Top 10 Issues with Canada’s H1B Holder Work Permit Application Process – How IRCC could have done better to attract 10,000 skilled workers in the USA


While Canada’s Immigration Minister Sean Fraser created much fanfare with the June 27, 2023 announcement that Canada was aiming to  target 10,000 H1B visa holders in the United States (“USA”), the rollout of this program left much to be desired by those qualified to make their applications. The program offered qualified H1B visa holder a three-year open (any employer and location in Canada) work permit in Canada. The objective was to attract key tech and highly skilled talent temporarily residing in the USA to Canada by offering them the opportunity to experience Canada as an alternate employment location in North America. The long-term strategy being that these H1B visa holders would be propelled to apply for Permanent Residence status in Canada, thereby boosting the intake of highly skilled new immigrants. However, despite the program’s intent, CILA has serious concerns about how the program was rolled out to the public.

First and foremost, the absence of an application guide and advanced communication about the program requirements left applicants and their counsel perplexed, raising doubts about the program’s credibility in attracting high-caliber candidates. Moreover, the access point to the specific application portal was obscurely hidden within the IRCC website, and there was no technical support or resources available when the program opened on a Sunday—leaving applicants without any form of client service.

CILA members have outlined the top 10 deficiencies with the H1B visa program, urging IRCC to consider stakeholders’ experiences and concerns should they decide to reopen it for more applications. The implementation of the H1B visa program bore semblance to the poorly launched TR to PR pathway program in 2021, if not worse. Here’s a breakdown of the key issues:

  1. Lack of instructions before the filing day: IRCC failed to release instructions in advance, depriving applicants of the opportunity to prepare adequately. With a rush to submit applications, many are likely to be incomplete or ineligible. Once again this was an outright denial of Access to Justice that left many excellent candidates without sufficient and meaningful assistance or guidance.  Ensuring people have a legitimate opportunity to prepare is crucial.
  2. Unclear timing and access to the portal: The absence of a specific portal and launch time caused confusion and uncertainty among applicants.
  3. Portal access opened before instructions were released: Many applicants submitted their applications without clear instructions or guidance, potentially leading to deficiencies.
  4. Inconsistent document checklist: The discrepancy between the website landing page and the document checklist regarding proof of residence caused unnecessary concern and likely led to multiple IRCC Webform updates.
  5. Portal glitches: Major coding glitches hindered applicants from advancing in the Activities section, leading to incomplete submissions or abandoned applications. This wasn’t an isolated event, but a glitch that affected all applicants.
  6. Cap reached quickly: With prior knowledge and a functional portal, the cap might have been reached within hours.
  7. Portal opened on a Sunday: Choosing a holy day for many world religions was extremely disrespectful to that cohort of applicants, and it was also a day where any external help or support would be limited.
  8. Unclear instructions for dependents: The process for including dependents within the application was unclear and challenging.
  9. Bias towards individual applicants: Fear of the cap being reached led many candidates to file individually, disadvantaging families over individual applicants. The best H1B candidates are those with years of work experience. Often, they have families at this time. IRCC effectively alienated a majority of their best candidates.
  10. Not having an application submission tracker may have led many people to start applications and spend hours completing them only to find out they were unable to submit them (if that is what happened). If any application initiated was allowed to be submitted, it is likely the department would have received 15,000 to 20,000 applications versus the desired 10,000. Including some form of tracker and post on the landing page or connected to the IRCC Portal in some way could have helped manage the number of applications received.

This unimpressive experience raises concerns about Canada’s approach to attracting tech talent and makes for a terrible first impression of Canada to those who applied or attempted to apply. It indicates that the program might not have attracted the intended candidates and raises questions about access to counsel. If IRCC continues offering ad hoc programs, they must consider these 10 points for future offerings.

In conclusion, Canada’s H1B visa program, although well-intentioned, requires significant refinement to foster an efficient and positive experience for skilled immigrants seeking to contribute to Canada’s thriving economy and tech landscape.

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