OTTAWA - The federal government is changing a key immigration rule it says will help Canadian companies more easily find skilled foreign labour.
Ottawa is to announce Monday that such skilled professionals as engineers, accountants or professors from the U.S. or Mexico will be able to get three-year long work permits instead of one-year-long permits.
"We are trying to get all the skilled people we can to Canada quickly," Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in a telephone interview from Vancouver. "The last thing we want is to strangle a Canadian company that's ready to grow because of a shortage of labour."
Canada grants about 5,150 such permits every year. Most, about 5,000, are for Americans coming to work in Canada and the rest are for Mexicans coming to work here.
"I talk to employers all the time who do not get even one job application when they put a help wanted ad in the newspaper," Kenney said. "Even though we are going into a period of economic difficulty, we continue to have a number of skilled labour shortages in certain areas of the economy."
Kenney said granting work permits in three-year increments will help Canadian companies because employers will be able to count on a skilled import to complete a project. The government says this makes Canadian companies more competitive and can help lower costs.
"This is about less paperwork, less red tape and less waiting time," Kenney said.
The Canadian rule change follows a similar one made in October by U.S. authorities that allow Canadian engineers, computer scientists and other professionals to obtain three-year work permits in America. Mexico is considering such a change.
Canada, the U.S. and Mexico agreed on labour mobility standards for 63 different professional occupations when NAFTA was negotiated in 1993, allowing professionals from those occupations to work in another NAFTA country without having to re-qualify under local certification standards. In all cases, a professional must have a firm job offer before going to work in the other country.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said on several occasions that he believes a shortage of skilled labour is the biggest single long-term challenge for Canadian policy-makers. After a survey of its member companies earlier this year, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, a trade organization, also says finding enough skilled labour should be one of Canada's top priorities.
Kenney said the Conservatives' goal is to align immigration policy more closely with labour market shortages.
Government experts and private sector economists say that, between 2011 and 2015, all net labour market growth in Canada is going to come from immigration.