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Best Work Visa Options for Canadians Looking to Work Abroad

The desire to see the world is a universal one, especially for young people — as is the need to find meaningful work. Sometimes, those desires can be combined. But boarding a plane is expensive, so it is no surprise that many eager, young, Canadian tourists choose to work while they travel in order to offset their costs. Others find their dream job beyond Canada’s borders.

For many Canadians, working while traveling is preferable to staying in place and saving up during the precious years of their youth. Add to this the benefit of having a foreign country on one’s resumé, and it is no surprise that many Canadians see working abroad as a preferable alternative to working here.

Of course, the reality of working overseas has been complicated in recent years by serious factors like the pandemic and global conflicts. China, not surprisingly, stopped issuing visas for foreign workers due to the country’s fluid COVID status. Some Canadians have also lost out on work abroad (like on cruise ships) due to their mixed vaccination status not being recognized by the relevant authority. And the situation between Russia and Ukraine has increased processing times for Canadians looking for work visas in many European countries as government resources have been taken over by processing refugee claims.

That said, there are still many Canadian and foreign government programs that help to find jobs in someone’s country of choice or assist in someone getting there once a job is secured. An applicant’s ability to access them, though, will be determined by a variety of factors, including age, length of stay, and employable skills. 

The “working holiday” is primarily aimed at young Canadians (usually 18 to 35) who want to travel and are financing their sojourns by getting a job in their country of choice. The most significant Canadian government portal here is International Experience Canada (IEC). This branch of Immigration and Citizenship has reciprocal agreements with over 30 countries, meaning their citizens can come to Canada to work as well. (America, by comparison, only has agreements with six.) They help applicants get work permits or visas in their host country faster and cheaper than if they tried to do it themselves. These trips generally last anywhere between 90 days and two years.

IEC applicants can also choose to use a so-called Recognized Organization (RO) — meaning recognized by the Canadian government — to help them get work permits or visas in the country of their choice, including those without IEC agreements. These include placement agencies like Stepabroad; schools like Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador; and SWAP, which arranges “teach and travel” programs in Thailand, among other services.

There are also non-profits like AIESEC Canada that provide leadership opportunities for young Canadians. It should be noted, though, that there is some controversy around whether some of AIESEC’s programs constitute “voluntourism.” This is because applicants pay significant amounts of money to work in foreign countries while providing a dubious amount of value to its citizens. One former participant referred to AIESEC as a “resumé-polishing service” in a January 2020 article published by The McGill Daily website. 

On that note, any Canadian using a recruitment agency that is not an RO to arrange a working holiday or full-time job abroad should be cautious, as there are plenty of unscrupulous operators. A major red flag is being asked to pay for their services because they are already getting paid by employers seeking recruits. Their loyalty is to the employers, so they may not be able to help with visa or moving needs. Not surprisingly, avoid any agency that has a free online email address (like Hotmail or Gmail); hires by resumé alone (i.e., does not conduct interviews); promises exorbitant pay; or asks that applicants lie at any stage of the application process.

For skilled Canadians who have already launched their careers, each country has different opportunities and needs. For instance, the UK — which includes England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland — has a “skilled worker scheme” that helps provide visas for foreign workers. Applicants must provide a “certificate of sponsorship” from their employer (who must be approved by the UK’s Home Office in turn) and guarantee that they will be doing a job on a list of eligible occupations. (Chemical scientists in Scotland and electronics jobs in England are in demand as of summer 2022.) This “skilled worker visa” can last up to five years, after which workers may have to apply for permanent residency.

The types of work found abroad will vary based on type of stay (working tourist or skilled worker) and country of choice. One young Canadian backpacked in Australia and told the writer that foreigners there often “do jobs that locals don’t want to do,” like working on chicken processing plants and farms. The “New to Denmark” government website, meanwhile, has a special section for foreigners looking to provide au pair services. In terms of more skilled labour, Germany needs nurses and IT consultants, while Italy is projected to have a shortage in STEM occupations in the coming years.

Indeed, what will be asked of foreigners looking to work abroad will vary by the country, which is why it is important to do thorough research. ROs and recruitment agencies are so popular because they have done much of this work already. In general, though, Canadians will need a valid passport, an appropriate work visa, a clean criminal record, health insurance, a promise of internship or employment (especially for a skilled worker), and enough money to cover the initial stay. One should also expect to pay a variety of applicable processing fees.

There is no denying that travel broadens not only the mind but also opportunities. If you want to work outside Canada, you very likely can. Look into the programs that can help you out, be patient, and start getting ready for the adventure of a lifetime now. 

Sean Plummer | Contributing Writer

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