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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Work permit programs for immigrants

By Benjamin A. Kranc
Special to The Sun

For Canadian employers and foreign employees to get maximum benefit from the Canadian immigration system, both sides need to be aware of not only the basic issues in Canadian immigration law, but what "special" programs are available.

From time to time, Canada Immigration launches a pilot project, initiates a new program, or otherwise provides for some alternative to traditional types of applications -- particularly in the area of temporary work permits.

Some programs are short-term and some are permanent (or at least intended to be so). People accessing the Canadian immigration system should stay abreast of developments to know where new opportunities may exist.

Here, we will touch on some examples of programs that are not part of the usual procedure for work permit applications and highlight the possibilities that exist.

Regular methods

Readers should be aware regular methods of applying for the right to work in Canada involve:
  • seeking an exemption from the need for a work permit (e.g. journalists, clergy, etc.);
  • seeking an exemption from the need for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC -- formerly HRDC) confirmation (e.g. intra-company transfers); or
  • applying for a work permit after obtaining HRSDC confirmation.

    However, from time to time, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and/or HRSDC initiate a new program to sidestep, override or otherwise expedite one or more of the processes involved in seeking the right to work in Canada.

    One of the better known CIC initiatives was the "Software Pilot Project." It began as a program to recognize that there was a clear shortage of certain types of software professionals in Canada.

    Whereas HRSDC would otherwise require an employer to establish the need to hire a foreign worker, the pilot program created a "blanket validation" (as it was then called, now called "confirmation"). That is to say, when an applicant met the criteria of one of the software jobs set out as falling under the program, CIC would rely on this blanket validation, and not require any further action from the employer. Note that though the effect may be similar, this did not mean the creation of an HRSDC exempt category, so that the validation/confirmation could be revoked at any time, and software professionals would go back to their regular HRSDC-required application.

    This pilot evolved into a more permanent program, now referred to as the "IT Workers Program," and is still in effect at this time. Certainly, the demand for software workers since the initiation of the program has waned, and its usefulness may have therefore diminished, but at this time, this is still a useful tool for those with the right qualifications.

    More flexible

    Perhaps the important lesson of this initiative is that specific industries could convince HRSDC/CIC of their needs at a given point in time, to make the system more flexible and responsive.

    A lesser-known program, but perhaps one which can be seen as a spin-off of the software initiative discussed above, is CREWS -- The Construction Recruitment External Workers Services Program. This program recognizes a shortage of workers specifically in the construction trades, and specifically in the greater Toronto area.

    Yet again, this program has some specific requirements about who would qualify, but it provides recognition that there is a temporary issue that needs redress now, without a complex and lengthy regulatory process, where the need may be gone by the time the solution is in place.

    Other programs have arisen from time to time, some of which have been federal initiatives and others provincial; for instance, there is an ongoing program for foreign farm workers that brings in people each year for harvests in Canada. This program has been around for some time, and seems to work to the satisfaction of all.

    There have also been provincial programs initiated when specific needs have arisen: nurses in B.C., sewing machine operators in Manitoba, and welders in Ontario. It is important to note from these examples that sometimes the route that an industry can take to resolve its issues is by lobbying a provincial government, which in turn will of course also seek to impact on the federal government.

    CIC and HRSDC, as well as the provinces, have begun to show more flexibility in recognizing the need to act quickly when industry needs demand action.

    Benjamin A. Kranc is principal of the Toronto immigration law firm Kranc & Associates. He is certified as a Specialist in Immigration Law by the Law Society of Upper Canada, and author of Human Resources Guide to Immigration. He can be reached at 416-977-7500 or

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