04 Nov (The Vancouver Sun) Canada fast-tracking skilled, foreign workers welcomed by B.C. politicians, business
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OTTAWA — The “critical” problem B.C. companies face in trying to lure skilled foreign workers to sectors like high tech and film may have been resolved with a new federal policy on hiring short-term overseas help.
That was the preliminary conclusion Wednesday of B.C. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, industry associations and one immigration policy expert in response to Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s plan to fast-track foreign talent, announced Tuesday as part of his federal economic update.
Bond went so far as to say that the initiative could help convince Lululemon, which recently warned it could move its Vancouver head office overseas if the Temporary Foreign Workers program doesn’t become more flexible, to stay.
“We have worked very closely with Lululemon, we certainly don’t want to lose them, and they have some very legitimate concerns,” she said in an interview.
“I think this is a possible solution for Lululemon, so you can imagine this is an encouraging thing for me as minister.”
Lululemon, which says it employs 1,200 people in its Vancouver headquarters, did not immediately respond to an interview request.
Morneau’s autumn economic update, intended to bolster a sluggish economy, was highlighted by a multibillion-dollar increase in infrastructure funding.
But it also included a “Global Skills Strategy” aimed at helping companies “hire global talent with highly specialized, in-demand skills.”
The plan includes setting what the government acknowledges is an “ambitious” two-week standard to process visas and work permits for “low-risk, high-skill talent” for “high-growth Canadian companies that need to access global talent in order to facilitate and accelerate investments that create jobs and growth.”
As part of the plan, Ottawa will create a “short-duration work permit” that applies to employees in Canada for fewer than 30 days a year, or those here on “brief academic stays.”
Bond said her preliminary reading of the policy is that it could be particularly helpful to companies in the high tech, film and shipbuilding industries that need temporary access to highly skilled and specialized foreign workers.
Robertson, who has warned of a “crisis” for Vancouver’s tech firms, said he hopes the policy helps firms find expertise that’s not available locally.
“I’m hopeful that it’s a breakthrough,” he said.
Private sector groups were also encouraged.
“We are delighted that the federal government has taken action to address the critical shortage of talent we have seen here in Canada’s fastest-growing economy,” said Vancouver Economic Commission CEO Ian McKay.
B.C. Tech Association president Bill Tam said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government appears to “understand the sense of urgency” on the West Coast.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said the policy could become an attractive alternative for companies like Lululemon, by providing the athletic apparel retailer an alternative to the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
But the “devil is in the details” in terms of which companies will actually follow, he said.
Kurland also said it’s a “big deal” for Canada to reduce the processing time to just two weeks.
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