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Is International Recruitment the Answer to Local Labour Shortages?

David M. Brown

Co-Founder + Partner
June 29, 2022

Over the course of the past years, businesses have faced a rollercoaster of news, policy announcements and economic trends. With COVID-19, many industries faced temporary closures. Unemployment soared, and many businesses went under. This was followed by record setting stimulus spending, supply chain disruptions and suppressed consumer demand.  After many workers left the job market or started freelancing, today unemployment is a near record lows, with wages soaring and inflation running hot.

Simply put, in most industries there are not enough workers. Recruitment for all positions is extremely difficult, and often positions go unfilled or underqualified candidates are hired. It’s clear that the domestic labour market is completely depleted of talent to sustain growth.

One option to address this labour shortage is for companies to look internationally. While Canada has many programs for hiring international workers, here are 3 common ones we often use with our employer clients.


A Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) backed work permit

A LMIA is the baseline approach to hiring foreign labour, although there are a number exemptions to this requirement.

To receive a LMIA, an employer will need to demonstrate that it has made serious attempts to hire domestically, and that no Canadian worker or permanent residence is available to do the job. To do so, the employer will need to advertise across a number of mediums for a minimum of 4 weeks, while offering wages above the industry median and working conditions at a level acceptable to the Government of Canada. If the employer is able to demonstrate this, it can then apply to Service Canada for authorization to hire a foreign worker.

Once the LMIA is approved, the employer can then offer it to a foreign worker in support of a work permit. This work permit will allow the worker to work for the employer only, and at the time of writing will be valid for up to 3 years.

LMIAs can be a lot of work, and can take a long time to process. However, they have their benefits. First, Service Canada may issue “unnamed” LMIAs that are valid for up to 18 months. This means that an employer can apply for a number of LMIAs in one application, without having a candidate assigned to them. If the employer is in a growth phase or has high turnover, these unnamed LMIAs can then be offered to qualified foreign workers over the 18 month period, without having to file a new LMIA application. Additionally, because work permits issued further to a LMIA limit the worker to working at the employer’s place of business, it can build in some job stability over the life of the work permit. A worker cannot simply move on to another employer.


International Experience Class (IEC) work permits

These work permits are favourites of ski resorts, hotels and other hospitality-driven industries.

Canada has arranged a number of bi-lateral agreements with international partners to allow young people to travel and work in Canada. Most international partners are in Europe, but also include countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea.

The rules of these programs vary slightly with countries of origin, but they generally allow adults under the age of 35 to work in Canada for up to two years. The application process is simple and does not require a LMIA. They are ideal for filing entry-level jobs, such as those found in retail or tourism.


CUSMA Professional (formerly NAFTA) Work Permit

Like its predecessor, the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement allows for Canadian employers to hire select professionals from Mexico and the USA to enter Canada. For qualifying professions, a CUSMA work permit is comparatively quick, cheap and easy to get, and is exempt from the requirements of a LMIA.

To qualify as a CUSMA Professional the applicant must demonstrate that they have the experience and education to work in an authorized professions (Appendix 2). These professions are generally employed in healthcare (for example nurses, physicians, occupational therapists), science (such geologists, biologists, dairy scientists) or in other professional capacities (like teachers, lawyers, engineers, accountants). Professionals must have an offer of employment in Canada in an occupation that matches their qualifications.

CUSMA work permits are limited to the employer that issued the job offer and have a duration of up to three years. They can also be extended, with no limit on the number of extensions issued. Unlike the LMIA backed work permits, employers do not need to demonstrate that there is a domestic skills shortage before making a job offer under CUSMA.



A lot of companies are hesitant to explore international recruitment. There are valid reasons for this, including time, cost, uncertainty in outcome and fear of the unknown. However, a properly laid out international recruitment strategy can be a significant benefit to addressing local labour needs and managing growth. Our clients have shared many positive stories of using foreign workers.

If your business is facing recruitment and retention challenges, contact our office for a consultation and explore these options.