How Canadian software companies can hire Americans

Like most good software companies, we’re focused on building the best possible team.  This means we have high standards for hiring; numerous times we’ve spent thousands on job postings and advertisements, gone through dozens of interviews, and been unable to hire anybody suitable.

We do get a number of job applicants from outside of Canada, and to date, we’ve been turning these away, simply because we didn’t know what’s involved in hiring outside of Canada.  In particular, many of the best applicants have been American citizens.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) can make it easier in some cases to hire American professionals under a TN visa, but only if they fall under certain professional designations.  This does include engineers, but does not include software developers or senior marketing people, for example.  So if the candidate has an engineering degree, you’re lucky, things are relatively fast and easy.  This is a temporary work permit, typically 2 years, but it has unlimited renewability.  Your cost is in the ballpark of $2,000 in legal fees and $150 for a work permit.

Hiring people not eligible for TN visas is harder, but not overwhelmingly difficult.  The main requirement is that you convince the government that you weren’t able to hire a qualified Canadian by getting a Labour Market Opinion (LMO).  First, you post a job nationwide to Service Canada’s job bank for 14 days.  Then, if you can’t find a good Canadian candidate, you can apply to hire a foreigner.  This approval process takes 12 weeks, and you’ll likely need to meet with a government representative and convince them that you had a good hiring process and couldn’t find a suitable Canadian to hire.  The good news is that next time you do this, you can probably use an accelerated process that would only take two weeks for the government to approve.  Your cost is in the ballpark of $4,000 in legal fees and $150 for a work permit.

Overall, I’d say the TN visa is pretty easy for engineers (but not software developers with e.g. a Computer Science degree).  Otherwise, the biggest obstacle in the LMO approval process is a 3-4 month delay.  It means some extra planning ahead and commitment for you and for your potential employee.  The cost is manageable – even if you add on the cost of travel for an interview and a basic relocation package, it’s still probably less than you would pay a recruiter.

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