Canada has recently announced changes to the immigration system to enhance our ability to attract, for the shorter term, and retain, for the longer term, people whose skills are a fit with the needs of Canadian employers.

In December 2008, Canada announced that professionals seeking to work temporarily in Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) can now receive work permits for up to three years. Previously, NAFTA workers were required to renew their work permit every twelve months. The change matches the United States’ new rules on issuance of Trade NAFTA (TN) work visas to Canadian and Mexican professionals under NAFTA.

NAFTA work permits are an excellent option for North American professionals seeking to work in Canada – including accountants, engineers, actuaries, scientists, management consultants and many health care professionals, to name a few. The Minister of Immigration has stated that this change will help Canadian employers remain competitive by ensuring they have access to necessary skilled labour. “This extension, along with our Action Plan for Faster Immigration, will greatly benefit the Canadian economy by helping ensure greater continuity and stability for both employers and workers,” Minister Kenney stated in the Press Release. “In a time of economic uncertainty, highly skilled migrants encourage innovation and economic growth, making us more competitive economically.”

By allowing workers to obtain threeyear permits up front, employers may lure to Canada workers who felt that a one year permit left their future too uncertain. These workers can also now normally apply for and obtain permanent resident status during the 3 year work permit stay, which also allows employers and employees to plan for the future; this is part of the Action Plan for Faster Immigration.

Canada’s Action Plan has meant rolling out two changes to the permanent residence system that will allow people working in Canada on work permits to obtain permanent residency quickly and with as few hassles as possible. For those who have worked in Canada on a work permit for at least two years, the new Canadian Experience Class promises completion within about 6 months, and with only two real criteria (beyond good health and no criminal record). The candidates must have very good/excellent english skills and two years of skilled work experience under a valid work permit in Canada within the three years preceding the application. Previously, under the points system, some excellent candidates had difficulty immigrating due to their age or the fact that they had not earned a bachelor’s degree. Now, neither of those criteria would be a factor.

The second change to the permanent residence system under the Action Plan is that people working in Canada (who don’t qualify for the CEC because they have not been in Canada long enough) who apply for permanent residence will be given fasttracking and improved service (a decision within 12 months), while those who have never worked in Canada may have their applications turned back. Canada no longer wants to hold on to a “backlog” of cases.

Canada is making changes to its immigration system in order to attract and retain the “best and the brightest”- the human capital that Canadian employers need to stay competitive and be successful in this global economy.