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Focus: Changes increase opportunities for business immigrants

|Written By Sharon Ho

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has introduced several changes to permanent residency programs in the last six months that have increased the number of opportunities for business immigrants.

The bridging open work permit program has increased opportunities for people to stay in Canada, says Alan Diner.

Bridging open work permit program

Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced this program last December. It allows applicants under the federal-skilled worker program, the Canadian experience class, the provincial nominee program, and the federal skilled trades program to maintain their status and continue to work in Canada until their permanent residency application is resolved.

“It’s a big opportunity because in the past there were a lot of people whose status ended,” says Alan Diner, a partner with Baker & McKenzie LLP.

“Either their job ended or their ability to get a labour-market opinion ended.”

Diner believes the program is a positive change because it creates opportunities for people to stay in Canada. But he also thinks the open work program can be at odds with a company’s goal of retaining employees when they can go anywhere to work after getting the permit.

Federal skilled trades program

This new program started accepting applications in January. Citizenship and Immigration Canada says it will accept up to 3,000 applications in the first year. Forty-three trades occupations are eligible under this program with the government aiming to process applications within 12 months.

Applicants must meet the following criteria:

•    Proficiency in either English or French.

•    Offer of employment in Canada or certificate of qualification from a province or territory in one of the qualifying trades.

•    At least two years of work experience in this trade in the last five years.

Immigration lawyer Robin Seligman has been pushing for such a program for 25 years. She believes the program is a positive one because it will separate blue-collar workers from professional ones. But Seligman thinks it will be difficult for workers abroad to get a certificate of qualification because they have to physically be here to qualify.

“It’s a great first step, but in terms of it working I’m not sure because people have to be here to get a certificate of qualification or be already working here,” says Seligman.

Lloyd Ament, an immigration lawyer with Basman Smith LLP, has heard from some employers that the language requirements are too high. “My employers are telling me they’re doing a great job for us,” he says.

“They don’t need to be that fluent in English to do what they’re doing.”

Startup visa program

In January, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced this program with the goal of attracting entrepreneurs who will start their companies in Canada. It will begin accepting applications as of April 1.

Before applying, entrepreneurs will need to have the support of a Canadian angel investor group or a venture capital fund. The program will also connect entrepreneurs with organizations experienced in working with startup companies.

But Ament has concerns about how successful this program will be if entrepreneurs first need the backing of an angel investor or a venture capitalist.

“I asked some of my clients overseas and some of them are concerned what constraints and limits will be put on their ability to be entrepreneurs by the venture capitalists,” says Ament.

“They [the venture capitalists] are looking to make a big buck or get their money out. From what we read, most venture capital-backed startups fail.”

Expression of interest

Last fall, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced the creation of a permanent residency application model, called expressions of interest, for skilled workers. Based on similar models in Australia and New Zealand, people interested in coming to Canada will first submit an online form with information on language proficiency, work experience, and assessed education credentials. The person then gets a point score and a ranking and enters a pool of potential candidates. People who best meet Canada’s skill needs will then receive an invitation to submit an immigration application under a priority processing system. The government has yet to announce a start date for the expression of interest model, wrote departmental spokesman Philippe Couvrette in an e-mail.

Manjit Singh, an immigration lawyer with Cambridge LLP in Toronto, is excited about the expression of interest model because it will help reduce the backlog and processing times for visas.

“Right now, all applicants are equal in terms of how much time the immigration services have to spend on their application because each application is an application whether they are going to succeed or not,” says Singh.

“The expression of interest is a preliminary step that decreases the processing time for potential applicants most likely to be successful in their application.”

Overall, it’s difficult to know how well any of the above programs will work because they’re so new, according to Ament.

“It’s a funny time we’re in because we have ideas, proposals, concepts but nothing concrete with any one of these new programs we’re talking about,” says Ament.

“We’ll have to wait and see and then we’ll have to stickhandle around these rules and work with them to see what it means.”

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