Bewildered by the complexities of immigration processes for hiring foreign workers in the age of COVID-19? Destination BC, the Vancouver, Coast & Mountains region and go2HR recently offered a webinar to help employers navigate some of the challenges of recruiting and hiring international workers.
The session included presentations, and a panel discussion with representatives from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the BC Provincial Nominee Program (BC PNP), and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Melody McLorie, Certified Immigration Consultant and Human Resources Manager Wickaninnish Inn and Katie Von Nostrand, Partner in the Vancouver office of Mathews Dinsdale & Clark LLP who runs the firm’s Business Immigration group also shared their valuable insights and experiences of navigating the changes over the past year.
In case you missed it, below is a summary of a few key takeaways from the session.
- Get educated: Before you begin the process of hiring international workers, ensure that you understand all of the federal and provincial international immigration programs available for hiring foreign workers. Also, be sure to take note of any COVID-19 related government program or policy changes and check the information often. Pubic polies are changing frequently in the
- Read the fine print: Make sure to understand your obligations and responsibilities to the foreign workers under the immigration programs you choose, and as well as how you should be supporting them once they arrive, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. mandatory quarantine).
- Timing is crucial: Because of COVID-19, leaving lots of time for the application and approval processes is very important, as access to some programs may be limited and approval timing may take longer than usual. Some programs are unable to provide specific timelines, as conditions are so often changing, so ensuring you remain current on the most recent information and leave ample time for the application period are essential.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how can employers better support international workers after they arrive in Canada?
The speakers had a number of recommendations, but ultimately, they suggested that employers put additional effort into company orientation and onboarding of new employees, with an emphasis on making sure that workers understand all of the health and safety protocols in the company and their new community. Additionally, panelists shared that spending some time on video calls getting to know the worker and their family a bit could help make workers feel more comfortable about joining your organization and working in Canada.
A significant first step in the process is to understand the various immigration program options and their requirements when hiring international workers. A few programs are discussed below.
Two programs run by the IRCC are the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA)-exempt International Mobility Program (e.g. International Experience Canada (IEC) – Working Holiday, Young Professionals, Int’s Co-op and Mobilité Francophone). These programs require a work permit that either the employee or employer must submit online, while also meeting a variety of other eligibility criteria. COVID-19 has instigated a number of changes, such as travel restrictions, slower application processing speeds, and additional employer responsibilities. For some programs, employers will need to pay wages during worker’s 14-day quarantine period. You can learn more about these programs here.
The BC Provincial Nominee Program (BC PNP) provides a pathway to permanent residence through the BC PNP Skills Immigration and entrepreneur immigration streams. The BCPNP Skills Immigration stream is open to a range of skill levels and specialized talent, tourism and hospitality employers may be able to access entry-level and semi-skilled workers as well as International post-graduates through this stream. Individuals and employers must meet the eligibility requirements and the application process has five steps: job offer, employee registration, employee invitation, employee application, employee nomination, with additional steps to apply for a Permanent Residency in Canada after. You can learn more about the BC PNP here.
Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) – Service Canada sets out the policy for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) as well as receives and reviews Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) and administers a compliance program to help maintain the integrity of the program and protect foreign workers. Temporary Foreign Workers Program is intended to provide employers with access to foreign workers on a temporary basis, when Canadian or Permanent residents are not available. The TFWP streams include High and Low Wage streams as well as a number of specialized applications. The High and Low Wage Stream is most often used for hospitality jobs. The High Wage Stream is for jobs that pay above the provincial/territorial median hourly wage while the Low Wage Stream is for jobs below provincial/territorial median hourly wage. The BC median hourly wage is $25.00 (as of May 5, 2021, subject to change).
As with the previously mentioned immigration programs, there have been a number of (ongoing) changes within the TFWP due to COVID-19, most notable:
- Prior to the pandemic, LMIA applications for positions in economic regions where the annual unemployment rate is 6% or higher in the Accommodation & Food Services and Retail Trade Sectors at the NOC D level will not be processed. Now, due to the serious economic impacts resulting from COVID-19, all economic regions in Canada are now considered to have unemployment rate of at least 6% or above.
- LMIAs for occupations considered essential during the COVID-19 pandemic are prioritized for processing
- Maximum duration of employment under LMIAs is increased to 2 years for workers in the low-wage stream as part of a three-year pilot
- Approved LMIAs are valid up to a maximum of nine months
You can learn more about this program here.
If you are considering hiring international workers, there are many different ways for employers to find potential global talent. From inside Canada, people who may be interested in working in the tourism and hospitality industries could be International students studying at Canadian universities, people with open work permits, and newcomers to our country. Outside Canada, there is a Destination Canada Mobility Forum and a range of international employment service providers (e.g. SWAP, Culinary Recruitment International) who can help connect you with potential workers. Local immigration settlement service providers can all assist with settlement support for your new workers when they arrive.
- Are employers required to pay wages during the 14-day quarantine period?
- IRCC – Yes, in most instances’ employers are required to provide wages that are substantially the same as the wages in employment during the quarantine period. The exception to this rule is workers who are employed under the Working Holiday Program (IEC program), which is an open work program so wages are not required, but the employer must allow for the quarantine period to be completed.
- ESDC – Yes, employers are expected to pay wages for temporary foreign workers’ quarantine period. Employers also cannot ask the worker to work, even if the job is something they can do remotely.
- Can employers adjust start dates for positions if the international worker is not able to arrive in Canada due to Covid-19?
- IRCC – Yes, there is some flexibility as they understand that workers may not be able to arrive when anticipated for a variety of reasons.
- BC PNP – Ideally the date that is submitted in application will be the date that the worker begins work, but there are advisors that can connect with employers so that changes like these can be discussed.
- ESDC – The employer would put an expected start date, but it is understood that there is a large possibility that this date is not the actual start date. LIMA has extended their program so that employers and employees now have 9 months, instead of 6 months, for the worker to arrive in Canada and begin their position.
- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how can employers better support international workers after they arrive in Canada?
- The speakers had a number of recommendations, but ultimately, they suggested that employers put additional effort into company orientation and onboarding of new employees, with an emphasis on making sure that workers understand all of the safety protocols in the company and new city. Additionally, panelists shared that spending time with the worker to get to know them prior to their arrival (e.g. video calls) can help make the worker and their family feel more comfortable about their new employer, community and working in Canada.