Canada Eyes Expanding Fast-Track Work Visa Beyond Startups

  • Startups lobbied for visa, may now apply to bigger firms too
  • Bains says lack of women in executive roles is discrimination

Vehicles make their way through the Canadian border crossing in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, on Jan. 23, 2016.

Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg

The Canadian government may widen a proposed two-week visa approval time for certain high-skilled foreign workers to apply to all companies instead of just the tech startups who lobbied for the policy.

The government wants to keep the new fast-track process as open to different companies and job types as possible, and is leaning toward imposing a minimum wage requirement to limit the number of possible applicants, said Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains, who is working on the file along with the department responsible for immigration.

Bains said he hopes to have the changes ready to announce in the federal budget, which is usually delivered before the fiscal year-end on March 31. Companies will still have to apply initially to the government for the right to have their hires evaluated by the fast-track program, he said.

The government unveiled the plan in November after lobbying from Canada’s growing tech startup community, which said its growth was being constrained by its inability to bring in key executives to fill senior sales, marketing and management positions. Canada’s tech scene has exploded in the past few years and 2016 is set to be the biggest year yet for venture capital funding, with C$2.1 billion ($1.6 billion) already invested by October, according to Pitchbook Data.

Speaking in an interview on Bloomberg TV Canada, Bains said Canadian companies need to improve the representation of women and minorities in positions of power. Corporate Canada has come under fire after representation of women on boards rose only one percentage point to 12 percent in 2016 from a year earlier even after Canadian regulators announced a “comply or explain” rule in October 2014.

Bains said he doesn’t buy the argument that not enough qualified women and people of color are available to fill top corporate jobs.

“The issue of merit is not the problem here, I think it’s a cultural issue. I think there is clear discrimination,” he said.

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