How to Bring Foreign Tech Talent to Canada


A founding partner of Abramovich & Tchern, Ksenia started her legal career at one of Canada’s top immigration firms, where she operated her own immigration law practice, with a focus on corporate and individual immigration applications.
tech talent immigration to canada

Foreign workers will have a critical role to play if Canada’s booming tech sector is to live up to its extraordinary potential.

And Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada is doing its part, providing an impressive slate of programs designed to help companies operating in the digital sphere meet staffing needs that the Canadian labour market can’t fill.

Here is a breakdown of the key options available to employers who want to bring foreign tech talent to Canada.

Addressing Canada’s Tech Talent Gap

There is no question that the Canadian tech industry is booming: experts estimate that the sector is growing at three times the rate of the greater economy, with more than half a million new jobs projected to be created in the coming years.

Toronto and Vancouver in particular have emerged as internationally competitive tech hotbeds, attracting the majority of the $14 billion pumped into Canadian start-ups by venture capitalist firms over the course of 2021. Meanwhile, established international tech giants like Meta, Amazon and Google have boosted their Canadian operations, taking advantage of this country’s strong and stable economy.  

However, Canada’s emergence as a global tech hub has not been all good news, thanks to a skills shortage that has left employers scrambling to fill IT vacancies from the limited pool of local workers with the requisite levels of education and experience. That talent gap will only widen if the industry continues its astonishing rate of growth.

Opportunities for Tech Talent In Canada

Fortunately, IRCC has developed several programs suited to tech companies that are willing to look beyond Canadian borders to meet their IT staffing needs. Uptake on these solutions is not as high as it could be, often because tech entrepreneurs simply do not know that they exist.

Those who are aware may be understandably overwhelmed by the complicated and technical nature of IRCC processes and compliance — I’ve yet to meet a start-up founder who is energized by the government bureaucracy that comes between them and the perfect hire they needed on their team yesterday.

Still, with proper legal advice from a lawyer immersed in Canadian immigration issues, navigating the requirements of these programs is not nearly as difficult as it may look at first glance.

Intra-Company Transfers

The ICT pathway, which operates under IRCC’s International Mobility Program, is a popular route for companies to transfer IT professionals from an established office overseas to their Canadian operations, particularly for those that have only recently opened up shop in this country.

Businesses with a longstanding presence in Canada can also take advantage of the program, which allows employees with at least one year of full-time employment in executive or highly specialized positions to obtain a work permit for up to one year for start-ups and up to three years for established businesses.

IT workers in non-executive positions, such as computer analysts or software engineers, are often admitted under the ICT pathway, particularly at tech companies, where their expertise can be fundamental to the smooth running of the business.

Critically, an ICT work permit can be secured by a Canadian company without the need to obtain a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment — an involved and lengthy process that can also be costly to complete.

Applicants from visa-exempt countries — including European Union members, the U.S., and the U.K. — can present their application upon arrival at a Canadian port of entry. At that time, an Officer from the Canada Border Services Agency will review the application and once satisfied, will issue a work permit on the spot.

The process can take a little longer for those from countries that require a visitor visa — including India and China — as they must file an application via IRCC’s online portal, with processing times varying between eight to 12 weeks, depending on the applicant’s residence.

Once work permits are issued, they may be renewed and extended up to a maximum of seven years for executives and senior managers, with a five-year maximum in place for specialized knowledge workers.

The IRCC’s full guidance on the ICT pathways is available here.

Global Talent Stream Program

The Global Talent Stream program, administered by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), was an instant hit with employers following its introduction as a pilot project in 2017. And with a processing time of just two weeks for companies bringing in highly skilled foreign workers, it’s easy to see why those in the tech sector have been such heavy users of the program.

Now a permanent part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the GTS allows employers that are referred to ESDC by one of its designated referral partners to hire foreign workers with “unique and specialized talent” to help their business grow.

Alternatively, Canadian companies may also hire without a referral, as long as the foreign national is highly skilled in one of the occupations listed by ESDC, which includes computer and software engineers, database analysts and web designers

Rather than participating in the standard LMIA process which consists of a mandatory recruitment phase, employers draw up a Labour Market Benefit Plan, making the case for the lasting positive effect of their hires on the Canadian labour market.

Once in receipt of a positive decision on the GTS LMIA, the foreign worker applies for a work permit either online via the IRCC portal if they are from a non-visa exempt country and also benefit from a quicker processing time as a result of applying for the work permit pursuant to the GTS program. For foreign workers from visa-exempt countries, the work permit application can be presented and adjudicated at a Canadian port of entry.

Relocating Talent To Canada Under International Trade Agreements

Tech companies searching for foreign talent are some of the biggest beneficiaries of Canada’s recent busyness on the international trade front since many of the bilateral agreements signed with this country’s global partners contain provisions allowing for the temporary employment of skilled workers from those countries.

Arguably the most famous is the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement in mid-2020.

Less well known are the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union, the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement, the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement, the Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement, the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement, the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement or the Trans-Pacific Partnership — whose signatories included New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Japan and Vietnam.

However, all of these treaties share similar provisions for the entry of business visitors, professionals, intra-company transferees and investors to work in Canada without the need for a positive LMIA. Applications for work permits under these free trade agreements can often be submitted at a port of entry, such as a land border crossing or airport.

Labour Market Impact Assessment

The primary benefit of the first three immigration pathways outlined above is that it allows employers to skip the requirement for obtaining a positive LMIA before hiring a foreign worker to perform a particular role.

However, depending on the circumstances of your preferred candidates, it may not always be possible to avoid this lengthy and potentially costly process for authorizing the recruitment of a foreign worker. No employer relishes an LMIA application, but tech companies are more averse than most because of the fast-moving nature of their industry.  

The whole point of the LMIA process is to demonstrate that there is a need for a foreign individual to fill a particular vacancy because there are no Canadian citizens or permanent residents available to perform the work.

ESDC will only issue a positive LMIA if it is convinced that the employer has attracted no suitable candidates after searching for Canadian citizen or permanent resident applicants from at least three relevant sources, including a job bank run by the federal government. The 28-day advertising requirement accounts for a good chunk of the extra time associated with an LMIA recruitment. 

However, once the LMIA has been issued, a foreign worker who is qualified for the job can then use it to apply for a work permit — exactly like the process posted in the GTS LMIA.

If you are looking to shore up your workforce through immigration, but aren’t sure where to start, schedule a consultation with me today and we can review all the issues together.

Ksenia Tchern

A founding partner of Abramovich & Tchern, Ksenia started her legal career at one of Canada’s top immigration firms, where she operated her own immigration law practice, with a focus on corporate and individual immigration applications.