* Some Canada businesses desperately need skilled workers
* Ottawa says making it easier for Americans to get jobs
* Temporary permits to U.S. workers near record, set to rise
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, July 12 Skilled U.S. workers are coming
to Canada in ever greater numbers, driven out by high
unemployment at home, and tempted in by job shortages in key
sectors like Alberta's growing energy sector.
Government figures show that Canada issued 34,185 temporary
work permits to Americans last year, just shy of the record
35,060 handed out in 2010, and officials expect that number to
"I think we're seeing signs of a reverse brain drain,"
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in an interview on
"Labor shortages are the biggest economic problem we're
facing in many regions and industries in Canada whereas
unemployment is the greatest problem in the United States."
Noting that jobless Americans were learning that they could
"make good money" in Canada, he added: "I think that we'll see
actually significant growth in ... U.S. foreign workers this
year and next as employers become more aware of the issue."
Canada gives out around 180,000 temporary work permits a
year, focusing on sectors where workers are needed or on skills
that can be hard to find at home.
Canada's economy bounced back from recession more quickly
than did that in the United States, and quickly regained all the
jobs that had been lost during the downturn. The Canadian
unemployment rate was 7.2 percent last month, while the U.S.
jobless rate, measured somewhat differently, was 8.2 percent.
But the overall Canadian figure masks the fact that Western
Canadian provinces, especially oil-rich Alberta, cannot fill
jobs in construction and manufacturing, given stubborn shortages
of skilled workers like pipe welders, boiler makers and heavy
This could seriously hurt the booming energy industry, one
of Canada's main economic drivers. Canada is the single largest
exporter of oil and natural gas to the United States and Ottawa
says new investments in the energy patch over the next 10 years
alone could total C$500 billion ($490 billion).
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said in February that
Canada was "developing a desperate labor shortage and resolving
it is key to the continued success of Canadian businesses and
Canadian firms seeking to hire a U.S. worker used to first
have to prove no one in Canada could fill the job, a process
that often ate up several months. But Kenney said new reforms
means this process now takes only a few days.
Responding to the new rules, the economic development
authority in Calgary, the capital of the Alberta energy
industry, will launch recruitment missions in the United States
later this year, while one employment agency in the province is
recruiting among former U.S. military personnel.
Kenney said that a year ago he began hearing from employers
who realized they were missing out on "a huge pool of highly
qualified employees south of the border who could step right
into the Canadian workplace with ... the same language, and no
He dismissed the notion that Canada could upset the United
States by aggressively seeking to recruit Americans and noted
the U.S. ambassador had asked Ottawa to make it easier for
Canadian firms to hire U.S. workers.
"We're great friends and allies of the United States. We're
not sending any kind of a negative or derogatory message," he
said. "They see this as a positive development ... this is not a
zero sum game."
In the late 1990s the flow of workers was mostly in the
other direction, as Canadian workers took well-paid U.S. jobs.
Another attraction was the strong U.S. dollar, which in the
intervening decade or so has lost roughly around a third of its
value against the Canadian dollar.
(Editing by Janet Guttsman)