Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney recently announced the expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) temporary work permit program, making it easier for Canadian employers to hire and retain these foreign workers.

Under the NAFTA program, workers will now be granted temporary work permits of three years in duration. Previously, these work permits had to be renewed every year.

"NAFTA work permits are an excellent option for North American professionals seeking to work in Canada including lawyers, doctors, dentists and teachers. In addition, this will also help Canadian employers remain competitive by ensuring they have access to necessary skilled labour," stated Minister Kenney. He also highlighted that the duration extension will provide greater continuity and stability for both Canadian employers and foreign workers.

The NAFTA work permit program was established when NAFTA was negotiated in 1993. Canada, the United States, and Mexico agreed on labour mobility standards for 63 professional occupations, for which professionals could work in another member country without having to re-qualify under the host country's certification standards.

Canada grants around 5,150 of these temporary work permits every year, most of them to Americans. Americans and Mexicans must have a valid job offer from a Canadian employer to obtain one.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper believes that a shortage of skilled labour is one of the most significant long-term challenges for Canadian policy-makers. His Conservative government's goal is to align immigration policy more closely with current labour market shortages, according to Minister Kenney.

"I talk to employers all the time who do not get even one job application when they put a help wanted ad in the newspaper," said Minister Kenney. "Even though we are going into a period of economic difficulty, we continue to have a number of skilled labour shortages in certain areas of the economy."