There is a shortage of qualified and experienced long haul truck drivers in Canada. This isn’t earth-shattering news and it isn’t going to change anytime soon. Transportation companies are battling it out between themselves for the current pool of available drivers in Canada. Surely something can be done. The obvious solution is to look outside of Canada and consider foreign drivers.
This has not always been an option for one main reason- articulated truck drivers are not recognized, from an immigration perspective, as being a ‘skilled occupation’ in Canada. The reality is very different. These ‘pilots of the highway’ possess a skill level over and above what they are credited with and are responsible for keeping a major part of North America’s commerce moving.

There is a lot of pressure and lobbying on the government, by the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) and the Canadian Trucking Human Resource Council (CTHRC), among others, to change this. However, the process of having the designation of truck driver changed from ‘low-skilled’ to ‘skilled’ is slow and there are many obstacles to overcome.

Previously, the only way a truck driver could obtain permanent residence in Canada would be if they were married and came over on their spouse’s background and then obtained their Canadian license.

There is now an alternative whereby the foreign driver can qualify under the ‘low skilled worker program’. This is a program that was established to accommodate seasonal workers from other countries who would come to work in Canada on a seasonal basis. This visa is for twelve (12) months only, after which the driver would have to return to their home country for four (4) months before being able to return on another twelve month visa. Under this program, the employer is responsible for paying for the return airfare of the applicant (to and from their home country), covering their healthcare until they can qualify for provincial healthcare, and assisting them in finding suitable and affordable accommodation.

This is still applicable to truck drivers coming over to Canada and involves several steps. The critical part here is that this program is EMPLOYER DRIVEN. In other words, if the employer does not initiate the process, nothing will happen.

The first stage is to contact Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). You will need to make a formal application to sponsor a foreign worker and will need to demonstrate that you have attempted to recruit Canadian citizens or permanent residents. This can be done through advertising, postings on company and government websites (e.g., referrals and incentive programs, and other recruitment methods. Assuming this and other criteria are in order, you will be issued a positive Labour Market Opinion (LMO) for the foreign worker.

Once the LMO is issued, an application can be made to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) at the relevant overseas post responsible for the foreign worker. Once the work permit is issued, the driver needs to make arrangements with the employer to travel to Canada. As the employer, you must be aware that the work permit is employer specific. This means that they can only work for you while on this permit.

Once the foreign worker gets off the plane, they will need to begin the process of having a formal driving evaluation done and then attend truck training school until they are ready to apply for their Canadian license. Keep in mind that these are experienced drivers, so they are not necessarily being taught how to drive an articulated truck, simply how to drive in North America. There will be some adjustments they will have to make, such as driving on the right hand side (in the case of drivers from the UK). Once they obtain their license, they will undergo company orientation and, once both parties are satisfied, they are on the road.

As you will have gathered so far, this program accommodates drivers for a period of twelve (12) months. How can they stay longer? Several provinces have a specific agreement with the federal government allowing them to select their own immigrants. This is called a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). Within these PNP’s, certain provinces have identified truck drivers as a shortage occupation. Because of this, the province can nominate them, even though they drivers are classified as ‘low skilled’. The provinces that this applies to are Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Once a driver has been in Canada for a minimum of six (6) months on their low skilled worker work permit, they can apply to the province for nomination. Once selected by the province, they are issued a provincial selection certificate. With this certificate, an application can be made to the federal government for permanent residency. Based on the agreements between the federal government and the provinces, they accept the provinces nomination and verify that the candidate and their family do not have any medical or security issues. Assuming all is order, permanent residence is granted.

For provinces that do not have a PNP, such as Ontario, their only option is to bring in drivers in for twelve months at a time. The PNP’s are an excellent opportunity to address the driver shortage and to give the option of permanent residence to foreign drivers.

So, now that you know you can keep foreign drivers permanently, how do you find quality foreign drivers? There are two main options for you. The first is to undergo a direct marketing campaign abroad and recruit directly with the interested candidates. This requires substantial investment, both financially and time wise. The second, more viable option is to work with specialized agencies who can recruit on your behalf. They will provide the employers with resumes of candidates, along with supporting documentation, such as copies of their driver’s license, completed driver medical exams, drug and alcohol tests and police checks. These drivers will also have strong English language skills. From this point, the decision is yours as to whether you want to interview and subsequently offer them employment.

As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes to address the driver shortage and how it can be helped via immigration. Until truck drivers become classified as ‘skilled’, this is the process that we must continue to follow in order to bring in foreign drivers and help solve the problem of the driver shortage in Canada.