It took just twelve minutes for almost 4,000 Canadian work visas to be snapped up by Irish job seekers last night when the International Experience Canada (IEC) working visa program opened for first round applications.

There will be a total of 7,700 IEC working holiday visas available for Irish passport holders under the age of 36 this year. These applicants are not required to have a Canadian job offer in place. Applications for the first 3,850 opened last night while the remaining 3,850 will open on Thursday. 

The IEC, established in 2003, is a working-holiday visa allowing people aged 18-35 to work in the country for up to two years. The program first began as a cultural exchange, but is now increasingly used to address Canada's ongoing labor shortages. Applicants who were successful in registering last night will now have 14 days to submit the rest of their documents as part of the application process, compared with the three months they were allowed last year. 

The working holiday visa is considered the the safest route to acquiring a visa in Canada and candidates are allowed 12 month to activate it. The visa allows Irish workers to move around Canada on arrival so they can seek better job opportunities and also has an advantage over its Australian equivalent in that it allows applicants to bring dependent children and spouses with them.

Officials from Canadian immigration previously confirmed that there would also be 2,409 spots available for the young professional visa (for those with a job offer already in place), and 495 spots available on the program for International Co-op (working on an internship), amounting to around 10,000 available visas in total. The uptake for these visa types has been much slower with just 100 of the young professional visas allocated since applications opened last month.  

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, manager at Edwina Shanahan said, “We likened the demand for last year’s visas program to Garth Brooks tickets as they were snapped up as soon as they became available and with Canada only growing in popularity for Irish people looking to work abroad — we believe this year’s visas will be akin to Frozen dolls at Christmas.”

She advised prospective participants that the spaces available would fill up quickly.

“Anyone interested should note it is likely that round one will sell out in less than 10 minutes,” she said. “There will only be one other opportunity to get an open IEC visa — though we have not yet been told when the second round will be rolled out.”

Almost 5,000 Irish emigrants have settled permanently in Canada since the beginning of the recession in Ireland with recent statistics showing that emigrants to the country tend to stay longer and don’t make plans to return home. Around 3,200 of the 5,000 Irish nationals who have relocated to the North American country in the past six years have become permanent residents and 1,500 Irish nationals have become Canadian citizens.

There has been a significant increase in the number of Canadian work visas made available to Irish applicants in recent years, rising from just 4,000 spaces in 2010.

Earlier this year, Shanahan told the Irish Independent, "Canada has become a lot more amenable to our clients than Australia, and an awful lot of people are going towards the more permanent option if they are eligible."

"In Australia and New Zealand you are meant to be single, have no criminal record and no medical history that would concern immigration, but in Canada they very much look at the profile of the person and very much look at people who will come, migrate and stay there. Canada's intention is to hold on to people, particularly skilled people."

Applicants for the second round on Thursday are advised to have all their documents ready and a Kompass account set up. The exact time second round applications will open will be announced some time today.