Refining the H-1B visa holder work permit program

  • October 31, 2023

The Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association, in a letter to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, outlines ways to improve the new H-1B visa holder work permit program.

The H-1B visa holder work permit program was put in place to keep highly skilled workers in North America. It allowed holders of H-1B visas currently living in the United States to apply for an open work permit of up to three years in Canada and bring with them qualifying family members. It was limited to 10,000 applications, a cap it reached in one day, raising access issues that are likely to aggravate the backlog due to a high number of unviable applications, says the CBA Section.

Among its recommendations it suggests sharing eligibility criteria and clear filing instructions before opening the program and offering technical briefing to legal professionals to help them better assist applicants. As well, it should be made clear which portal to use and not go live on a weekend as it did in the summer of 2023, which limited access to counsel for applicants.

This program should also have a representative version of the e-filing portal to give access to lawyers representing applicants to file on their behalf.

Significant technological glitches in the portal were reported by applicants and the CBA Section recommends proper use acceptance testing before the next program is launched. “The CBA Section reiterates its offer to beta test IRCC portals on a volunteer basis,” the letter reads.

The application process also made it three times as long to add family members compared to filing as a single individual. “This prejudiced families over individual applicants, which raises further fairness concerns and could result in a systemic barrier for women trying to access the program,” the CBA Section says. It would be better if IRCC had measures in place to help H-1B work permit applicants to include their spouse and dependent children in their application.

And finally, noting that often H-1B visa holder applicants use IRCC’s work permit program as an insurance policy against layoff from the US-based job and never end up relocating to Canada, the CBA Section recommends tracking the number of H-1B visa holder work permit applicants who arrive in Canada to determine whether the goal of attracting specialized talent is achieved.