Ensure that young Canadians can obtain working holiday visas as easily and for as long as foreigners coming here
Every year, about 60,000 foreign young people aged 18 to 30 take advantage of the reciprocal working holiday agreements that Canada has with some 28 countries. Such agreements allow young people from these countries to visit and work in Canada for up to a year; young Canadians can apply to the same countries for an equivalent experience.
These programs offer wonderful travel and work opportunities. More importantly, Canada benefits as our future leaders learn more about the world, and the future leaders of other countries learn more about Canada. They return home with positive memories of Canada and personal connections leading to greater international trade, tourism and investment in the future.
Young people who are simply financing their travel are happy to take lower wage work that Canadians with families and mortgages cannot afford to take. Anyone visiting Whistler, Banff/Lake Louise or Jasper knows that the hotels, restaurants and ski hills would have diminished workforces if it were not for the young Australians and New Zealanders working there.
When recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program were announced, the government suggested that the number of foreigners coming to Canada on working holiday visas was too high compared to Canadian young people going abroad. The suggested solution was to reduce the number of foreign young people coming to Canada. This is absurd.
Canada benefits enormously from the young people visiting Canada. The problem is not numbers.
Many years ago, I worked in the International Exchange Division of Employment and Immigration Canada. I learned that these arrangements were not based on equality of numbers. The key was reciprocal opportunity. It should be equally easy for young Canadians to work in other countries as it is for young foreigners to work in Canada.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. One example is that of my own son. The requirements to come to Canada on a working holiday visa are simple. You must:
• be a citizen of one of the countries with which Canada has agreements
• be between18 and 30
• have $2,500 to help cover expenses
• take out health insurance for the duration of your stay
• be otherwise admissible to Canada
• have a round-trip ticket or money to buy a departure ticket at the end of your stay.
Then, once in Canada, young foreigners with a working holiday visa need only go to Service Canada and get a Social Insurance Number – something that takes only a few minutes. After that they are free to work anywhere for up to a year.
Now let’s compare that with my son’s experience with France. In addition to requirements similar to those of Canada, France requires working holiday visa applicants to obtain proof from their provincial health insurance plan that coverage will continue for the duration of their stay in the country, even though private insurance for a year is easy to purchase. Because provincial health plans generally only cover absences of six or seven months, my son could only apply for a six-month visa.
When he got a job offer in France, he had to submit an application to the French labour authorities and wait 10 business days to be authorized to work. In fact, it was almost three weeks before he was finally allowed to work.
Where is the reciprocity in an agreement that allows young French people to work in Canada for up to a year when young Canadians are limited to a little over five months?
If the government of Canada wants to see more Canadians take advantage of these reciprocal agreements, reducing the number of foreign young people coming to Canada is not the answer. It should make greater efforts to ensure that Canadian young people can obtain working holiday visas as easily and as for long as can foreigners coming to Canada.
By Robert Vineberg
Robert Vineberg is a Senior Fellow at the Canada West Foundation. He was formerly Director General of Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Prairies and Northern Territories Region. He is also the author of the book Responding to Immigrants’ Settlement Needs: The Canadian Experience. Canada West Foundation is the only think tank dedicated to being the objective, nonpartisan voice for issues of vital concern to Western Canadians.