The number of Canadian working holiday visas available to young Irish people is to increase by almost 70 per cent this year under a new agreement signed by the Irish and Canadian governments today.
A total of 10,700 International Experience Canada (IEC) permits, which allow Irish people under the age of 35 and their children to live and work in the country for up to two years, will be on offer for 2014, up from 6,350 last year.
The IEC programme, which started as a cultural exchange between the two countries, has become increasingly work-focused in recent years as Canada has looked to Ireland's highly-skilled but underemployed workforce to fill acute labour shortages in its economy.
The allocation of IECs for Irish nationals has increased rapidly since a reciprocal arrangement was first signed between the Irish and Canadian governments in 2003, allowing just 100 ayoung people to travel in each direction.
In 2009, just half the quota of 2,500 IEC visas was filled, but demand has grown exponentially since. The allocation for 2013 was snapped up in just 48 hours when it opened last January.
Under today’s agreement, a total of 2,500 visas will be ringfenced for young professionals who have already secured a contract of employment, while 500 places will be set aside for an “international co-op” category for full-time students to take part in internship programmes.
Some 7,700 visas will be available for working-holiday makers.
The young professionals and international co-op categories will open for applications on March 11th, with the first round entries for the working holiday category to follow on March 13th. A second working holiday round will be announced at a later date.
Cathy Murphy of the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre in Toronto, an advisory service part-funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, has advised applicants to have all their documentation ready to go in advance of the opening, as the visas will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis.
“Anyone who has decided since early 2013 to move to Canada under the IEC has had to wait until now to apply, so demand is extremely high again this year,” she said.
“Canada is now very much on the map as a choice destination for the Irish. The IEC is a working holiday programme on paper, but in practice it has morphed into an opportunity for emigration, a first step for people who want to come here and gain permanent residency.”
It was expected the application system for this year would open in January, and the perceived delay has left many potential applicants frustrated, she added.
A small group of Irish people already employed in Canada who are hoping to use the scheme to extend their visas for a second year have had to stop working and move to visitor status, meaning they haven’t had an income for several weeks.
“We’ve had several people contact us who have been moved off the payroll and have been living off savings for the last few weeks. Some have been let go from their jobs entirely. It has been a difficult time for them,” she said.
Speaking to The Irish Times today, Canada's Minister for Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander said Canada had a long history of Irish immigration, and the new IEC agreement would strengthen already existing ties between the two countries.
"We are impressed by the performance of Ireland and the Irish. They do well in Canada," he said.
Canada offers strong employment opportunities in IT, tourism, the service industry, advanced manufacturing, healthcare and natural resources, according to the minister.
While the big cities like Vancouver and Toronto have significant vacancies, the western provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia are experiencing the highest labour shortages, he said.
“Anyone who wants a totally new experience is welcome to go up to the high Arctic where there are major mining projects underway and great opportunities for young people to take on greater responsibilities earlier, while discovering an absolutely new way of life,” he said.
Welcoming today's announcement, Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said the reciprocal programme "offers Irish and Canadian young people the valuable opportunity to experience living and working abroad".
“Today’s changes mean that the programme is more focused on the needs of participants and prospective employers,” he said.
“The decision to work overseas should always be a matter of choice and the Government is striving to create an economic climate which allows young people to put the skills and experience gained abroad to use in quality jobs in Ireland.”