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Immigration, Processing Times, Work Permits

Is centralizing Temporary Foreign Worker Units a good thing for businesses?

Last week, Citizenship and Immigration Canada made another announcement as it continues to reorganize its operations. Its latest announcement (which can be found here: OB 433 – June 13, 2012) will now result in the centralization of what are known as Temporary Foreign Worker Units in Toronto and Montreal. What this means is that Temporary Foreign Worker Units currently open in Vancouver (which serviced B.C.), Calgary (which serviced Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta), and Moncton (which serviced Atlantic Canada) will be closed as of July 1, 2012. As of June 15, 2012, businesses in Ontario, the Western Provinces and the Territories will have to send any new applications into Toronto. Businesses in Quebec and Atlantic Canada will send their new applications in to Montreal.

Temporary Foreign Worker Units are units that Citizenship and Immigration Canada has set-up to assist businesses. Businesses can file applications with these units to ask for opinions as to whether the individual they want to bring into Canada for work is exempt from a work permit or labour market opinion. In order to make application, the individual who the business wants to bring to Canada must come from a visa-exempt country. (In other words, the individual will not need a visa to visit Canada.)

Generally, in order to work in Canada, a foreign national needs a work permit (a document issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada allowing them to work in Canada). In many cases, foreign nationals working in Canada also need their Canadian employers to obtain Labour Market Opinions (a document issued by Service Canada indicating that there are no adverse labour market consequences to hiring a non-Canadian/permanent resident).

Because of the dozens of exemptions that are contained in immigration law from work permits and labour market opinions, these units can be particularly helpful. While most individuals who are eligible for these opinions can apply for work permits directly at a  port of entry (i.e. an airport, seaport or land border) without an opinion, having an opinion in hand can give these individuals peace of mind that when they enter Canada that their entry will likely be approved.

One of the biggest complaints about these units is the amount of time it takes them to provide an opinion. While these units typically are able to provide answers in a few weeks, because the individuals who are served by these units can apply directly when entering Canada, the speed these units can process applications is important.

Another complaint, which is also of concern to me, is the ability to these units to understand the local situation. Back in April, I wrote this article questioning whether the move to more centralized processing could negatively affect businesses in various Canadian regions: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/westview/immigration-whammy-is-not-the-first-147282895.html. Will Toronto and Montreal based officers really be able to fully understand business requests from other provinces? For the most part, I think the answer will be “yes”. However, there will certainly be times when the lack of local knowledge will cause difficulties.

In cases where local knowledge is an issue, it will still be better to make applications at ports of entry. If the speed of approval becomes an issue, this move will only result in more work being put on front line Canada Border Services Agency officers as employers by-pass the Temporary Foreign Worker Units.

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About Reis Pagtakhan

Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration law partner with MLT Aikins LLP. His extensive experience includes assisting businesses obtain temporary entry to Canada and permanent residency for their executives, employees and contractors from all over the world. Reis has lectured on and written papers on immigration law for the Law Society of Manitoba, the Manitoba Bar Association, the Human Resources Management Association of Manitoba, the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association, and the Community Legal Education Association of Manitoba. He has presented position papers before the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Immigration Department officials and Manitoba Labour and Immigration. He has written articles on immigration for the CBC, the Winnipeg Free Press, trade, industry and ethnic publications.

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