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Nael El Shawwa knows what it’s like to escape a conflict zone.

As war broke out in Ukraine, the Palestinian-born head of engineering for Toronto-based startup Perpetua saw a chance to help others out of a similar situation, and help his company solve its biggest problem.

“The last year has been the most challenging recruiting year,” he said. “At the same time, as someone who immigrated to Canada 20 years ago, I’m standing here on the shoulders of the giants that helped me out of that situation, and it’s time to pay it forward.”

Mr. El Shawwa, 38, was born in Gaza, a territory long contested by Palestinians and Israelis, and he has family members who’ve lived through the conflicts there. After growing up in Dubai, with help he came to Canada as a student and got a work visa.

When it comes to skilled professionals escaping conflicts, Mr. El Shawwa doesn’t like to use the term “refugee.”

“We are talking about professionals with experience and education,” he said. “When we use words like refugee in this example … it sounds like this is a burden on the country when, in fact, we are adding to the Canadian economy, society and community in many ways, and that’s what makes Canada great.”

Mr. El Shawwa said his startup, which helps companies market and sell their products online, was already working with the Vancouver-based global recruiting agency VanHack to hire an engineer from Mexico. As war broke out in Ukraine, VanHack sent an e-mail to its clients listing the credentials of highly skilled Ukrainians who were already using the platform to find a work opportunity in Canada.

“I saw that e-mail and started looking through the people that were on there, and quickly reached out to a few to schedule interviews,” said Mr. El Shawwa.

With more than a million Ukrainians fleeing their country that’s under attack by Russia, employers are in a position to expedite their escape by providing work opportunities in Canada. According to VanHack chief executive officer Ilya Brotzky, many have stepped up to offer assistance.

“The response has been pretty incredible,” he said. “I sent out an e-mail with a list of 85 [Ukraine-based] candidates that we have on our platform, and 62 companies signed up and reached out.”

In signing up, the companies wanted to find out how they can help and hire Ukrainian talent looking for remote and relocation opportunities, VanHack said in a statement.

VanHack is also waiving its recruiting fees and asking employers to instead make a donation to a registered charity supporting Ukrainian refugees.

Mr. Brotzky, who was born in Russia and has family on both sides of the Ukrainian border, has spent much of the past few weeks considering how much one document – his Canadian passport – changed the trajectory of his life. Now he’s hoping to provide as many Ukrainians as he can with the same life-changing opportunity. “It feels really good to be able to give people the gift that I was given when I was 5 – the ability to move here,” he said.

Mr. Brotzky added that Ukraine is well-known in the tech industry for producing talented engineers, who are well-positioned to help Canadian organizations solve their recruiting challenges.

“Ukrainian engineers routinely qualify as some of the best in the world at software development,” he said. “All of the ones who are on our platform have very sought-after skills.”

While Canada has designated federal programs to resettle displaced people and refugees, skilled immigration pathways can help bring them into the country faster, while reducing the backlog in other resettlement programs.

“We have over 26 million refugees around the world, and less than half a per cent access resettlement globally in a given year,” said Dana Wagner, the CEO of TalentLift, a non-profit organization that helps employers identify and relocate skilled workers within refugee populations. “That means we need far more mobility options for people, and skilled immigration is a huge opportunity space.”

As the war broke out, Ms. Wagner said TalentLift created a special Ukraine response page on its website. Sixty Ukrainian applicants registered in the first few days. She added that organizations like TalentLift and VanHack are designed to cut through red tape and streamline the immigration process to reduce the administrative burdens for their Canadian clients.

“Employers who haven’t yet tried recruiting internationally, this is your moment,” she said. “It’s really not as complex or scary as it seems.”

In an effort to further streamline that process, the federal government recently announced the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel. Further details are expected in the coming weeks, but the program will be open to all individuals fleeing Ukraine, and is intended to eliminate some of the standard fees and visa requirements associated with relocation.

“Included in this program is a special family reunification sponsorship pathway,” said Dana O’Born, the vice-president of strategy and advocacy for the Council of Canadian Innovators, a national tech industry business council. “In the event that a Ukrainian comes to Canada and gets hired by a Canadian company, it’s going to be a lot easier for the rest of that family to come to Canada as well, and that’s game-changing.”

Ms. O’Born said the program is a step in the right direction, but worries that many refugees don’t have time to wait for more details. In the meantime, she’s inspired by the growing list of Canadian employers that are stepping up and doing their part.

“Canadian companies are raising their hands and are ready and willing to help,” she said. “What the Canadian tech community has done in the last few days is amazing, and I just hope that the government can keep pace.”

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