The Post-Graduation Work Permit

Canada’s Post-Graduate Work Permit (“PGWP”) program allows international students who have completed certain Canadian post-secondary programs to obtain work permits after graduating.  The work permits are open, meaning that the graduates can work for any employer(s) in any Canadian province(s).  It is a fantastic program that enhances the competitiveness of Canadian post-secondary institutions internationally, and is normally an essential transitory step for international graduates looking to eventually obtain Canadian permanent residency.

However, every year there are many international students who mistakenly think that they will be eligible to participate in the program after graduating only to discover midway through their studies that they cannot.  It is accordingly very important that all international students in Canada understand how the PGWP program works.

Basis in Law

Section 205 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations provides the government with the authority to create programs to issue work permits to foreign nationals when it is satisfied that public policy objectives relating to the competiveness of Canada’s economy or academic institutions are met.  The PGWP is one of these programs, and detailed information about it can be found on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC“) website here.

As the Federal Court has noted in numerous decisions (such as Osahar v. Canada), immigration officers can determine these requirements to be binding.

Eligibility and Validity

Outside of Quebec, in order for an international graduate to obtain a PGWP after graduating, an international student must:

  • have a valid study permit when applying for their PGWP;
  • have continuously studied full time in Canada, except for the final academic session, where part-time studies are permitted;
  • have completed and passed a program of study that is at least eight months in duration at either a public post-secondary institution, a private post-secondary institution that operates under the same rules and regulations as public institutions, or at a Canadian private institution if the student was enrolled in a program of study which led to a degree; and
  • apply for the work permit within 90 days of receiving written confirmation from their educational institution that they have met the requirements for completing their program of study.

A PGWP’s duration will be equal to the length of the educational program that the international graduate completed, up to a maximum of three years.  Any completed program that is longer than two-years will result in a three-year work permit.  In other words, a two-year diploma and a four-year degree will both result in a three-year work permit.

It is important to note that it is the length of the program of study that is important, and not the actual time that it takes an international student to complete their program. For example, if a student enrolls in a program of study that is normally eight months in duration, but completes it in six months, then the student will be able to obtain an eight-month work permit after graduating. Conversely, an international student who takes two years to complete a one-year program will only receive a one-year PGWP.

There are complicated rules and scenarios for students transferring from one program to another, or completing multiple programs, that are beyond the scope of this article.  However, a particularly common one is that students who obtain a one-year degree or diploma from an eligible institution in Canada after having obtained, with the prior two-years, another diploma or degree from an eligible institution in Canada, may be issued a work permit for up to three years.  For example, if a student obtained a one-year diploma from the University of British Columbia in 2013, and then in 2015 obtained a MBA from the University of Toronto, then he would be able to obtain a three-year PGWP.

Graduates may submit their applications online, or, in certain cases at a Canadian port of entry or at overseas visa offices.  Students who have completed their program of study and who apply for their PGWPs are permitted to work in Canada while IRCC processes their applications, provided that they were indeed full-time students enrolled in eligible programs while they were studying, and that they did not exceed their authorized off-campus work periods while they were students.

Finally, unlike with international students, the spouses or common-law partners of PGWP holders are not automatically entitled to open work permits.  They will only be eligible if the PGWP holder obtains skilled employment, and can demonstrate this to IRCC by presenting an offer of employment as well as a copy of one or more pay slips.

Ongoing Complications

Students who complete a program of study granted by a non-Canadian institution located in Canada are ineligible to obtain work permits under the PGWP program.  However, students completing a program of study that has, as part of the program, an overseas component, such as an exchange, will be eligible as long as they earn a Canadian educational credential.

There are two further restrictions, or potential restrictions, to obtaining PGWPs that are currently the subject of litigation that potential international students and graduates should understand.

The first is that students participating in distancing learning programs, either abroad or in Canada, are ineligible to obtain PGWPs.  In 2015, this restriction generated considerable media attention, as IRCC refused the PGWP applications of an entire graduating class at a private post-secondary institution after IRCC determined that the institution’s program constituted online learning.  Some of these graduates have sought intervention from the Federal Court of Canada, and one of the questions before the court is whether there is a percentage of online courses threshold that must be met before IRCC can declare a program ineligible.  Until either IRCC or the Federal Court provides clarification on this matter, international students who wish to participate in the PGWP program should understand the possible negative consequences of enrolling in any online courses.

Second, recent graduates applying for PGWPs must ensure that they complete their PGWP applications promptly and properly.  With most work permits applications, if IRCC either refuses or bounces an application for incompleteness, then an applicant can typically apply for restoration of status within 90 days.  It is not clear, however, whether restoration is possible in the case of the PGWP because of the IRCC’s requirement that a recent graduate’s study permit be valid when they apply for their PGWP, although several Federal Court decisions seem to imply that it really is up to the officer.


Work Permits for Camp Counsellors

As of March 1, 2017, camp counsellors going to residential camps during the summer season are exempt from the Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA“) requirement.  They can apply for work permits once their employers submit their online offers of employment into the employer compliance portal.

Religious Camp Counsellors

Religious camp counsellors should note that they should not be indicating in their online offer of employment offers that the LMIA exemption code is religious or charitable work under LMIA exemption code C50.  Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) has determined that the normal work of a camp counsellor (whose primary duties consist of supervising children and leading sports, crafts, games and other recreational activities) is not considered religious in nature. Rather, LMIA exemption code C20 should be used.

In the case of a counsellor who is unpaid and who works for a charitable or religious organization, an employer compliance fee fee exemption may apply. To be fee-exempt, the foreign national cannot receive remuneration other than a stipend for living expenses, which, if monetary, should be below the prevailing minimum wage. Otherwise, the foreign national should receive only non-monetary benefits (e.g., accommodation and health care). It is the responsibility of the organization to prove that they are charitable or religious.

More information about this can be found here.


Foreign Worker Stats – 2004 – 2014

The following are some interesting stats on the number of foreign workers in Canada from 2004 – 2014.

The first chart is for the number of foreign workers in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program from 2004 – 2014. The top four countries where the Philippines, India, the United States of America, and Mexico.

TFWStats

In the International Mobility Program the top 5 countries are very different. There, it is the United States of America, India, China, and France.

The data also shows that from 2004 – 2014 the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada more than doubled from 86,551 to 177,704.  Almost all of this growth was in the Labour Market Impact Assessment Program, with most of it being lower-skilled foreign workers.

There was also considerable growth in the International Mobility Program, with the number of work permit holders going from 110,525 to 390,273 during the period from 2004 – 2014.  Much of the growth came from the introduction of the Post-Graduate Work Permit Program, International Experience Canada, and C-10 applications.


LMIA Cap on Low Wage Employees

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (the “TFWP“) allows employers to bring foreign workers to Canada to temporarily fill jobs for which qualified Canadians are not available. After the program became increasingly controversial in 2012-13, the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada (“ESDC“) on June 20, 2014 imposed a cap limiting the proportion of low-wage foreign workers that businesses can employ.

How the Cap Works

Employers with a company-wide business size of 10 or more employees are subject to the cap.  The cap percentage is determined for each individual worksite location and is based on paid positions and total hours worked at that worksite.

Employers that are new to the TFWP or returning employers who did not have any foreign workers on staff on June 20, 2014 are capped at 10% low-wage foreign workers for each work location.

The cap, implemented on June 20, 2014, was phased in to provide employers time to transition to a Canadian workforce which means that they are limited to a:

  • 20 percent cap on the number of foreign workers in low-wage positions, or the employer’s established estimated cap (whichever is lower), if the employer hired a TFW in a low-wage position prior to June 20, 2014; or
  • 10 percent cap on the number of foreign workers in low-wage positions if the employers did not employ a TFW in a low-wage position prior to June 20, 2014.

Effectively, companies are limited to a 10% cap on the proportion of low-wage foreign workers that they can have.  The low-wage is based on a province’s median wage, which as of writing is as follows:

Province/Territory Wages prior to

April 29, 2016

2014 Wage ($/hour)

Wages as of

April 29, 2016

2015 Wage ($/hour)

Alberta $25.00 $25.38
British Columbia $22.00 $22.60
Manitoba $19.50 $20.00
New Brunswick $18.00 $18.50
Newfoundland and Labrador $21.12 $20.91
Northwest Territories $30.00 $31.25
Nova Scotia $18.85 $19.00
Nunavut $29.00 $28.92
Ontario $21.15 $22.00
Prince Edward Island $17.49 $18.00
Quebec $20.00 $20.60
Saskatchewan $22.00 $22.80
Yukon $27.50 $28.51

The calculation of the cap can be complicated, and is perhaps best summarized by this portion of ESDC’s Schedule E – Cap for Low-Wage Positions.
schedulee

The Schedule E also contains sections on how the addition of foreign workers would impact the cap.

The cap does not apply to:

  • Employers with a company-wide business size of fewer than 10 employees;
  • Employers hiring foreign workers for positions related to on-farm primary agriculture, including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program;
  • Positions that are truly temporary (e.g. emergency and warranty positions);
  • Positions that are highly mobile or truly temporary and no more than 120 calendar days. This duration
    can be extended if an employer can demonstrate that their peak season, project or event operates
    beyond 120 days;
  • Applications supporting permanent residence under any Express Entry programs (e.g. Federal Skilled
    Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program); and
  • Certain seasonal positions.

It is also important to note that employers who are subject to the cap do not have to include the following types of low-wage foreign workers when calculating the cap:

  • LMIA-exempt foreign nationals working under Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s International Mobility Program;
  • Foreign nationals who have received a nomination certificate from a Provincial Nomination Program; and
  • Foreign workers working in low-wage positions that are exempt from the cap.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are samples of frequently asked questions that were reproduced from the TFWP Wiki below.  Please note that the information below was obtained through an Access to Information Act request, and may not be up to date.

Question – When considering the impact cap percentage, should an officer ’round’ to the nearest decimal point? Example, established cap is 10% and the impact cap is percentage is 10.1 to 10.5. Does ESDC round down to 10% and accept it, or does it just determine it exceeds the 10% cap?

Answer -When calculating the Cap or the Impact on Cap comparison calculations, the percentage should be recorded up to two decimal points, rounding accordingly.

 

Question – What should be done with LMIA applications where the employer has identified more than one location on the application – i.e. Employer A has applied for 15 workers for 3 different locations on 1 LMIA form? How will the cap be noted to ensure a cap rate is captured for each location on the LMIA form?

Answer – The employer must complete a separate application for each location of work in order for a cap to be established for each location; and each location will also have an individual cap comparison calculation to determine the effect of hiring requested TFWs based on the employer’s current staffing complement at the time of the submission of the application.

 

Question – How does previously confirmed but unfilled LMIAs (i.e. hired but who have not started work) affect the determination of business size and cap calculation?

Answer – Previously confirmed but unfilled LMIAs (that are not expired) are to be included as employees for determining the business size. Pending applications should not be included in these numbers.

 

Question – Should owners count themselves when determining their business size?

Answer – When determining if a business has 10 or more employees company-wide, the count should include all employees on payroll and the vacant position. If the owner has a paid position, they should be included.

 

 

Question – When calculating “Determining the Effect on the Cap”, does the 4 consecutive weeks prior to LMIA submission have to be the 4 weeks prior to the application date or can there be a gap?

Answer – Ideally there should be as small a gap as practically possible for the purposes of this calculation. According to the CAP Directive the employer should provide data from the 4-week period “immediately prior” to the date the application was signed. W-T is interpreting “immediately prior” as allowing up to a 2 week gap between when the application is signed and the four consecutive weeks used by the employer for determining the effect of the CAP. In addition, two weeks may also be allowed between when the application is signed and when the application is received.

 

Question – If the staffing complement listed on Schedule E changes between the date of signature and the date of assessment, how does the officer proceed with assessing the cap?

Answer – The effect calculation will be assessed based on the four-week period used prior to the date of signature, and NOT the date of assessment.



Four Year Cap on Temporary Foreign Workers

Please note that on December 13, 2016, the Government of Canada abolished the 4 year cap on foreign workers. 

capture

On April 1, 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Canada introduced a four-year cap on the maximum allowable cumulative duration that a Temporary Foreign Worker (“TFW”) can work in Canada.  Generally, once a foreign national has accumulated four years of work, he or she will be ineligible to work in Canada again until a period of four years has elapsed.

What Do Employers Need to Know

Before hiring a foreign worker, an employer should know the total time that the foreign worker has worked in Canada.  It would be unfortunate and costly to offer someone a job only to then discover that the person can either only work for a limited period, or not at all.

Example:

Since April 1, 2011, a TFW has accumulated three years of work in Canada, and is now applying for a two-year work permit in an occupation that is not listed in the ‘exceptions’. The work permit would only be issued for one year.

All work performed in Canada since April 1, 2011 — regardless of whether or not it was authorized by a work permit or exempt under Regulation 186 — counts towards a foreign worker’s four-year total. This includes work done as a volunteer, as a self-employed individual, work in all occupations falling under all categories in the National Occupation Code (“NOC”) list, work done while under implied status, and work done while on an open work permit, including post-graduate work permits.  The only exception is that any work performed during a period in which the foreign national was authorized to study on a full-time basis in Canada is not included in cumulative duration totals.

The cap does not only apply to people looking to start a new job or change employers.  It also applies to people who are looking to extend their contracts.

The Exemptions

Although their time in Canada will still count towards the four-year cap, numerous types of foreign workers will be able to work beyond four years.

The four-year cumulative duration will not apply to TFWs entering under one of the following occupations:

  • Workers seeking to work in NOC 0 or A occupations (important: NOC B is not exempted;
  • Workers who have applied for permanent residence and have received provisional approval;
  • Workers who are employed in Canada under an international agreement, such as NAFTA, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, humanitarian and self-support based work permits, and work permits under Regulation 205; and
  • Workers who are exempt from holding a work permit under Regulation 186.

Gaps

Periods not worked which occurred after April 1, 2011, and during the validity period of any work authorizations issued after April 1, 2011, may be factored into the calculation of the accumulated total.  However, only gaps in employment of one consecutive month or more will be considered.

When the Clock ReStarts

The cap will start once four years are reached.  It does not matter if there is a significant gap during the foreign worker’s four years as a TFW.  As well, the foreign national has to wait for four consecutive years before he or she is allowed to become a foreign worker again.

Example

Foreign national works for three years, leaves Canada for three years, and applies for a two year work permit.  CIC will issue a one year work permit, and the foreign national will have to wait another four years before the clocks resets and he or she can apply again. If the foreign national had waited another year outside Canada, then he could have worked another full four years in Canada.

Example

A foreign national works for three years and 11 months on a work permit.  She then stays outside of Canada for three years, and then enters Canada to work for one months.  The foreign national leaves Canada and is now not eligible for a work permit for another four years.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has published the following chart which may be useful to individuals trying to decide if the cap applies to them.

Appendix A Flow Chart described below


IRCC Clarifies Non-Compliance in the International Mobility Program

It is imperative that employers hiring foreign workers in the International Mobility Program (“IMP“) understand the consequences of non-compliance. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC“) has finally published information on its website which summarizes how it will determine when non-compliance has occurred and what the consequences will be.

Since December 1, 2015, IRCC has had the legislative authority to apply administrative tools, including warning letters, administrative monetary penalties (“AMPs“) and bans on employers accessing the IMP to certain employers where an IRCC officer has determined that an employer has breached the terms and conditions of participating in the IMP. 

Breaches that Occurred Before December 1, 2015

It is important to note that the AMP and the bans described below only apply to employer breaches that occurred after December 1, 2015.  The penalty to an employer for unjustified breaches that occurred prior to December 1, 2015 is a two-year ban on that employer from being able to hire foreign workers under the IMP. However, while the consequences to an employer for being found non-compliant changed on December 1, 2015, the way in which IRCC assesses whether non-compliance has occurred remains substantially the same.  

The Administrative Monetary Penalty Regime

Under IRCC’s AMP regime, employer non-compliance is divided into three types of violations.  

Type A violations include where an employer:

  • is unable to demonstrate that any information that it provided in respect of a foreign national’s work permit application was accurate during a period of six years beginning on the first day of the foreign national’s employment;
  • did not retain document(s) that relates to employer compliance during a period of six years, beginning on the first day of the foreign national’s employment
  • did not report at any time and place specified by IRCC to answer questions and provide documents during an IRCC inspection of the employer’s compliance with the IMP;
  • did not produce required documents during an IRCC inspection; and
  • did not attend an IRCC inspection, nor give all reasonable assistance to the IRCC officer conducting the inspection.

Type B violations include where an employer:

  • did not comply with federal and provincial laws that regulate employment;
  • did not comply with federal and provincial laws that regulate the recruiting of employees in the province in which the foreign national works; and
  • did not provide the foreign national with employment in the same occupation and substantially the same, but not less favourable, wages and working conditions as outlined in the foreign national’s offer of employment.

Type C violations include where the employer:

  • was not actively engaged in the business in which the offer of employment was made; and
  • did not make reasonable efforts to provide a workplace that was free of abuse.

Once IRCC determines which type of violation an employer’s violation falls under, IRCC will assign points under the AMP regime based on the employer’s compliance history and the severity of the violation.

Points for the employer’s compliance history are calculated as follows:

Compliance History
Criteria Points
Type A and B violations, first violation 1
Type A, second or subsequent violation 2
Type B violation, second violation 2
Type C violation, first violation 2
Type B violation, third or subsequent violation 3
Type C violation, second violation 3
Type C violation, third or subsequent violation 4
 

Assessing the Severity of a Violation

Points for the severity of the violation are calculated as follows:

Severity of the Violation
Criteria Points
The employer derived competitive or economic benefit from the violation. 0 – 6
The violation involved abuse of a foreign national. 0 – 10
The violation negatively impacted the Canadian labour market or the Canadian economy. 0 – 6
The employer did not make reasonable efforts to minimize or re-mediate the effects of the violation. 0 – 3
The employer did not make reasonable efforts to prevent recurrence of the violation. 0 – 3

In considering whether the employer derived competitive or economic benefit from the violation, IRCC considers the economic gain derived from non-compliance (total gain to the employer), the money that the employer saved from non-compliance with program requirements, and whether the employer’s practices (led to a competitive advantage over other employers who were following IMP rules.

Examples of economic gain include:

  • significant underpayment or non-payment of foreign worker wages as well as wages for overtime for an extended period of time; and
  • an employer refusing to pay required benefits (e.g., health benefits/transportation costs) as outlined on the offer of employment.

Examples of competitive benefit include evidence that an employer won a bid or contract by underpaying foreign workers.

In considering whether an employer’s violation involved abuse of a foreign national, IRCC will assign points where abuse actually occurs.  IRCC will assign lower points where once the abuse was discovered, the employer was responsive in obtaining assistance for the foreign worker (i.e., notifying police or health care professional), the employer provided training to staff to prevent reoccurrence; or the employer developed policies and procedures that address situations of abuse in the workplace (e.g., steps to be taken if an employee or supervisor is aware of experiencing abuse).

In considering whether the violation negatively impacted the economy, IRCC will consider whether the employer’s actions resulted in a foreign national completing work that did not warrant a Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA“) exemption.  Higher points will be assigned where the employer did not take steps to rectify the situation once it determined that it should have obtained a LMIA. 

 

Calculating the AMP

IRCC adds the number of points based on the employer’s compliance history and the severity of the violation to determine the AMP.  In calculating the AMP, employers are divided into “large businesses” and “small businesses.”  

A “small business” is any business, including affiliated entities, that have fewer than 100 employees or less than $5,000,000 in annual general revenue.

For Type A violations, the size of the AMP is as follows:

Type A
Points Individual or Small Business ($) Large Business ($)
0 or 1 None None
2 500 750
3 750 1000
4 1000 2000
5 4000 6,000
6 8,000 10,000
7 12,000 20,000
8 20,000 30,000
9 or 10 30,000 45,000
11 or 12 40,000 60,000
13 or 14 50,000 70,000
15 or more 100,000 100,000

For Type B violations, the size of the AMP is as follows:

Type B
Points Individual or Small Business ($) Large Business ($)
0 or 1 None None
2 750 1,000
3 1,250 2,000
4 3,000 7,000
5 7,000 12,000
6 12,000 20,000
7 20,000 30,000
8 35,000 45,000
9 or 10 50,000 60,000
11 or 12 60,000 70,000
13 or 14 70,000 80,000
15 or more 100,000 100,000

For Type C violations, the size of the AMP is as follows:

Type C
Points Individual or Small Business ($) Large Business ($)
0 or 1 None None
2 1,000 2,000
3 5,000 10,000
4 10,000 20,000
5 15,000 30,000
6 20,000 40,000
7 35,000 50,000
8 45,000 60,000
9 or 10 60,000 70,000
11 or 12 70,000 80,000
13 or 14 80,000 90,000
15 or more 100,000 100,000

In addition to fines under the AMP, the number of points that an employer receives determines the ban length as follows:

Total number of Points Type A Violation Type B Violation Type C Violation
0 to 5 None None None
6 None None 1 year
7 None 1 year 2 years
8 1 year 2 years 5 years
9 or 10 2 years 5 years 10 years
11 or 12 5 years 10 years 10 years
13 or 15 10 years 10 years 10 years
15 or more Permanent Permanent Permanent

Where an employer fails to comply with multiple conditions, each unjustified failure to comply is treated as a separate violation.  As well, violations of a single condition that involve more than one foreign worker will be treated as separate violations for each foreign worker affected. For conditions that have separate elements, a failure to comply with each element that is not justified will be treated as a separate violations.

As the size of the AMP can soar dramatically depending on the number of foreign workers involved and the number of condition(s) breached, the maximum AMP that IRCC can impose is $1,000,000.00 for a breach.  As well, the total AMPs imposed on a single employer cannot exceed $1,000,000 in the one-year period preceding the date of the final determination.

Voluntary Disclosure

If an employer voluntarily discloses non-compliance, then IRCC, at an officer’s discretion, may reduce the number of points, depending on the circumstances.

Warning Letters 

When IRCC determines that total points of an employer’s non-compliance are fewer than two, IRCC will issue a warning letter to the employer.  Warning letters count as violations for the purpose of calculating points on future violations.

Best Practices

As of writing there is one employer listed on the IRCC website for having not complied with the IMP. The consequence to the employer was a $750.00 fine.  It is anticipated that there will be many employers subject to the AMP in the future. The regime is still new, and the rigidity with which IRCC assesses compliance within the IMP is still being developed.  In the meantime, it is imperative that employers completing their employer compliance portal job offers understand the terms and conditions that they are attesting to complying with.

 


Free trade agreements help those who want to work in Canada, but the Trump presidency could impact Americans

On Oct. 30, 2016, Canada and the European Union signed the Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (CETA), which, amongst other things, will make it easier for European Union citizens to work in Canada without their employers first needing to obtain labour market impact assessments (LMIA).

CETA is only the latest free trade agreement that Canada has signed.  One of the first steps that a foreign national who is interested in working in Canada should do is determine whether their home country has signed a free trade agreement with Canada. If so, they should check if the agreement encompasses their specific area of employment.

LMIA vs. free trade agreements

The main benefit of a free trade agreement encompassing one’s employment is that the person’s potential Canadian employer does not need to first obtain a positive or neutral LMIA prior to the foreign worker being able to obtain a Canadian work permit.

LMIAs can be a very cumbersome process. They generally require that an employer conduct domestic recruitment, meet prevailing wage requirements, complete numerous application forms, enter into a transition plan, and pay a $1,000 per foreign worker application fee. For many employers, obtaining LMIAs is simply too great an obstacle to employing foreign nationals in Canada.

It is much easier for employers to employ workers who are encompassed by free trade agreements. Employers must simply enter information about the proposed job offer into the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website, pay a $230 employer compliance fee and provide a written job offer to the prospective employee.

Free trade agreements

As of writing, Canada has free trade agreements that contain immigration provisions in force with the United States, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Colombia and South Korea.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. It provides that Mexican and American citizens can obtain three-year work permits (with unlimited extensions) if they are coming to work in Canada in one of 63 skilled professions, including accountant, computer systems analyst, economist, engineer, graphic designer, management consultant, mathematician, scientific technician, pharmacist, psychologist, registered nurse and teacher.

I once represented a Canadian design company that was debating between either hiring a Mexican or a British engineer. They had assumed that it would be easier for the company to hire the British person. However, because Canada does not actually have a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom in force (yet), it was actually much easier to hire the person from Mexico. The company decided to go with to the Mexican engineer.

The Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement is substantially the same as NAFTA in regards to foreign workers, while Canada’s free trade agreements with Colombia and Peru are far broader than NAFTA. Colombian and Peruvian professionals can work in any skilled position in Canada for three years (with no limits on extensions), except for certain health, education, social services and cultural industries. As well, a wide range of technicians can work in Canada without LMIAs, including engineering technologists, certain trades supervisors, chefs, carpenters, mechanics, etc. Indeed, for the foreseeable future, it will likely be easier for a Canadian employer to employ a Colombian or Peruvian then a citizen of any other country.

Both the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CKFTA) and CETA adopt a different approach to the entry of foreign workers. Both require that skilled foreign workers be entering Canada as either contract service suppliers or independent professionals. South Koreans can get three-year work permits, while European Union citizens can get one. When the CKFTA came into force, many South Koreans who otherwise might not have been able to extend their Post-Graduate Work Permits were able to continue to working in Canada; given the wording of CETA, it seems like the same will be true for them.

Countries under GATS

In addition to the above free trade agreements, Canada is a signatory to the General Agreement on Trades and Services (GATS). Under GATS, citizens whose country is one of the 164 members of the World Trade Organization can obtain a 90-day work permit to work in Canada as an engineer, agrologist, architect, forestry professional, geomatics professional, land surveyor, urban planner and senior computer specialist.

Upcoming agreements

Finally, Canada is also a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, although it has not yet been ratified. If Canada does, then most Australian, Chilean, Japanese and Mexican skilled workers will be able to work in Canada on up to one-year work permits, which can be renewed. Most Malaysian managers and professionals will be able to as well.

Although the United States, New Zealand and a few other countries are also signatories to the TPP, those nations decided to not facilitate the entry of Canadian workers, so Canada will not be providing those nations’ citizens any new LMIA exemptions.

The Trump effect

At this point, it is necessary to discuss the consequences of the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.  If there is one thing that Trump has been consistent on during the past several decades, it is that he loathes free trade agreements. Trump has promised to not ratify the TPP, whose future is now uncertain.  He has also promised to either restrict NAFTA or to even outright withdraw the United States from it.

Perhaps the best example of how significant free trade agreements can be in an immigration context is that since the election of Donald Trump, our office has received numerous phone calls from concerned Americans currently in Canada wanting to know what will happen to their ability to continue working here if Trump fulfills this promise.

How to apply

So, how can one determine if they’re encompassed by a free trade agreement? The best way to do this is to search “IRCC Free Trade Agreements” on any search engine, and to then click on the link that says “International Mobility Program: International Free Trade Agreements.” This is an IRCC webpage that provides information on the foreign worker provisions of all free trade agreements, including documentary requirements.

Understanding the material on this website can often be the difference between a long and cumbersome process versus a straightforward one, and even becoming a foreign worker and not.