Wagner: Work permit change urged for Afghans now needed for Ukrainians to come to Canada

More pressures:

Many thousands are leaving Ukraine with heartbreaking separations from spouses, parents and homes. Meanwhile, in Canada, a single change to work permits can support people in far larger numbers to come here after being forced from their homes. That change is waiving a rule that requires someone to prove they can leave Canada again.

All applicants to temporary visas must demonstrate their ability and willingness to leave Canada by showing they have somewhere else to go, even if they already applied for permanent residence, or intend to.

This is an old rule that predates Canada’s goal of retaining its international workforce, once they arrive, through permanent residence programs. If it’s arcane for others, it’s absurd and prohibitive for those in refugee circumstances.

Among the Afghans who left as the Taliban took power in August were lawyers, cooks, electricians, and software developers — skills needed across Canada — yet so many are in a humanitarian queue instead of here on work permits. The same barrier faces Ukrainians.

In effect, Canada’s largest immigration option is closed as soon as someone needs it most. In 2019, before the pandemic, Canada welcomed over 404,000 people on work permits, many of whom go on to become permanent residents. For comparison, the refugee resettlement target the same year was 46,450.


Only recently has the idea of using skilled immigration as an additional option to refugee resettlement gained traction globally and in Canada. Canada first launched the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot in 2018 as a test to help people in refugee circumstances, who got job offers in Canada, to work through barriers, such as needing a valid passport and police certificates, which are impossible for many in displacement to get.

The test cases were a runaway success. But for all the pilot’s innovation, its main drawback is significant. The flexibility introduced, like accepting expired passports, only applies to permanent residence pathways and not to work permits and the barriers that come with them.

This disadvantages displaced talent for two main reasons: A lack of speed and space. Skilled immigration largely relies on a job offer and most employers can’t hire someone on a permanent residence timeline, which is eight months or longer. And only a portion of skilled immigration space is left open when work permits are off the table.

We analyzed 66 permanent residence pathways and found just 15 are free of a requirement for in-Canada work experience or points systems that reward it. In other words, 77 per cent of these pathways are either inaccessible by or disadvantageous to displaced applicants who can‘t access work permits.

Many people displaced by conflict have in-demand skills and, despite the timeline, incredible Canadian teams are already hiring and relocating them. More companies want to. We need to unlock these opportunities.

Work permits promise speed and scale. By waiving a single requirement and extending the flexibility now in place for displaced applicants under an innovative pilot, Canada can open a major route to safety and opportunity for Ukrainians, Afghans and others before them.

Dana Wagner is co-founder and managing director of TalentLift, a non-profit talent agency.

Source: Work permit change urged for Afghans now needed for Ukrainians to come to Canada

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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