Posted on - Aug 16, 2016

by Victor Ing

Victor Ing

As long as there are immigration programs in Canada there will always be debate about whether we should be encouraging more or less immigration to this country. How many immigrants should we admit every year and in what program categories? What is the right balance?

Earlier this month, the Globe and Mail reported that the Minister of Immigration, the Honourable John McCallum, visited China with plans to open new visa application offices in various Chinese cities to attract more immigration. Minister McCallum later travelled to Manila in mid-August and said that he planned to “substantially” increase immigration levels, including reducing barriers for foreign workers to come and stay in Canada, citing Canada’s aging population and looming labour shortages in certain industries. With record immigration levels already planned for 2016, you might ask yourself whether Canada really needs more foreign workers. Whether you agree or not, the Minister of Immigration plans to make it easier for foreign workers to come to Canada.

A foreign worker wanting to work in Canada must generally apply for a work permit before they arrive in the country. In many cases, a work permit will not be issued unless the foreign worker can show they already have an employer in Canada and that the employer has obtained a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA”). A positive LMIA is a decision from the Canadian government to approve the hiring of foreign workers because it will not negatively impact the Canadian labour market. To obtain a positive LMIA, an employer must successfully show that they made genuine recruitment efforts to hire Canadians for the job but that no suitably qualified Canadians applied for the vacant position. For reference, there were 95,086 foreign workers admitted to Canada in 2014 under this program.

Over the last five years, it has become increasingly difficult to successfully obtain positive LMIAs. For example, what was previously an inexpensive application for employers now costs a non-refundable processing fee of $1,000 per foreign worker, regardless of whether the application is successful. New rules were implemented requiring many employers to show they have a “transition plan” in place to ensure they do not become repeat customers of the LMIA program. Furthermore, there are a set of rules governing where the employer must advertise and what information their advertising must contain in order to show that they have made genuine recruitment efforts to find Canadians. These rules are strictly applied and ensure that employers post, at a minimum, details of their company and their vacant job position, including the vacant job title and duties, whether the job is permanent or seasonal, and the skills, education and experience requirements for the job. Even minor deviations from this formula could result in a refusal of the LMIA application.

While LMIAs have become increasingly more difficulty to obtain over the years, it has also assumed an increased significance in the immigration field. The LMIA program is currently playing a very significant role in how Canada chooses to admit permanent residents. Under Canada’s Express Entry system to select permanent resident candidates, a worker whose employer has obtained an LMIA to hire them is all but guaranteed an invitation to apply for permanent residence because they are awarded points for having one. This is to be contrasted with other immigration programs for workers that do not have LMIAs and even international students who receive virtually no benefits towards obtaining permanent residence despite their suitability and experience of having lived, studied and worked in Canada.

All of these changes have led LMIA applications to become desirable but costly for employers who are reluctant to spend hard earned dollars on an uncertain process. The Minister of Immigration has acknowledged the challenges that Canadian employers face when hiring foreign workers, and says that in the last five years the Canadian government has adopted an extreme approach with the LMIA program where now few foreign workers are being allowed in.

So does Canada need more foreign workers? Our Minister of Immigration certainly seems to agree that we do. Perhaps we are asking the wrong question, however. Rather than thinking about foreign workers in terms of the number of people we allow in Canada every year, we should be encouraging discussion about what can be done to improve the current LMIA system to ensure that it achieves its original mandate of addressing acute labour shortages while protecting the integrity of the Canadian labour market. This should include a focus on reducing barriers for Canadian employers experiencing real labour shortages so that they can obtain LMIAs in a timely, predictable and efficient manner, and reducing the current importance of LMIAs as a fast-track method to obtain Canadian permanent residence.

Victor Ing is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada, and provides a full range of immigration services.

To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Victor Ing or call him at 1-604-689-5444.

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