Canadian immigration announces Temporary Foreign Worker changes

Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Canadian federal government's immigration department, has announced major changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The TFWP allows foreign workers to acquire Canadian work permits.

On Friday 20th June 2014, Canada's employment minister Jason Kenney and the immigration minister Chris Alexander announced the changes in a joint press conference. The two ministers said that their "reform" of the system would help to prevent abuse.

The main reforms are

  • No employer to be able to hire low-waged TFWP workers in areas where the unemployment rate is above 6%
  • Maximum duration of TFWP work permit to be reduced to less than the current four years. New maximum not yet known
  • Improvements to the Labour Market Opinion system to include better labour market information
  • An increase in the application fee from $275 to $1,000 per worker
  • The introduction of a cap on the percentage of employees at any one work site that can be sourced through the TFWP. A maximum percentage of 30% will be introduced immediately
  • The maximum percentage of workers under the TFWP will be reduced further in the next two years. It will fall to 20% on July 1st 2015 and 10% on 1st July 2016
  • An increase in the number of government inspectors and inspections made to ensure compliance with the terms of the program.
  • Increase in maximum fine for abuse of the program to $100,000
  • Increased funding to facilitate more criminal prosecutions of employers who abuse the system

The changes were brought in with immediate effect.

TFWP

The government has also said that it will publish the names of all employers who apply to employ TFWP workers and will publish the number of visa approvals for each quarter.

The TFWP allows Canadian employers to employ foreign workers where there is no Canadian willing and able to do the job. To be able to employ a TFWP worker, an employer must usually first gain a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) which will be taken as proof that this is the case.

The employer can then offer a position to a foreign worker. The foreign worker must then apply for a TFWP work permit, (submitting a copy of the LMO with his application. He must then apply for a Canadian temporary residence visa.

Bargaining power

Critics of the system have complained for some years that this system allows Canadian employers to employ foreign workers on low wages. They say that foreign workers employed under the TFWP cannot take another job when they are in Canada. They therefore have little bargaining power during pay negotiations.

This in turn, the critics say, means that Canadian workers are often not prepared to work for the low wages on offer in low-skilled jobs. They say that the system is open to abuse.

There have been several recent reports of abuse of the TFWP. Most recently, in April this year, several restaurants in western Canada, including several branches of MacDonald's in Victoria, British Columbia, were accused of employing foreign workers at the expense of Canadian workers.

TFWP 'has driven down wages'

The program is designed to prevent this from happening but Canadian unions complain that in reality, the program has been used to drive down wages and to employ foreign workers at lower wages.

The two ministers launched a phone line to allow people to report suspected abuses of the program on 6th April 2014. It has so far received over 1,000 complaints.

Mr Kenney said that he was 'disturbed' by reports of restaurants 'opening up new stores, new franchises, in areas where they tell us there are no local workers available'. He said that this was 'clearly an abuse' of the program.

Moratorium

In April, the Canadian government imposed a moratorium on the issuing of new TFWP work permits to businesses in the hospitality industry sector pending an investigation into abuses of the scheme. That investigation has now been completed and the new rules are in place. The moratorium on the hospitality sector has therefore been ended.

But hospitality industry figures have spoken out against the new reforms. They claim that Canadians do not want to work in hospitality and warn of staff shortages ahead.

One, Garth Whyte, of industry lobby group Restaurants Canada told Canadian broadcaster CBC 'the rules have become so stringent that's it's going to be very difficult for our members to access it.

'Gross overreaction'

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that the new rules were a 'gross overreaction to a handful of negative stories'. Dan Kelly, the president of the Federation said 'Unless the federal government is prepared to force unemployed Canadians to move to take jobs they don't want, these changes leave a huge gap for employers'.

According to the St Albert Leader website, the independent MP from Edmonton-St Albert, Brent Rathgeber said; 'I'm quite confident that we're going to see things like 24-hour drive-thrus close and reduced hours simply because the employers are not going to have the human resources to stay open'.

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