Canada on Friday announced it was extending work permits to family members of temporary foreign workers. The measure, for a two-year period, will start in January in a phased manner.

In a statement, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship department said that presently spouses of foreign workers are only eligible for a work permit if the principal applicant is working in a high-skill occupation.

Canada is struggling with an acute shortage of workers, especially in skilled industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, building trades and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Job vacancy data had shown there were 9.58 lakh vacancies in the country in August and 10 lakh unemployed citizens, reported Reuters.

Amid the critical labour shortage, Canada had announced on November 1 that it was planning to add 14.5 lakh immigrants in the next three years.

On Friday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser said that employers across the country have continued to identify lack of workers as their biggest obstacle.

“Today’s announcement will help employers find the workers they need to fill their labour gaps by expanding work permits to family members at all skill levels, resulting in family members of over 200,000 foreign workers being able to work in Canada,” he added.

The department said that the decision is aimed at improving the “emotional well-being, physical health and financial stability of workers by keeping families together”.

“As a result, it is expected that the worker will better integrate into their overall work environment and community,” it said.

The measure, being implement in three phases, will begin with allowing family members of foreign workers from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or the International Mobility Program to apply for an open work permit.

In the second phase, the work permit will be extended to family members of workers from the low-wage stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The last phase will include consultation with agricultural partners and stakeholders to assess operational feasibility for expanding the measure to family members of agricultural workers.

“Labour is the number 1 challenge facing Canada’s tourism sector as we position ourselves for post-pandemic growth,” said Associate Minister of Finance Randy Boissonnault. “Today, our government is bringing in innovative, family-based solutions to resolve this issue and help our tourism partners grow to meet the global demand for Canadian experiences from coast to coast to coast.”

In the statement, the department said that Canada has issued over 6,45,000 work permits between January and October. This, it said, is nearly four times more than the 1,63,000 work permits issued in the same period in 2021.