Delays in getting skilled workers into the country are hurting Canadian businesses, says a think tank specializing in labour mobility, urging Ottawa to hire more staff and invest in better tech to process immigration applications.
“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) should resume normal staffing levels, as we understand that there was a substantial number of employees who were unable to work during the summer of 2020,” recommends the Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC).
In its latest report, ‘The Impact of Processing Delays of Work Permits and Immigration Visas on Canadian Employers’, the organization claims the IRCC’s processing and review teams should be expanded to meet Canadian economic demands and a growing backlog in applications.
“While it appears the government is making efforts to tackle processing times for initial applications, this has not been uniform throughout the system,” the report states.
“Applications filed in late October/early November 2020 have been processed, while applications filed before that time have yet to be processed. It is unclear why earlier applications remain backlogged.”
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CERC is calling for greater transparency and the creation of a Trusted Employer Program to ensure employers receive efficient processing that meets the needs of Canadian businesses. The organization has already been in discussions with Ottawa about the creation of such a program for years.
Many Canadian employers are prepared to pay a premium to get faster access to skilled immigrant workers because the processing time for temporary foreign workers is currently about four months, states the CERC.
“When asked if they would be willing to pay an additional fee for expedited processing of applications, ranging between 10 and 25 per cent above current processing fees … to cover additional governments costs … 89 per cent of respondents answered favourably,” reports the CERC.
In addition to hiring more staff, Ottawa should also take steps to improve the technology used to track and provide up-to-the-minute information about the status of the applications for immigration, the organization states.
“In 83 per cent of organizations, cancelled or delayed projects are the most common consequence of the delays,” notes the report. “Unless addressed, increasing processing times are likely to have a negative impact on our business operations within the next year.”
The companies and organizations who are members of CERC and who participated in its survey for this report come predominately from five sectors:
- Manufacturing and Manufactured Products
- Government / Health Care / Education
- Natural Resources, and;
- Construction / Engineering Services.
Forty-four per cent of them reported using economic immigration programs to fill jobs. Half of these employers recruited more than 30 temporary foreign workers every year.
In its report, CERC also calls on Ottawa to waive the need for immigrants to provide biometrics in countries where visa application centres have been closed. The federal government has already taken steps in that direction.
On Sept. 22, the Canadian government announced permanent residence applicants who previously provided biometrics within the last 10 years would not need to do so again because of the closure of VACs due to the Covid-19 global pandemic.
“There is uncertainty as to when the full complement of biometric collection services in Canada and overseas will reopen and operate at full capacity,” the IRCC announced in a statement.
“In the meantime, there is a growing inventory of applications for permanent residence that cannot be finalized because applicants are unable to fulfill the biometrics requirement.”
The move to waive biometrics for permanent residence applicants follows a move by the government in June to waive the need to submit biometrics for some – but not all – temporary foreign workers.
That exemption applied to occupations in the following fields:
- Agricultural and agri-food;
- Healthcare, and;
- Truck drivers.
The latest recommendation from CERC is that Ottawa waive biometrics for all countries where VACs are closed, or alternatively just collect biometrics at the port of entry.
Despite its call for faster processing times, the think-tank is also warning Ottawa to avoid cutting corners when it comes to public safety during the pandemic.
“We would encourage the government to use the scientific tools available to monitor the spread of Covid-19 with travel and expand programs such as the Alberta testing pilot and use fast-result type Covid-testing kits to ensure travellers are screened properly upon arrival,” states the organization.
“Having more concrete quarantine exemption criteria (including testing criteria pre- and post-arrival) could also help reduce the possibility of individuals who meet requirements for a quarantine exemption from inadvertently spreading Covid-19 in Canada.”