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Author Topic: Media Reaction to Work Permit Changes for Digital Media: Creating Awareness  (Read 5210 times)
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Jill Pearson
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« on: July 09, 2010, 04:32:38 PM »

Media Reaction to Work Permit Changes for Digital Media: Creating Awareness

PNG / Troy Brooks is head of studio at Digital Domain ... one of several high-tech companies that are concerned about new Canadian legislation they believe could leave serious gaps in their workforce.
Photograph by: Jon Murray, Vancouver Sun.  Photo and caption from the Vancouver Sun story.

"Media industry fears new rules will kill jobs"  Headlines similar to this one, as seen in the Vancouver Sun July 5, 2010, are popping up in the mainstream media frequently since the quiet announcement from Citizenship & Immigration Canada of the elimination of a special category of Work Permits called "Information Technology" (IT).  Within the IT category there were seven positions described, and if a foreign worker fit the description AND had a valid job offer, he or she could bypass the Labour Market Opinion (LMO) stage of the the permit process and apply directly for the Work Permit, often at the border.  

The irony of the announcement is that the IT categories were in desperate need of an overhaul anyway; the software or hardware requirements listed are completely out-of-date (for example Maya still listed as Alias; Lightwave spelled incorrectly as "Lightware"; no sign of Nuke or Shake on the lists; etc.)

There is a mention at the very end of the Vancouver Sun article about the newly-inked Canada-BC Immigration Agreement, specifically the Temporary Foreign Worker Annex:
"One possible solution is a Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement that includes an annex which could "eliminate the need for federal government (LMOs) in occupations experiencing on-going shortages." It was inked in April 2010, but won't go into effect until April 2011."

I have read through the agreement, and it does indeed outline some advantageous programs that could benefit the digital media industry, as well as other high-need industries, and in fact, become a better process than the IT category.  My understanding is that industries will have to present themselves to the BC government as high-need industries, identifiying shortages and upcoming needs.  If accepted, then the BC government would allow those jobs to bypass the LMO, and the workers go directly to the Work Permit application process.  

There was also an indication in the Agreement of the possibility of occupation-specific work permits being granted, rather than employer-specific, which would mean, for example, that a Senior Compositor (if that job has been identified as high-need) could get a Work Permit to work as a Senior Compositor in multiple companies.  The Agreement acknowledges that the industry is moving more toward contract-based work and that workers do move around, which is a much-needed update.

As long as there is growth in the digital media industries, and the various players (film, VFX, animation, games, etc.) work together to identify and present their needs to the BC government, I think there's an opportunity here to end up with much more favourable work permit processes.  And of course the more growth in the industry, the more Canadians who will end up with jobs as well.  

Note: The Agreement was posted online at WelcomeBC but is now "page not found".  

by Gillian Benard

Here's the complete article from the Vancouver Sun:

Changes to federal legislation meant to protect Canadian employment could backfire and hinder the growth of local companies, critics say

By Joanne Lee-Young, Vancouver Sun

Vancouver has been busy promoting itself as a creative, digital hub. It's part of a strategic effort to make the city a place where young, smart people want to work.

The arrival this year of Pixar and Digital Domain, the Venice, Calif.-based company behind Academy Award-winning films Titanic and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was a major coup. Both are rolling out large studios and hiring local staff.

The hope, of course, is that once these heavy-hitters settle in, more of their kind will follow. But just as there is some momentum, there is also a mini-snag on the horizon.

In a little known move by Ottawa, slated for this fall, there is a desire to protect jobs for Canadians, but the plan could backfire and hamstring the growth of hundreds of jobs in B.C.'s economy.

For years, going back to the late 1990s, high-tech companies have been able to nimbly usher in key talent from outside Canada by using a federal IT (information technology) worker category. Basically, it allowed companies based here to put together project teams on the fly.

"To deal with critical shortages, C.I.C. (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) and Service Canada (which issues temporary work visas) chose seven IT positions and exempted them," said Vancouver lawyer Craig Natsuhara, who advises several large digital media firms. "So if, say, EA (the video game maker with offices in Burnaby) has a new title, it could easily bring in three of these (designers, artists, programmers), or five of those."

But Ottawa is eliminating this category at the end of September and the prospect of this not only has the digital media, gaming and visual effects industry in Vancouver worried, but Vancouver city hall too. It has been working closely with the Vancouver Economic Development Commission to pitch the city as a place where these global companies should plant a flag, invest money and have operations.

"I'm very concerned these changes will hinder the growth of our emerging tech cluster in Vancouver. Vancouver's thriving digital media, gaming and visual effects companies need to attract and retain global talent to remain competitive," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson via e-mail. "The proposed changes will have negative consequences for our local economy if it prevents companies from completing projects or forces them to locate their operations elsewhere."

"We are always in a hurry because by the time we've identified a hole for somebody, we have got a very short period of time," said Laurie Murdoch, a Vancouver-based human resources manager at Digital Domain. With the IT worker category, she could often work magic in under a week.

"Our timelines for production are so much faster than in other industries," added Wendy Boylan, a spokeswoman for Ubisoft Vancouver, which develops and markets video games. "We look locally first, but sometimes we need someone more niche, more veteran or with a certain kind of expertise. In a project, if we even have to wait a month, it can severely affect the time-line and cost."

Without the IT category, Pixar, Digital Domain, Ubisoft and the like will, starting in October, have to apply for temporary work visas the way every other company in any industry does. This means first seeking a so-called Labour Market Opinion (LMO) from Ottawa's Service Canada department. It requires demonstrating that a position meets wage guidelines, brings new skills and knowledge, and does not adversely affect the employment of a Canadian worker.

It sounds simple, but since January 2009, in the aftermath of the economic downturn, Service Canada has, across the board, been glacial in approving such applications.

"To be clear, we do use the LMO route, but it's definitely the longer route," said Murdoch of Digital Domain.

She thinks it could triple the time they are used to waiting, but even that might be optimistic thinking, according to others.

They've watched LMO waiting times stretch, but worse than that, "most companies don't know if their applications will be refused or not, and if so why. It seems very vague. The frustration is that you can go through the whole process, very carefully following the steps, and not get it," said Sylvain Provencher, executive director of ACM SIGGRAPH, a Vancouver-based society for computer graphics professionals. "It seems a very moody system."

"The problem right now, especially since January 2009, is that when Service Canada analyzes a [labour market] situation, it is minutely focused on whether companies have done enough [local] advertising of a position," said Natsuhara, a partner at Spectrum HR Law.

"There are a lot of new staff at Service Canada. Many veterans have left, taking with them their knowledge and insight to assess industries and their needs in a more global context," said Natsuhara, who is also past chair of the Canadian Bar Association's B.C. Immigration section. "The approach has become much more mechanical and based on checklists. 'This ad was up for 13 days, not 14 days. Reject!'"

At the same time, there has been a backdrop of rising unemployment and looming layoffs. "Canadians deserve to have reasonable access to jobs in every sector of the economy. The cancellation of this [program] will ensure that this access becomes available," said Anna Kroupoderova, a spokeswoman from Ottawa's Human Resources and Skills Development department, which oversees Service Canada. She described the change as an "administrative [one] to program procedures."

Natsuhara thinks that tougher economic times may have sparked a knee-jerk, blanket approach: "People might think, 'I have relatives that are on [employment insurance], why are we letting companies bring non-Canadians?"

He argues that, based on his clients, temporary work visas are being sought for only 10 to 15 per cent of a company's Vancouver workforce. At Ubisoft Vancouver, spokeswoman Boylan pinpointed it at 12 per cent.

"But they might be for really key team leader positions. If they aren't filled, projects just can't go ahead. Most companies are eyeing star performers they have banked on before," said Natsuhara, adding they are usually looking to parachute expertise from the U.S., the U.K. and France.

"The idea is once we have a strong leader, then the rest of the team will be populated by local talent," said Murdoch of Digital Domain, which has said it hopes to hire 50-60 digital artists, mostly Canadian, and ramp up to 100 employees by the end of 2010.

One possible solution is a Canada-B. C. Immigration Agreement that includes an annex which could "eliminate the need for federal government (LMOs) in occupations experiencing on-going shortages." It was inked in April 2010, but won't go into effect until April 2011.

Unfortunately, this means that from this October to next April, there will be seven months, at least, of uncertainty for companies accustomed to forecasting hiring and budgeting plans under much tighter terms.

« Last Edit: July 09, 2010, 04:53:19 PM by Gillian Benard » Logged

Jill Pearson
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