Deal to smooth firms’ access to overseas workers

Posted by admin on Feb 2nd, 2011

By DAVID JACKSON and EVA HOARE, Chronicle Herald, Feb. 2 2011

Companies that may need overseas workers for big projects will have an easier time bringing them in under an agreement the province will sign with Ottawa.

Employers wanting to bring in temporary foreign workers now need a federal labour market opinion from Service Canada that says they’ve exhausted efforts to hire qualified Canadians or permanent residents and must look elsewhere.

Elizabeth Mills, executive director of the province’s Office of Immigration, said the new agreement will allow the province to write to Citizenship and Immigration Canada in support of the employer, allowing the employer to skip the step of the labour market opinion.

“In certain circumstances where the province . . . sees that an employer needs workers in a particular big project or economic development initiative, then we will write a letter of support requesting a temporary work permit be issued for a worker or workers in that area,” Mills said Tuesday.

“We may also support a group of foreign nationals in a specific occupation. So, for example, if there’s a big project going on, the company is unable to hire people locally, and they need a group of workers to come over with specialized skills, then we can write a letter of support for that.”

Another aspect of the agreement will grant a work permit to the spouse and working-age children of the foreign worker.

A third new measure deals with Canadians or permanent residents who marry foreign nationals. Mills said the foreign nationals will be able to get a work permit while temporary residents and waiting for their applications for permanent residence is being processed.

She said about 2,500 foreign workers come to the province annually.

Mills said the changes on temporary foreign workers come out of a 2007 agreement on immigration that the province signed with Ottawa. An annex to that agreement was to cover that group.

She said most other provinces have, or are working on, similar agreements with Ottawa.

Mills said she isn’t sure when the agreement will be signed, but hopes that will happen before the next federal election.

Well-known Nova Scotia immigration lawyer Lee Cohen lauded the move as a good step toward strengthening the economy because there are shortages of various levels of skilled workers.

“What was happening was Nova Scotia was bringing into the province more and more highly skilled people while positions for lesser skilled people were not being filled,” Cohen said in an interview Tuesday.

“So instead of only seeking higher skilled workers, they wanted to seek workers in demand,” he said. “It’s a fantastic thing. It’s a great step in the right direction.”

Cohen said Nova Scotia has too many people who are highly educated but are being told they’re overqualified for positions, and conversely, not enough people to fill other openings, such as those found in the hospitality industry. “Hotels are finding it impossible to get room attendants.”

The Halifax lawyer said he’d been told a few months ago that this change was underway, and hopes the next level to be addressed will be that of the entrepreneur.

“What I’ve been waiting for from these guys for such a long time is some kind of entrepreneurial category.”

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