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Executive Summaries Dec 8, 2021

Why CEOs and CFOs of Québec Companies Should Meet More With HR and Mobility

In today’s quest for global talent and resources, Canada is trying to adapt and innovate its immigration system to remain a leader in attracting foreign workers.

Just before the pandemic, a report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and development (OECD) stated that Canada’s economic immigration system is one of the most successful in the world. However, the competition for global talent is fierce and there are several labour gaps that remain unfilled in different industries and sectors of the economy throughout the country, including in Québec. That being said, one interesting feature of the modern Québec immigration system is its demonstration that well-informed and agile organizations can play not only an active but a crucial role in selecting immigrants. The problem is that most organizations may not realize just how crucial their role actually is.

The Crucial Role of Businesses in Immigration to Québec and Canada

CEOs and CFOs can’t ignore the impact of immigration policy or policy changes on their operations and financial results. Looking at our neighbour to the south, we can see how aware and active US companies and organizations are in shaping immigration, thereby illustrating the importance of mastering the system. The 10K statements filed by giants such as Microsoft highlight the risks associated with immigration policy, which are clearly identified and divulged: «Our business depends on our ability to attract and retain talented employees. (…) We are also limited in our ability to recruit internationally by restrictive domestic immigration laws. Changes to the US immigration policies that restrain the flow of technical and professional talent may inhibit our ability to adequately staff our research and development efforts (…)». (United States Securities and Exchange Commission). We are also witnessing influencial organizations such as The U.S. Chamber of Commerce constantly litigating policies that would narrow the possibility for US employers to hire foreign workers or have a significant impact on the prevailing wages they can earn. The impact on the economy is undisputed. The latest battles on H-1B prevailing wages and the wage-based quota were successful and the three Trump-administration measures which would have had a significant impact on the ability for companies to attract talent under this program were abandoned or invalidated. (Forbes)

The pandemic underlined another level of risk associated with a global workforce - the very real possibility of travel restrictions. The restrictions that were implemented following the emergence of COVID-19 unexpectedly left many tens of thousands of foreign workers unable to re-enter the United States to pursue their employment with US employers. Travel bans also significantly narrowed the possibility of bringing in additional talent, thereby leaving US employers short of hundreds of thousands of workers. While organizations were innovative in deploying international remote-work solutions, complex work issues such as labour laws, international employer and employee tax exposure, tax payroll withholding obligations, and the management of employee-work locations gave rise to intricate compliance issues.

While Canada’s immigration history is more recent and less impressive in objective numbers, it still plays a crucial role in our economy. Risks associated with immigration policy and policy changes are significant in Québec for most companies facing labour shortages, especially organizations that do not have the knowledge or resources to efficiently navigate our immigration system. According to recent statistics, between now and 2026, Québec will have to fill out close to 1,500,000 jobs while the unemployment rate is close to full employment (Ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale). Where unemployed workers, youth, and other segments of the population will play an important role, it is estimated that approximately 22% of the vacated jobs will be filled by immigrants, both skilled and unskilled (Ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale). This is where organizations must be proactive and find a way to participate in the selection of future immigrants to ensure that their specific employment needs are addressed. Under the current immigration system, Québec organizations can’t passively wait for immigrants to arrive like in the old days. Instead, they must be proactive and develop and deploy competitive immigration strategies. Immigration can no longer be considered a merely tactical HR issue - it must be treated as a strategic issue and an essential function for companies to remain competitive in the global talent market.

The Different Ways to Immigrate to Québec

Immigration in Canada and specifically in Québec has drastically evolved over the last decade. Today, a big share of permanent immigrants is selected within the pool of foreign workers already present in the country under temporary work permits. Just before the pandemic, in 2019, Canada issued approximately 470,000 temporary work permits, a big jump from the340,000 and 390,000 permits issued in 2017 and 2018 respectively (Stastic Canada). For most work permits, the employer must be involved and support the work permit application. A large share of work permits will also be issued for one specific role within one specific employer. These work permits are not interchangeable unless new work permit applications are presented and approved. This means that employers who are not proactively involved at the early stage of work permit applications are less likely to benefit from the arrival of immigrants, not only temporarily but on a permanent basis also.

If we look closer at the Québec system, based on a long-existing agreement with the federal government, the province is selecting its own permanent immigrants. The current selection system process relies on the same fundamentals: it favors foreign workers who are already present and working in the province. Basically, leaving aside investors, entrepreneurs, and self-employed workers who only represent a minimal share of permanent immigrants, the economic immigration category is mainly comprised of skilled workers admitted under the Québec Experience Class or the Skilled Workers Class. As described summarily below, both systems accord strategic importance to physical presence and work experience in Québec.

Briefly, the main selection criteria of the Québec Experience Class is that candidates be currently present in the province under a valid work permit and have accumulated at least two years of experience locally in occupations ranked as O, A, or B in the National Occupational Classification. An advanced level of French is also required. Based on these criteria, many technical positions and low skilled jobs are excluded, even though statistics show that by 2028, close to 34% of overall jobs in Québec will still be in such occupations. (Statistic Canada) As this category is open only to work permit holders, agile organizations that supported this process are better positioned to not only initially benefit from the presence of temporary foreign workers, but also to retain them provided retention strategies are also effectively deployed.

The second path available to skilled workers who wish to immigrate to Québec is through the Skilled Worker Class. Applications must be made through the Arrima platform, which is basically a declaration-of-interest system in which candidates submit their candidacy and await an invitation to submit their application for permanent residency. While the criteria to qualify are defined and include age, education, languages, work experience, and qualifications, among others things, the criteria to be invited is more unforeseen and may vary at each selection. Up to now there have been 4 selection rounds, and for each round additional criteria are applied such as working in specific occupations, working outside the Montreal metropolitan area, and being the beneficiary of a guaranteed permanent job offer. (Immigration, Francisation et Intégration Québec) We note that despite government promises to include NOC C occupations, none of the selection exercises opened the door to foreign workers in these occupations. This could change, however, given recent announcements. Such a change is welcome and necessary if such workers are excluded from the Québec Experience Class stream. What is also important to note is that, once again, the involvement of employers plays a critical role in the invitation process. All selected candidates were the beneficiaries of guaranteed permanent job offers. The employer must file an application to have such an offer recognized, thus increasing the chances of foreign workers employed at its workplace to be selected.

We can certainly see a trend where organizations supporting their foreign workers in the permanent application process will be more competitive in attracting and retaining talent. Foreign workers seek employers that are willing to provide them with appropriate assistance so that they can either qualify or be invited on a priority basis.  This involvement and support are clearly becoming a meaningful factor for foreign workers who seek job opportunities. Not only do employers have a say on who is initially able to enter the country under temporary work permits, but also on who will be able to stay as permanent resident thereafter.

In this context, where the applicable law gives a lot of power to employers, it is more crucial than ever that organizations excel at developing and deploying efficient immigration strategies. Influential Québec organizations such as Le Conseil du patronat du Québec (the Employer’s Council) et lAlliance des Manufacturiers Exportateurs (The Alliance of Export Manufacturers) are increasing their efforts to represent the interests of their members in advance of the provincial government adopting various policy changes. The important role that Québec employers can play is undisputed. It is incumbent on Québec companies to proactively evolve from viewing immigration as a merely tactical issue to using it strategically to grow their business. They must also develop expertise at analyzing and managing risks associated with a global workforce.

Québec employers have it within their power to be active actors in building the workforce of the future. The question is: are they aware of the power they have or do they have the knowledge of the rules and the institutional adeptness to fully benefit from that power? For CEOs and CFOs, it is certainly time to sit down with HR and Mobility specialists and reinvent the way they conceive of immigration.

To plan your international recruitment strategies or for any questions regarding business immigration and the global mobility of your employees, contact our business immigration team.

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