After allowing flexibility to Canadian universities in the temporary foreign worker rules, the federal government is now being pressed by the video game industry for some concessions in the required conditions for hiring foreign workers, arguing that the restrictions are hurting their businesses.
Canada’s video game industry employs more than 17,000 people. The industry’s wages are said to be higher than average and 40% or more of their employees hold a university degree, implying that a large number of their work force belong to “highly-skilled” category. “We should not be treated the same as some other industries that bring in low-skilled workers. We are at the cutting edge of what’s being done. People that we bring in are highly skilled, they are some of the best in the world and we fight for them. The more hurdles we have, the more chance we have of losing them to some of the companies in Asia,” says Martin Carrier, studio head at Warner Bros. Games Montréal.
According to the video game firms, the new rules depict the mistrust of the government towards employers and will make it difficult for them to hire highly-skilled foreign workers, who are critical to their business. “There has to be a level of trust … knowing that we invest a lot of money to bring outsiders into the country. We’ve done our due diligence and if we are going to put thousands of dollars behind a person just to move them here, it’s a worthwhile hire and we should not be facing additional hurdles from the administrative side,” says Carrier.
There are approximately 70 Canadian academic programs where game developers learn their skills. However, gaming companies argue that despite their efforts to hire local game developers from Canadian academic institutions, their industry still suffered from an unemployment rate of under 3%, making it necessary for them to hire foreign specialists. “Of the new entry-level people we hire, we know that 97% are Canadians or from Canadian universities. The issue starts at the intermediate or senior realm,” says Jayson Hilchie, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada.
French multinational company Ubisoft started its branch in Toronto after its Montreal branch grew to 3,000 employees. Ubisoft says that for certain projects, they need to hire from abroad, with almost a third of their employees being foreign hires. Ubisoft has also been offering co-op programs, in which they send their new employees overseas to get international experience. “We depend on more senior people to come here and train more junior people … If someone takes too much time to bring on board, we have to decline the work,” says Alex Parizeau, managing director of Ubisoft Toronto.
According to a parliamentary report of last year, the time and resources spent in foreign hiring had increased after the government shut down the fast-track immigration routes and told employers to prove they had made sufficient efforts to hire Canadian workers before starting to look abroad. The new rules require companies that offer median provincial wage or more to submit a plan on how they would transfer these positions to Canadian workers. In addition more stringent conditions have been imposed on companies that transfer workers with specialized skills and knowledge from abroad.
However, Mary Sorrenti, a vice-president at Game Pill believes that the new immigration rules will encourage the gaming industry to provide an opportunity to new graduates “to jump ahead in their careers”.
“Even though the traditional experience may not be that strong, a lot of these students started programming at a very young age. … Near term we have to look at creative solutions,” she said.
Even the gaming companies agree that they prefer to have Canadian employees as they are less expensive to hire and more likely to stay. “Recruiting and relocating of highly skilled workers is extremely expensive and procedures are long and arduous,” says Deirdre Ayre, studio head of Other Ocean. However, it’s the skills shortage that has led the industry to hire from abroad, and complicating the hiring procedures was not going to help. “There is no time for complicated processes or people will simply go elsewhere,” she says.