May 13, 2013

Changes to Temporary Foreign Worker Program a Small Piece of the Big Picture

By Bonnie Mah, Maytree

On April 29, the government announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program and encouraged employers to “triple” their efforts to find workers in Canada. The changes follow recent controversies over temporary foreign workers and increased public scrutiny of this program. While they might address some pressing issues, they focus on a small portion of the TFW program. Many issues with the program remain.

Adding checks on employers

The government has billed the changes as ways to ensure that employers use the program only when they truly cannot find workers in Canada. Many of the proposed changes focus on the Labour Market Opinion (LMO), which approves an employer to hire a temporary foreign worker and is issued by the Canadian government.

Some of the changes are effective immediately. Others will be introduced through legislation.

The following changes are effective immediately:

  • The Accelerated LMO, which allowed certain employers to get an LMO in as little as ten business days, is suspended.
  • Employers must pay temporary foreign workers the prevailing wage for that occupation in that region. (Previously, employers could pay temporary foreign workers 5-15% less than the prevailing wage.)

Other changes will be introduced through legislation:

  • Employers will have to answer questions on the LMO application to confirm that they are not using the program to facilitate the outsourcing of Canadian jobs.
  • Employers will need to have a plan in place to transition to a Canadian workforce over time.
  • Employers may not require language skills other than English or French in their job description.
  • Employers will start paying fees for LMO applications.
  • The government will have increased authority to suspend and revoke LMOs if the program is being misused.

Interestingly, some changes target the temporary foreign workers themselves. For example:

  • Applicants will have to pay increased fees for work permits. (Unlike employers, workers have always had to pay a fee to apply.)
  • The government will have increased authority to suspend and revoke work permits if the program is being misused.

Many issues remain

About 40% of temporary foreign workers come to Canada with an LMO. The above changes focus only on these temporary foreign workers (the Seasonal Agricultural Worker program will be exempt from some of these provisions).

In other words, the changes don’t address the majority of temporary foreign workers. About 60% of temporary foreign workers come through streams that do not require an LMO. These include youth exchange programs, intra-company transfers, post-doctoral fellows, spouses of international students and temporary foreign workers, and those who come under international agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

And many issues facing our TFW program remain. For example:

  • The program continues to lack targets or caps on admission.
  • Many temporary foreign workers continue to pay taxes and contributions, but cannot access the services and benefits they pay for (such as Employment Insurance special benefits).
  • The “four-in, four-out” rule continues to require some temporary foreign workers to leave after four years and remain outside of Canada for four years before being eligible to return. Meanwhile employers can apply to hire a new temporary foreign worker right away.

Perhaps most importantly, the trend towards the temporary and away from permanent immigration will continue, untouched by these changes.

This is just one piece of Canada’s immigration system

Some level of temporary foreign workers, both with and without LMOs, is necessary and desirable. We should welcome changes that, if implemented effectively, will ensure that the TFW program fulfills specific, short-term purposes.

However, we must consider these changes as one small piece of the TFW program, which is, in turn, one small piece of Canada’s larger immigration system. Traditionally, our immigration system has been built on the foundation of permanent immigration. As we turn our attention to the TFW program, we must look beyond tweaks and towards the growing role that temporary residence is playing in our immigration system, and what this means for Canada.

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