Wesley Richards stares grimly at the gleaming trucks and trailers lying idle at his transportation company’s yard in Delta, B.C.
“I have been waiting for more than a year…in one case since January 2019, to get my foreign drivers processed at the High Commission in New Delhi,” Richards told New Canadian Media.
“I have 14 applications that have been approved for work permits and 14 drivers have submitted their visa applications…and I can’t get any response about the delays,” said Richards, a B.C.-based trucking company Human Resources manager.
Long processing times affecting business
Richards, whose company has been vetted by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to hire foreign long-haul truck drivers, is not alone.
He is the face of hundreds of employers across the country, waiting for foreign workers whose visa applications are stuck in a growing backlog at Canada’s foreign missions, says a think tank specializing in labour mobility.
“Unless addressed, increasing processing times are likely to have a negative impact on our business operations within the next year,” said the Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC), after surveying a broad cross-section of the industry that relies on access to international skills and talent.
“In 83 per cent of organizations, cancelled or delayed projects are the most common consequence of the delays,” the think tank said in a report entitled ‘The Impact of Processing Delays of Work Permits and Immigration Visas on Canadian Employers.’
Almost two-thirds of the survey participants employed over 2,000 workers and one-third employ over 10,000 workers.
Most expect the delays to result in lost revenues.
“The current processing times are absolutely ridiculous,” read the report, quoting a survey participant.
“The impact is extremely serious, we have gained new contracts during the summer, and we are not able to staff and deliver on some of our commitments, the need in talent is equivalent to before the start of the COVID‐19 pandemic,” said another.
A few CERC recommendations are that Immigration Canada:
- resume normal staffing levels, as there was a substantial number of employees who were unable to work during the summer of 2020;
- provide greater transparency in the triaging of files and criteria used for faster processing to reduce unpredictability in the system and frustration among applicants and employers;
- take steps to waive the biometrics in countries where Visa Application Centres (VACs) are closed, or collect biometrics at the port of entry.
Programming to ensure faster visa processing for employers
CERC is also suggesting the creation of a ‘Trusted Employer Program’ to ensure employers receive efficient processing.
Many Canadian employers are prepared to pay a premium to get faster access to skilled immigrant workers because the processing time for temporary foreign workers is currently about four months, stated CERC.
“When asked if they would be willing to pay an additional fee for expedited processing of applications, ranging between 10 and 25 per cent above current processing fees … to cover additional governments costs … 89 per cent of respondents answered favourably,” reported CERC.
Richards said a ‘Trusted Employer’ program would go a long way to alleviate the critical labour shortage in the trucking industry.
According to research by Trucking HR Canada and the Conference Board of Canada, vacancies in the industry is projected to surpass 25,000 positions within the next three to five years.
“The acute shortage of truck drivers in Canada is felt beyond the trucking industry”, confirmed Kristelle Audet, Principal Economist, The Conference Board of Canada. “Trucking is a lifeline for key industries such as forestry, agriculture, auto manufacturing, construction, as well as wholesale and retail.”
“The driver shortage has directly led to delayed planned expansions by trucking operators, and resulted in lost sales in the truck transportation industry by an estimated 4.7% in 2018, equivalent to roughly $3.1 billion in lost revenues…Without meaningful action, vacancies are expected to soar to 25,000 by 2023, an increase of over 25% from 2019,” said the study.
One key issue faced by trucking companies looking to get foreign workers is caused by visa officers duplicating Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process, said Richards.
A Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) is a document issued by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) that an employer in Canada may need to get before hiring a foreign worker.
A positive LMIA will show that there is a need for a foreign worker to fill the job. It will also show that no Canadian worker or permanent resident is available to do the job.
This foundational document is issued after an exhaustive examination of the employers’ financial records, history in the business, insurance papers, employee records, etc. But visa processing officers, apparently are not satisfied with the work of their colleagues at ESDC and are asking applicants to provide all the same records to them, said Richards.
“They also seem to translate some of the documentation provided in a different way from ESDC based on their discretion… Why is there a need to duplicate this work?” he said. “The due diligence done by ESDC before it issues a positive LMIA should be enough for a visa processing officer to acknowledge the background, needs and wants of the employer.”