canadians.

For example, labour mobility is a key part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA provides reciprocal benefits, allowing foreign nationals in certain occupations from partner countries to work in Canada without the requirement of a labour market test like the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), but also allow Canadians to work abroad with similar privileges. While about 12,000 Americans worked in Canada through the NAFTA professional occupation provision in 2011, the number of Canadians working in the United States through the same provision more than tripled that, with about 39,000 in all.

As part of the review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the Government of Canada committed to introducing a series of reforms for those workers who are exempt from the LMIA process to ensure these exemptions continue to promote Canada’s economic and labour market interests.

The renamed International Mobility Programs (IMP) will include new fee for work permits through IMP, a new employer compliance system on par with the system being put in place for the TFWP, and additional changes to specific IMP streams.

New Fee and Employer Compliance System for the International Mobility Programs

Many foreign nationals can apply for work permits without requiring an assessment of the labour market. However, employers are not required to submit any information directly to the Government of Canada regarding job offers made to LMIA-exempt foreign workers, limiting CIC’s ability to monitor employers.

Under the reforms, employers hiring through IMP will be required to submit the job offer and other relevant information to CIC. Foreign nationals will not be able to apply for a work permit until their employer has done so.

A robust compliance system, featuring inspections of thousands of employers hiring LMIA-exempt foreign workers each year, will also be put in place to monitor employers. Inspections could lead to penalties being levied against employers who are not following the rules, as well as bans from hiring foreign nationals and even criminal investigation when warranted.

This system will be made possible by the collection of a new compliance fee of $230 per work permit, once authorities are in place. The fee will apply in cases where the work permit is employer specific and LMIA-exempt. This ensures that those using the program will pay its costs, rather than Canadian taxpayers.

New Privilege Fee for Open Work Permit Applicants

Some LMIA exemptions allow for foreign nationals to apply for open work permits. This includes, for example, young people entering Canada through the International Experience Canada (IEC) initiative, international students who have graduated and received a post-graduation work permit, and some foreign nationals who are working in Canada while they wait for their application for permanent residence to be finalized. Having an open work permit is a unique privilege, as it does not tie the foreign national to one specific employer in Canada.

There is, however, often inadequate information available about the types of jobs open work permit holders take while in Canada and what effect they may have on the labour market.

To respond to this, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will be imposing a $100 privilege fee on holders of open work permits as soon as possible. These fees will allow for improved data collection on the employment of open work permit holders. In addition, the funds collected will be used to increase awareness among and promote participation of Canadians in opportunities to live and work abroad, and to provide information to foreign nationals with open work permits and their employers to promote the transition to permanent residence through the new Express Entry system that is coming online in 2015.

With these measures, the Government of Canada will be able to compile better information and develop an improved understanding of the role of open work permit holders in the Canadian labour market. Increased awareness and participation of Canadians in reciprocal opportunities will enhance the economic and social benefits of the International Mobility Programs.

Changes to Specific Exemptions

The Government of Canada is undertaking a comprehensive review of the IMP programs, with a view to ensuring that all streams under this program should remain LMIA-exempt. Streams that do not warrant an exemption will be reclassified under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and workers will require an LMIA. Additionally, the Government is making the below changes to specific exemptions; these changes involve adjusting several specific exemptions to ensure they continue to operate as intended and in Canada’s best interests.

International Experience Canada (IEC)

International Experience Canada consists of 32 agreements with partner countries that allow young Canadians to live and work abroad for up to two years without meeting labour market or many of the other strict requirements to work and travel in other countries, while providing reciprocal opportunities for youth from those countries to do the same in Canada. It is the largest sub-category of the International Mobility Programs, with about 54,000 young people entering Canada in 2013. The number of spots available for each country is negotiated each year.

However, the imbalance between the number of young people from partner countries participating in IEC and the number of young Canadians participating is the most serious concern for this initiative. IEC agreements are based on providing reciprocal opportunities for young people coming to Canada and for young Canadians going abroad. However, the number of young Canadians going abroad has been stagnant in recent years, and there are several countries to which virtually no Canadians apply to go.

To remedy this, CIC will enhance its efforts through increased promotion of the program to make young Canadians aware of the opportunities it presents, and by working with partner countries to reduce administrative barriers to Canadian participants. At the same time, we will review each mobility agreement on a country-by-country basis to ensure the rate of reciprocity is improved.

Intra-company transferees with specialized knowledge

Companies are able to transfer Canadians to overseas branches and foreign nationals to their Canadian branch without a labour market impact assessment. Exemptions for intra-company transferees are also explicitly stated in some trade agreements that Canada is a party to, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Trade in Services. There is some evidence, though, that these provisions have been misused. For example, in some situations, foreign nationals were able to enter Canada for jobs that may not have been as specialized as the program intends, as suggested by providing wages lower than the Canadian prevailing wage for their occupation.

To address this, guidelines have been put in place to better define “specialized knowledge” and officers will compare an applicant’s intended salary to the prevailing Canadian wage for that job to ensure that the applicant is truly specialized in his or her field. The new guidelines also clearly state that these types of workers cannot receive training in Canada that would result in the displacement of Canadian workers. A wage floor has been imposed for foreign nationals from countries that Canada does not have a free trade agreement with, set at the prevailing wage for the worker’s occupation and region of destination.

As a result, foreign nationals entering Canada using this labour market test exemption will be highly-skilled and truly bring specialized knowledge to Canada. Some may be candidates to apply for permanent residence here. These provisions will continue to greatly benefit Canadian companies with operations abroad, allowing them to compete globally and to provide jobs in Canada.