Lululemon wins waiver from immigration rules on hiring foreign workers

Ottawa grants exception clearing way for international recruitment drive

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Lululemon Athletica Inc., the high-end clothing maker known for its yoga pants, won a waiver from immigration rules that restrict access to foreign workers, clearing the way for an international recruitment drive as the company expands its Vancouver headquarters.

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Immigration Minister Sean Fraser agreed to exempt Lululemon from having to apply for the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to hire for certain high-skilled positions, including senior managers, industrial and manufacturing engineers, construction managers and computer systems managers.

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The LMIA is effectively a screen the federal government uses to assess whether companies truly need access to international workers to fill positions, or if they simply are seeking cheaper labour. When an LMIA is approved, it means Ottawa has determined there aren’t enough Canadian workers or permanent residents available to do the job.

Waiving the need to apply for an LMIA will allow Lululemon to bring in workers faster, which in turn will help “fast-track the economic benefits” of the company’s expansion, Immigration said in a press release, which the government shared ahead of an official announcement scheduled for 6 p.m. Toronto time on May 25.  

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The department added that the move would help “secure” Lululemon’s global headquarters in Vancouver, as the company has committed to expand in the city over the next five years and create about 2,600 jobs — most of which will be high-skilled positions that will be filled by foreign workers.

It was unclear if Lululemon had said it would reduce its presence in Canada without the waiver on foreign workers. In 2016, the company threatened to move its headquarters outside of Canada if the federal government didn’t make it easier for it to hire specialized workers from abroad.

While Canada’s relatively liberal approach to immigration is widely seen as an economic advantage, various business leaders have warned this year that other countries are beginning to catch up, making the competition for talent more fierce.

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“As they retain their global headquarters in Vancouver and continue to expand, our government will continue to pursue an immigration policy that ensures employers like Lululemon can attract the talent they need to drive economic growth here in Canada,” Fraser said in the statement.

In 2022, the number of job vacancies in Canada averaged 942,000, two and a half times the average of 377,000 observed in 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

The substantial growth in the number of job vacancies recorded during this period suggested that the economy is battling a labour crunch. However, Statistics Canada also said in a report released May 24 that “employers’ difficulties to fill job vacancies requiring high levels of education cannot, in general, be attributed to a national shortage” of highly educated job seekers or to local shortages of such job seekers.

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Vacancies may arise because of a mismatch between the skills required and the skills possessed by highly educated job seekers, the report said. A labour crunch however, has been observed for job vacancies requiring a high school diploma or less education since 2021, the agency added.

In 2022, Lululemon reported net revenue of $8.1 billion, compared to $6.2 billion in 2021. Its gross profit increased to $4.4 billion from $3.6 billion in 2021.

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