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Service Industries impacted by the lack Open Work Permit Holders


by: Heather Bell

With international borders shut down and services at the Canadian embassies limited, our immigration team has been busy helping Canadian businesses keep their foreign staff and submitting permanent residency applications for others who, until the pandemic, felt no rush to get the process started.

We have been aided by the Canadian government’s temporary public policies that ease the process of in-Canada work permit applications, as well as the record number of permanent residency invitations issued to Canadian Experience Class and Provincial Nominee applicants through the Express Entry system.

Even so, many businesses are reckoning with the lack of foreign workers for hire. For service and seasonal businesses, there are options to hire foreign nationals. But for years, these businesses have relied on open work permit holders, specifically the thousands of young International Experience Class (IEC) workers, most of which are from Europe, Australia and New Zealand, who arrive annually with 1 to 2 year open work permits under the Working Holiday stream of IEC. Another group of open work permit holders are students who can work part-time while studying and are eligible for an open work permit for up to 3 years after their studies. Outside of service industries, open work permit holders fill the labour gap in other key industries, such as healthcare, childcare, IT, construction and other trade fields.

IEC Work Permit Holders

By summer 2020, the IEC program had been suspended, except to those with a valid job offer. This requirement has since been removed for fully vaccinated applicants, but we are still seeing very few rounds of invitations to IEC candidates, inviting them to apply for work permits. For example, as of October 2021, just over 885 invitations have been issued to Australian nationals under the Working Holiday stream for the 2021 IEC year, compared to over 12,000 invitations in October 2019.

Working Holiday permit holders destined for Western Canada:

International Students

Study permits were prioritized this past summer so students could arrive for their September start dates, but it will take time for the international student population to recover. In 2020, the number of study permit applications processed nearly halved from 2019. While the government is returning quickly to pre-pandemic application numbers, the loss of thousands of students entering Canada in 2020 will leave a gap in the number of international graduates holding open work permits in one to two years from now.

The post-graduate work permit holders in 2019 would have been students sometime between 2016 and 2019. The significant decline of study permit applications in 2020 will therefore impact the number of post-graduate work permit holders from 2022 to 2024.

We are not out of the COVID-woods yet. And not having IEC workers and students coming to Canada in droves for the past year will create a gap in available workers that goes beyond borders re-opening and international travel increasing.

Now, more than ever, businesses need to start being proactive and consider supporting foreign nationals for work permits or permanent residency. The Canadian government as well needs to make employer-sponsored programs more accessible for all businesses who genuinely cannot find Canadians or Permanent Residents, not just for businesses hiring skilled workers. Aside from the IEC program, there are a few options available for employers hiring foreign nationals for unskilled or semi-skilled positions. These workers are just as important to our economy, something the pandemic has rightfully highlighted.

Despite red-tape, Canada’s immigration system is surprisingly agile. Often, with enough industry pressure, the government can implement innovative work permit programs, even if they are only pilots to start. In the meantime, we need to navigate the programs that are available. What program is best depends on multiple factors, including foreign national’s country of nationality, experience, province of destination and the job details itself. It requires planning ahead and patience with the process, something our immigration team knows well.




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