Dutrisac: La vulnérabilité perpétuée par le système (Temporary Foreign Workers and closed work permits)

Of note::

Le nombre d’immigrants temporaires a explosé au Québec, tout comme dans le reste du Canada d’ailleurs. Et parmi eux, des travailleurs étrangers à bas salaire, qu’ils se trouvent dans les entrepôts ou dans les champs, sont à la merci d’employeurs sans scrupule.

Discuter d’un seuil de 50 000 immigrants reçus, le chiffre programmé par le gouvernement Legault, c’est discourir sur un portrait bien partiel de l’immigration au Québec. Comme l’a rapporté Le Devoir récemment, ce seuil est largement dépassé par l’afflux d’immigrants temporaires. Ainsi, le nombre de ressortissants étrangers détenteurs de permis de travail et d’études présents sur le territoire québécois dépassait les 180 000 en 2022. En tout, selon l’Institut de la statistique du Québec, au 1er juillet dernier, on comptait 290 000 résidents non permanents, toutes catégories confondues. Ce nombre a presque doublé en dix ans.

Le gouvernement caquiste n’en a que pour les professionnels et les travailleurs qualifiés, réunis sous le vocable d’immigration économique et commandant les hauts salaires que favorise François Legault. Il en faut, de cette main-d’oeuvre bien formée que recherchent des employeurs aux prises avec des difficultés de recrutement.

Mais on ne saurait occulter le fait que le Québec a aussi besoin de travailleurs sans grandes études, disposés à prendre des emplois dont les Québécois ne veulent pas et à se contenter des bas salaires qui vont avec. Des emplois ingrats, souvent exigeants physiquement, qui représentent pourtant un rouage important de l’économie. On parle de manoeuvres, de manutentionnaires, de préposés à l’entretien, d’ouvriers dans des usines de transformation alimentaire, de travailleurs agricoles.

Depuis 2015, la main-d’oeuvre recrutée par les entreprises québécoises par le truchement du Programme des travailleurs étrangers temporaires (PTET) a plus que triplé pour atteindre les 34 000 personnes.

Quelles que soient leurs compétences, les travailleurs étrangers temporaires, s’ils veulent prolonger leur présence au pays, ce qui, souvent, est aussi le souhait de leur employeur, doivent renouveler leur permis de travail, une démarche souvent angoissante compte tenu de l’incurie administrative des autorités fédérales. Certains de ces immigrants sont ici pour trois ans, cinq ans, dix ans même. C’est la grande hypocrisie du système : de nombreux travailleurs temporaires occupent des postes permanents. Plusieurs souhaitent immigrer au Québec.

Contrairement aux étudiants et aux personnes admissibles au Programme fédéral de mobilité internationale, les travailleurs peu qualifiés recrutés par le PTET ne disposent pas d’un permis de travail ouvert, mais d’un permis « fermé » qui lie leur présence au Québec à un employeur unique. Ils sont placés dans une situation de vulnérabilité qui les expose à des abus et à une exploitation éhontée de la part d’employeurs. Ces travailleurs hésitent à porter plainte de crainte de perdre leur emploi et de se voir forcer de retourner dans leur pays, ce dont on les menace, d’ailleurs.

C’est ce genre de situations que montre l’enquête Essentiels. La face cachée de l’immigration, un documentaire présenté à Télé-Québec, réalisé par Ky Vy Le Duc et signé par la militante Sonia Djelidi et la journaliste du Devoir Sarah R. Champagne. On constate que des travailleurs agricoles ont été forcés de s’échiner dans les champs jusqu’à 17 heures par jour et qu’ils ont passé plusieurs semaines sans prendre une seule journée de congé. Logés sur la ferme, ils doivent s’entasser dans des baraques exiguës et invivables qu’on dit conformes aux normes fédérales. On y voit des travailleuses immigrantes se faire exploiter par une agence de placement sans permis. Ou encore ce travailleur qui est employé depuis dix ans par les serres Savoura et qui n’a vu sa famille, restée au Guatemala, que trois mois et demi pendant la décennie, ne réussissant pas à obtenir un certificat de sélection du Québec.

Contrairement à la Charte canadienne, la Charte québécoise des droits et libertés protège les étrangers. Il faudrait s’en souvenir. Se rappeler aussi que les normes minimales de travail, c’est pour eux aussi. Sur la ferme, Québec peut remédier à la discrimination perpétuée par Ottawa et leur garantir un hébergement digne de ce nom, sujet aux mêmes normes qui régissent l’hébergement fourni par les employeurs aux travailleurs québécois.

Pour que cessent les abus et les mauvais traitements dont les travailleurs étrangers sont l’objet, les permis fermés devraient être abolis et remplacés par des permis ouverts liés à un secteur d’activité et possiblement à une région. Ces changements essentiels dépendent malheureusement de la bonne volonté du gouvernement fédéral. C’est Québec qui devrait se charger des travailleurs étrangers temporaires sur notre territoire, ce que prévoyait l’entente Canada-Québec sur l’immigration. S’assurer du respect de la dignité de tout travailleur en sol québécois, c’est en somme sa responsabilité.

Source: La vulnérabilité perpétuée par le système

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program is ballooning to fill the labour gap, but workers say they’re abused and poorly paid. Is that the solution we want?

Of note. The easing of time limits and percentage of workforce changes make no sense apart from appeasing the business community’s wishes for more flexible and less expensive laboour:

David Rodriguez, a 37-year-old cook from Mexico, says he was fired from a Toronto restaurant less than two months after arriving in Canada for standing up to his verbally abusive employer.

Amelia, 37, from Indonesia, says she was fired for telling her employer she was sexually abused by his father while working as a live-in caregiver in his home in Toronto.

Orel, 35, from Jamaica, says he was “treated like a slave” while employed on a farm in the Niagara region for several years, enduring 10- to 12-hour work days seven days a week for seven months straight.

Claudia, 48, from Mexico, says she was threatened with having her contract terminated when she wanted to take time off to recover from illness and see her family.

All four were granted entry to Canada through the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, which allows Canadian employers to hire migrant workers to fill temporary jobs to address shortages in the labour force. (The Star has granted anonymity to three of the workers and given them pseudonyms as they could face repercussions for speaking publicly.)

For more than 50 years the controversial program has supplied Canadian employers with migrant workers who can be paid less than Canadian workers while often working longer hours with fewer benefits. Now, thanks to an unprecedented labour shortage that has seen the number of job vacancies in the country skyrocket to a record high of nearly one million, the program has been quietly undergoing a massive expansion.

The number of approvals to hire temporary foreign workers shot up by more than 60 per cent in the first half of 2022 over the year before, and in April the federal government loosened restrictions introduced years ago to prevent employers from abusing the program.

Under the new rules, employers across most sectors are now permitted to hire up to 20 per cent of their workforce through the low-wage stream of the program, which pays workers as little as $15 per hour. That’s double the number of workers allowed under the previous 10 per cent cap — and employers such as hotels and fast food restaurants can hire even more, up to 30 per cent of their workforce.

Economists and worker advocates are concerned about the sudden expansion. They told the Star that while the changes help farms, nurseries, restaurants and trucking companies hire more workers when labour is tight, in the process, the program is creating a rapidly-growing second tier of workers without the same basic rights and protections that resident workers have, resulting in abuse and mistreatment of workers who are threatened with deportation if they complain.

“This absolutely creates a two-tier workforce. In many ways that’s what it’s designed to do, is to have this temporary workforce where people are treated simply as workers as opposed to full human beings. They are here to work under conditions that enable them to be exploited and then leave,” said Fay Faraday, a labour and human rights lawyer and professor at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Amelia came to Canada in 2019 as a live-in care worker. She told the Star she left behind two children to whom she regularly sends money. She has had to endure working 10- to 12-hour days with little time off, often getting paid for only six to eight hours at minimum wage.

Her contracts are precarious and she has often been in the position where she has had to scramble to find a new employer to maintain her status in the country, as was the case when she says she was sexually assaulted by her employer’s father. 

“I have to keep quiet because I have no power here. I live with my employer so I can’t complain. I need to send money back to my children so they can survive, and I need to survive here and pay rent,” Amelia said.

“I had so much hope coming to Canada. But now it’s like I’m in a nightmare. I miss my children, I can’t see them, I can’t touch them. But I have to be strong so I can give them a better life.”

Like Amelia, Orel came to Canada from Jamaica in 2015 to provide for his two children and wife back home, doing seasonal work on a farm in Niagara, harvesting and pruning plums and peaches with about 120 other workers. For several years, Orel said he worked for 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, often for several months in a row.

In Ontario, farm employees are not entitled to daily and weekly limits on hours of work, time off between shifts and overtime pay.

“They treated us like animals, like we didn’t have any rights,” Orel said.

He added that if his employers thought workers were too slow, they would threaten them with deportation.

“He (the employer) used it as a weapon every day,” Orel said. “The government calls our work essential, but there’s no way to get permanent residence. It just feels like we’re being used and thrown away, that’s how we’re treated.”

The abuse some temporary workers are enduring today was not part of the original plan.

The program kicked off back in 1973 with the aim of addressing labour shortages for jobs Canadians could not or would not fill, including agricultural workers, domestic workers and highly skilled jobs, such as specialist physicians and professors.

In 2002, the program was expanded to allow companies to apply to bring in foreign workers to fill jobs in new sectors, including food service and hospitality jobs, under the “Low Skill Pilot Project.”

As a result, between 2000 to 2012, the population of temporary foreign workers in Canada more than tripled to 338,213 from 89,746, according to a report by the Metcalf Foundation, authored by Faraday. By 2014, a total of 567,977 people were working with temporary immigration status, the report said. 

Following allegations that McDonald’s was abusing the program in 2014 — which lead to a federal probe — new regulations were implemented by then employment minister for the federal Conservative party, Jason Kenney, which put a cap on the number of foreign workers employers can hire and limited low-wage workers to no more than 10 per cent of a company’s workforce. Employers were also barred from hiring TFWs in regions where the unemployment rate was above six per cent.

Then, in April of this year, the regulations changed again.

In a bid to address a record-high number of job vacancies in the wake of the pandemic, the federal government amended the TFW program to make it easier for employers to access low-wage temporary foreign labour by increasing the number of migrant workers a company can hire.

The latest numbers show Canadian employers are doing just that. According to recent data from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), the government department responsible for the TFW program, there was a massive surge in requests from employers to hire foreign workers in the first half of 2022. 

ESDC numbers show that between January and June of this year, employers received 108,595 approvals to hire workers through the program (data for the last two quarters of 2022 have yet to be released). That’s up by more than 60 per cent from the 67,233 approvals granted in the first half of 2021, and more than the pre-pandemic annual total of 108,056 approvals for all of 2018. 

To hire a TFW, an employer must first submit a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to ESDC for approval, demonstrating that there is a need for a foreign worker to fill the job and that no Canadian worker or permanent resident is available to do the job. 

Once the LMIA is approved, the worker can apply for a work permit. A single application can include several positions and so one LMIA approval could equate to several worker permits issued, and there is no limit on how many positions an employer can apply for with an LMIA. 

Since 2016, LMIA approvals to hire TFWs have steadily increased, with a slight dip in 2020 due to pandemic closures. In 2021 there were a total of 132,027 approvals, up from 87,760 in 2016.

The majority of approvals in the TFW program are for farm workers. From 2017 to 2021, 249,867 LMIAs for farm workers were approved, according to ESDC data. This number is followed by home child-care providers, which had 22,839 approvals between 2017 to 2021.

Cooks are also in high demand, with 20,614 approvals in the same period. In Q2 of this year, there were 7,644 approvals for positions in accommodation and food services, a leap from the same period in 2021, when there were only 2,979 approvals.

According to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), 4,144 work permits were issued for cooks in the TFW program from January to October this year, a steep climb from the 112 work permits issued in 2016, and 1,167 work permits in 2017.

Farm workers in the TFW program had a total of 315,484 work permits issued by IRCC from 2016 to October 2022, the highest number of permits among occupations.

But as the program expands, TFWs continue to live with precarious immigration status and are tied to one employer as a condition of their work permit, which means that complaining about an employer could cost a worker their job and legal status in Canada. 

Without permanent status, the threat of deportation hangs over any worker who dares complain about abusive conditions, making workers vulnerable and hostage to their employers’ demands.

“What we’ve had over the past two decades is a series of tweaks here and there which try to sharpen or smooth off some of the rough edges of the temporary worker program,” Faraday said. “There hasn’t been anything that has addressed fundamentally the way in which the laws we have create precariousness and exploitation of workers.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Julie Lafortune counters that changes have been made to the program to protect workers. She said in an email that as of 2019, foreign workers with an employer-specific work permit are able to apply for an open work permit if they are being mistreated by their current employer.

As well, in September 2022, IRCC and ESDC announced amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations concerning TFWs, which mandated that employers provide all TFWs with information about their rights in Canada and prohibited punishment by employers against workers who bring up complaints.

Enforcement of the rules is rare. But last June, Scotlynn Growers — an Ontario farm where a COVID-19 outbreak claimed the life of a migrant worker — was convicted of violating workplace safety laws. The farm pleaded guilty to one count of failing to take all reasonable precautions to protect a worker and will be fined $125,000.

Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, is not convinced that workers are truly protected. He says TFWs in Canada date all the way back to Chinese railroad workers in the 1880s and before, but “we just didn’t call them that.”

“The excuse of a labour shortage is just one of the reasons that are being used to justify the program and to access cheap labour,” Hussan said.


Economists and activists say a worker crisis is developing as the program balloons, creating a surge of cheap labour which disincentivizes companies from raising wages and improving conditions.

“We don’t have a labour shortage. We have a wage shortage because people aren’t being offered the wages they are looking for to take certain jobs,” said Sheila Block, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“What we’re seeing is workers for the first time in decades have a great deal of bargaining power with employers, and that has the potential to improve wages and conditions,” Block said.

“But rather than increase wages and shift the way workers would be organized, the government has instead agreed to increase the number of low-wage workers who have very limited rights.”

Block stressed that foreign labour is not taking any jobs away from Canadians and the solution to protect migrant workers is to grant them permanent status or open work permits at the very least.

“This is not an argument against expanding immigration. It’s an argument against the elements of this policy that create a second tier of workers,” Block said. “We should not bring people into this country to work without providing them with status.”

Claudia, 48, who came to Canada from Mexico in 2021 to work in a lobster shop in New Brunswick, agrees that giving foreign workers the same rights and pay as resident workers is the solution. 

“Many of my friends who I lived with over the last year can’t speak English or have access to a computer. It’s a very sad situation because you don’t have someone who can help you or explain the rules,” Claudia said.

She worked 12-hour shifts, cleaning, weighing, sorting and packaging frozen lobster tails. During the peak summer months, Claudia said worked without any weekends for three months straight.

“When I was sick, they told me to just take a pill and keep working,” Claudia said. “When we come here we don’t know if it’s legal so we just follow the rules or what they tell us.”

Claudia hopes one day she’ll be able to get permanent status in Canada.

“I like Canada. I pay taxes like everybody. I make the economy of the province better, so why don’t I have the same rights?”

Source: Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program is ballooning to fill the labour gap, but workers say they’re abused and poorly paid. Is that the solution we want?

P.E.I apple orchard firm ordered to pay thousands to foreign workers in ‘cash for pay scheme’

Classic case of exploitation and abuse:

P.E.I.’s Employment Standards Branch has ordered an apple orchard company in Kings County to pay thousands of dollars to four foreign workers who refused to participate in what the province’s chief labour standards officer called a “cash for pay scheme.”

Canadian Nectar Products has been ordered to pay the former employees sums ranging from about $5,000 to nearly $15,000 for unpaid wages. A related company, Fruits Canada, was ordered to pay one former employee $233 for unpaid wages.

The companies, and others linked to them, are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency related to similar allegations, in which workers claim their employer demanded cash payments in exchange for paycheques of lesser value than the cash that was remitted.

Source: P.E.I apple orchard firm ordered to pay thousands to foreign workers in ‘cash for pay scheme’

Canadian employers are ramping up their search for temporary foreign workers amid labour crunch

Of note. My concerns regarding productivity implications cited:

Canadian employers are moving to fill more jobs with temporary foreign workers, as they face a sustained labour shortage and the lowest unemployment rate in decades.

In the first three months of 2022, employers received approval from the federal government to fill about 44,200 positions through the TFW program, according to a Globe analysis of figures from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). That was the most in at least five years, and 73 per cent higher than the quarterly average from 2017 to 2021.

As usual, farms were the biggest source of labour demand. Nearly half of the approvals in the first quarter were for general farm workers. Jealous Fruits Ltd., a large cherry producer in Kelowna, B.C., was authorized to fill roughly 640 roles, the most of any employer.

The restaurant industry is turning more to foreign labour as well. The second most in-demand workers in the quarter were cooks, at 2,100 positions, almost double the previous quarter. Companies were also permitted to hire nearly 1,700 food-service supervisors, who often work for franchisees of fast-food chains, such as McDonald’s Corp.

The use of foreign labour is poised to rise even more.

In April, the federal Liberals overhauled the TFW program, largely to give companies more access to low-wage workers from abroad. And employers still have plenty of jobs to fill: At last count, they were recruiting for about one million positions.

Companies say the pool of domestic workers is severely constrained. As of July, Canada’s unemployment rate had ebbed to 4.9 per cent – the lowest in more than four decades of data.

The TFW expansion was cheered by business lobby groups. But the move was panned by labour advocates and many economists. The TFW program has been dogged by controversy in past years over concerns about unpaid wages, unsafe living conditions for migrants and companies passing over Canadian job candidates. Critics also say it shields employers from the need to raise wages for domestic workers or make investments that improve the country’s languishing productivity (meaning its economic output per hour worked).

“How’s this really helping productivity?” asked Andrew Griffith, a former director-general at the federal immigration department. “The government is making it easier for them to bring in more workers and just keep doing the same thing with more labour, rather than trying to really invest in productivity.”

To hire through the TFW program, an employer must submit a Labour Market Impact Assessment to the federal government, demonstrating that it can’t find local workers to fill positions. Once the government approves the roles, foreign workers must get the required permits to begin their employment in Canada. The quarterly IRCC figures refer to approved positions, rather than workers with permits.

Companies are inclined to fill whatever positions have been approved, said Meika Lalonde, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver. “It’s administratively burdensome” for employers to apply, she said, and they also pay a filing fee of $1,000 for every position requested.

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. has ramped up its use of foreign labour, chief executive officer Michael McCain told analysts on a call last week. And Recipe Unlimited Corp., which owns several restaurant chains, including Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s and the Keg, is helping franchisees use the TFW program, CEO Frank Hennessey said on an Aug. 3 investor call.

At the end of 2021, there were roughly 82,000 foreign workers with TFW permits, the most since 2014, when the Harper government tightened access to the program following a string of controversies. Companies rely more on the International Mobility Program – which was hived off from the TFW program in the 2014 overhaul – to recruit temporary foreign labour.

The IMP includes a range of foreign workers, such as company transfers from abroad and those with postgraduate work permits. Notably, companies do not need to file LMIAs to hire through the program. At the end of 2021, there were more than 695,000 people with IMP permits.

International students have become another major source of labour supply. The number of international students with T4 earnings – that is, employment income – has soared to 354,000 in 2019, from 22,000 in 2000, according to Statistics Canada.

Source: Canadian employers are ramping up their search for temporary foreign workers amid labour crunch

‘Politically invisible’: temporary immigration soars in Quebec as official targets left unchanged

More on the Institut de Quebec report. Given that similar increases in temporary workers occurs in the rest of Canada, it may be time for the immigration levels plan to include temporary residents (IMP, TFWP and students) to provide a more comprehensive picture):

While Quebec’s official immigration targets have remained largely stable in recent years, the real number of newcomers in the province has surged due to an increasing reliance on temporary workers who often face more precarious conditions and long waits for permanent residency, a recent study has revealed.

The publication by the Institut du Québec found that while non-permanent residents represented nine per cent of international immigration to the province from 2012 to 2016, that number had climbed to 64 per cent by 2019.

Three experts who spoke with The Canadian Press said the growth in temporary immigration can help companies meet their needs in a tightening labour market, but the province needs to do more to adjust to the new reality in order to better serve both newcomers and its own goals.

Source: ‘Politically invisible’: temporary immigration soars in Quebec as official targets left unchanged

USA: Economists hope a rebound in immigration helps curb inflation

Of note, temporary workers as a way to both address labour shortages and reduce wage pressures:

When the crowds return to Funland this summer, they’ll find familiar rides like the Fire Engines and the Sea Dragon at this small beachside amusement park.

For the first time since the pandemic began, many of those rides and games will be staffed by student guest workers from around the world.

“They are truly important to the success of our business,” said Chris Darr, the personnel manager at Funland. “We saw last year, we couldn’t fill the positions that we had.”

The number of guest workers and immigrants coming to the United States is slowly climbing again after steep declines during the pandemic. Tens of thousands of international students are back at resort towns and amusement parks. The Biden administration has released more visas for seasonal guest workers, and it’s automatically extending work permits for others.

Economists say that should ease labor shortages — and some, though not all, think it could help calm inflation too.

“Hopefully if this trend continues, and maybe accelerates, we will see the easing of some of the shortages,” said Giovanni Peri, an economics professor at the University of California, Davis.

Businesses in Rehoboth Beach rely on seasonal guest workers

Employers in Rehoboth Beach are clearly glad to have these temporary student workers back. Without them, Darr says, he couldn’t hire enough people to keep Funland open every day.

“Especially at the end of the summer, early August, we lose college students, we lose high school students back to sports and theater programs,” said Darr, a fourth-generation member of the family that owns the park.

For decades, he says, Funland has relied on students coming to the U.S. on J-1 visas. But the program was all but shut down in 2020. The numbers were up last year, though still far short of pre-pandemic levels.

“Without the J-1 visa program, we wouldn’t be able to open half of the stuff that is in the park,” he said.

This summer, Darr is expecting about two dozen student guest workers — including 21-year-old Morgan Bennett, a student from Jamaica.

“There was a listing of all the different places that I could have worked,” Bennett said. “When the person had told me the type of job that I would have encountered, I just said yes!”

The State Department says the number of participants in its summer work travel program is rebounding toward pre-pandemic levels. Roughly 30,000 participants have started the program already this year, according to a State Department official, with about 50,000 more in the pipeline. That would put the program at roughly three-quarters of its enrollment in 2019, when more than 108,000 visas were issued.

More guest workers could help ease labor shortages

Overall, the U.S. economy is about two million working-age immigrants short of where it would have been if not for the pandemic and the Trump administration’s cuts, according to Peri. He says that’s contributed to a tighter labor market, putting pressure on employers to raise wages — and in turn, prices.

“If these shortages loosens up — so if there are more workers — this should also reduce the inflationary pressures,” Peri said. That’s especially true, he says, in industries that depend heavily on immigrant labor, like hospitality.

“We were 32 employees short last summer,” said Susan Wood, who owns the Cultured Pearl Restaurant and Sushi Bar in Rehoboth Beach. “It was torture. I mean all of our staff work six, seven days. They killed themselves.”

“I worked 183 days straight at the front desk, and my husband worked more than that in the kitchen,” she said.

Wood is also participating in the J-1 visa program this year. Without those international student workers, she says, her year-round staff worked a lot of overtime last summer, driving her labor costs way up.

“We had to raise prices,” Wood said. “We raised prices because of payroll, but not nearly as much as we had to raise prices because of food costs.”

Some economists doubt that more immigration will cure inflation

The costs of food and energy are still rising fast. Economists say that’s contributing to inflation across the economy — and some are skeptical that a partial rebound in the number of guest workers and immigrants will have a measurable impact.

“I don’t think it’s going to do much to fix our inflation problem,” said Ramesh Ponnuru, the editor of the National Review, and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington.

Ponnuru argues that inflation right now is largely caused by problems in the supply chain, and that simply bringing immigration back to pre-COVID levels won’t solve those problems.

“We need an immigration policy designed with our economy’s interests in mind. We don’t have that,” Ponnuru said. “And just toggling that so that you have more of a dysfunctional immigration policy seems to me to be a mistake.”

Temporary guest workers are already making an impact on the bottom line at Thrasher’s French Fries in Rehoboth Beach. General manager Dean Shuttleworth is expecting about a dozen international student workers this summer, which means that he’ll have enough staff to reopen another location across the street that’s been shuttered since the pandemic began.

“[Memorial Day] weekend was the first time we opened our 26 Rehoboth Avenue store up in two years,” Shuttleworth said.

“Last year, we had the volume up. We were extremely busy,” he said. “So I’m in pretty good shape this year.”

Source: Economists hope a rebound in immigration helps curb inflation

Koop: Foreign-worker changes could spell trouble

Yet another warning note and reminder of how the Conservatives had to backtrack in 2013-14 given the abuses of the program by employers preferring temporary foreign workers than Canadian residents:

CANADA has been welcoming temporary foreign workers since 1973, but the programs that facilitate this have often been criticized for abuse and mismanagement. Recent changes introduced by the federal government that will expand the number of foreign workers could lead to even more such criticism, as every indication is low-income Canadians will suffer because of the government’s reforms.

Programs that welcome low-skill foreign workers can be of great assistance to employers in very tight labour markets where employees are hard to come by. But the danger of unchecked growth is that these workers typically are willing to accept lower wages and worse working conditions than Canadian workers, which can lead to wage suppression for Canadians or even displacement.

In 2013 and 2014, as the number of foreign workers swelled, abuses of these workers were covered widely in the Canadian media. In some cases, foreign workers were underpaid, or their working conditions were odious; in others, corporations recruited them despite high local unemployment rates. The result of this media coverage was several restrictions introduced by prime minister Stephen Harper’s government designed to slow growth in the number of low-skill foreign workers.

Since then, Ottawa has been besieged by fancy corporate lobbyists intent on loosening these restrictions. In April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government finally caved, agreeing to reverse the 2014 restrictions. These changes, which have already taken effect, will likely lead to a spike in the number of low-skill foreign workers in Canada.

In particular: the cap on the total number of foreign workers in several sectors was boosted from 10 to 30 per cent. There is no limit on the number of foreign workers that can be employed in the agriculture, caregiving, and fish and seafood processing sectors. Crucially and inexplicably, employers will now be able to hire foreign workers in regions where the unemployment rate exceeds six per cent.

The problem with expanding access to low-skill foreign workers is that doing so short-circuits market forces that should benefit Canadian workers. When labour markets are tight, employers must compete for the applicants available. The result is higher wages, better benefits and more attractive working conditions.

Employers also have to expand their searches and be more open to applicants they may previously have passed over; for example, disabled Canadians, recent immigrants and refugees, apprentices and young Canadians.

Canadian workers should be benefiting from these market forces. But, to the contrary, post-pandemic wage growth is very low. Indeed, inflation has meant that real Canadian wages may in fact be declining. Low-wage workers — including working class-families, single mothers, and immigrants and refugees just starting out in Canada — are hit hardest by inflation since any marginal increase in costs is felt most acutely by these vulnerable Canadians.

Opening access to foreign workers will present an opportunity to business, but it will likely prolong the pain already faced by working-class Canadian families as wage growth continues to stagnate. Economists Fabian Lange, Mikal Skuterud and Christopher Worswick argue convincingly that the government’s recent reforms will further undermine wage growth despite the tight labour market. They ask, “Does relying on foreign guest workers to fill low-wage job vacancies make sense in this environment?”

Well, it makes perfect sense for corporations.

A few months ago, it was revealed that Tim Hortons, the ubiquitous coffee chain, was facing a staffing crisis that was directly related to low wages. Emails obtained by BNN Bloomberg show that managers at 22 high-traffic suburban chains, mostly surrounding Toronto, were panicked by a lack of workers to handle the post-pandemic return of motorists picking up coffee on the way to work.

As these franchises’ profits have increased, the solution to their staffing problem was obvious: increased wages and enhanced benefits to draw potential workers back from other sectors. But Tim Hortons was among the corporations that protested the most loudly when the government restricted the use of temporary foreign workers in 2014. Should anyone wonder how the coffee chain and other corporations will address staffing shortages now that the Harper-era reforms have been reversed?

When provided with an opportunity from the federal government to suppress labour costs, why wouldn’t employers take it? Workers hoping for relief in this sector may be out of luck.

This raises the question: who is looking out for these Canadian workers? New Democrats fancy themselves the party of workers, but Jagmeet Singh recently dragged his party into a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberal government that scrapped the old restrictions. Should voters hold him as well as the Liberals accountable in the next election?

Royce Koop is a professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba and academic director of the Centre for Social Science Research and Policy.

Source: Foreign-worker changes could spell trouble

Lange, Skuterud and Worswick: The economic case against low-wage temporary foreign workers

Good and needed commentary:

Canada is unique in its broad public support for high immigration levels, and for good reason. A world with fewer migration barriers can boost living standards in all countries by moving workers where they are most productive. But easing employer access to low-wage temporary foreign workers, a key piece of the federal government’s recently announced Workforce Solutions Road Map, risks undermining real wage growth and increasing income inequality.

Proponents of increased immigration levels argue that immigration is essential to grow the economy. But what matters is not the total size of the economic pie but the size of the average slice and how it is divided. Increasing low-skilled immigration to increase the overall size of the economy risks driving down average living standards in Canada. The economic growth literature is clear: raising GDP per capita through immigration requires prioritizing skilled immigrants to raise the average skill level of the labour force and harness capital investments, especially in new technologies.

The high-skill streams of Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs, such as the global skills strategy, have much potential to strengthen Canada’s position in the global war for talent. These programs allow employers to identify foreign talent and provide growing businesses with a fast and responsive system for recruiting foreign workers. By temporarily binding temporary foreign workers to employers, businesses are ensured that they will retain this talent over a period of time, thereby incentivizing them to invest in talent search, while migrants are assured fast and seamless transitions to permanent residency through the express entry system. The benefits to Canada’s economy have the potential to be broad.

The same benefits do not arise from low-wage temporary foreign worker streams. Published lists of employer approvals in the low-wage stream of Canada’s temporary foreign worker program reveal that these are overwhelmingly jobs requiring no more than short periods of on-the-job training. Low-wage temporary foreign workers are therefore not filling skill gaps and they compete for jobs with Canada’s most vulnerable workers, especially recent immigrants, including refugees. Evidenceshows that binding temporary workers with limited marketable skills to specific employers creates a power imbalance, which opens the door to abuse.

For these reasons, Canada’s low-wage temporary foreign worker program has been controversial. Media coverage in 2013-2014 documented reports of employer program misuse, including by Tim Hortons and McDonald’s franchises in areas with high unemployment rates. The federal government’s response in 2014 to this controversy was twofold. First, it curtailed growth by imposing a fee on the labour market impact assessments businesses are required to undergo to ensure adequate efforts have been made to fill jobs domestically. It also limited the share of temporary foreign workers to 10 per cent of employers’ workforces, and it restricted hiring of temporary foreign workers in areas where the local unemployment rate exceeded six per cent. Second, it broke off the component of the program not requiring labour market impact assessments and renamed it the international mobility program.

Figure 1 provides our best estimates of how employer reliance on temporary foreign workers has become entrenched in Canada’s labour markets. After briefly declining following the 2014 reforms, the program has continued to grow, which almost entirely reflects growth under the less-scrutinized international mobility program. This persistent growth is evidence that the program has grown beyond its objective of being a temporary measure for businesses to fill temporary labour shortages to becoming a permanent business strategy to minimize labour costs.

The true temporary foreign worker employment share is no doubt bigger as the data does not include foreign students, who have the right to work in Canada and have increased five-fold since 2000. However, neither the government nor Statistics Canada tracks the employment of foreign students. The simple and troubling reality is that we don’t know what percentage of Canada’s low-wage jobs are currently being done by foreign students, but an analysis of census data performed by one of us suggests it has increased. It is likely that the imperative for foreign students to work has increased along with the tuition fee premiums they are required to pay.

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A recent study of a policy change in the United Arab Emirates shows that allowing temporary foreign workers to move to other firms when their initial contracts expire improves their initial wage outcomes.  Migrants’ willingness to accept substandard wages and working conditions is further exacerbated by the dream of obtaining permanent residency status. Despite much rhetoric about lessons learned during the pandemic and the need for expanded permanent residency pathways for temporary foreign workers, evidence reveals that low-skill temporary foreign workers have always been, and continue to be, more likely than higher skilled temporary foreign workers to obtain permanent residency status because they are more likely to seek it. Of course, when temporary foreign workers make the transition to permanent residency and their job opportunities open up, they are likely to be just as unwilling as other Canadians to accept the low wages and unappealing working conditions of these jobs, leading to continuous pressure to bring in more temporary foreign workers to replace the prior group.

There is no question that Canada’s low-wage labour markets are now exceptionally tight. Figure 2 shows that the number of vacancies per job seeker in late 2021 and early 2022 far exceeds the level seen prior to the COVID recession. In January 2022, there were  7.1 job vacancies for every 10 job seekers (0.83 million job vacancies and 1.16 million job seekers) down from a peak of  8.4 in December 2021 (see figure 2). Increases in job vacancies requiring a high school diploma or less have been especially acute – 74-per-cent increase between the fourth quarter of 2020 and 2021 compared to a 63-per-cent increase overall.

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Strong demand for low-wage workers has led Canada’s business lobby to push for eased access to temporary foreign workers, to which the government responded on April 11 by announcing its Workforce Solutions Road Map, which will see a reversal of the 2014 temporary foreign worker program restrictions. Most notable, as of April 30 this year, the workforce cap on low-wage temporary foreign workers will increase from 10 per cent to 30 per cent in seven sectors: food manufacturing; wood product manufacturing; furniture and related manufacturing; accommodation and food services; construction; hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities. Positions in on-farm agriculture, caregiving, and fish and seafood processing will have no limit on the number of temporary foreign workers employed, making permanent an exemption introduced in 2015. For all remaining sectors of the economy, the cap will increase to 20 per cent.

In addition, the maximum permit duration will increase from 180 to 270 days for these low-wage positions. Labour market impact assessments will be valid for 18 months, up from nine months during the pandemic, and six months before the pandemic. Finally, the government will end the moratorium on the hiring of temporary foreign workers in regions where the unemployment rate exceeds six per cent.

For economists, labour shortages are an opportunity to be embraced. Competition for scarce workers forces employers to use existing workers more efficiently, by, for example, offering longer hours for those willing, introducing new technologies that may be complementary to the tasks of workers, and investing in employee training, thereby raising skills and labour productivity. To compete for workers, employers will be pressured to enhance their wages, benefits, and working conditions, thereby making the least desirable jobs less odious.

Increased competition also compels employers to be less selective in their recruitment efforts and to offer opportunities to job seekers who would otherwise have difficulties getting a toehold in the labour market, such as recent immigrants and workers with disabilities.

Finally, the combination of a tight labour market and pandemic interruptions appears to be increasing worker mobility out of low-wage sectors, such as from the retail and food-accommodations industries toward sectors with better pay and more opportunities for career advancement.

No doubt some low-margin employers will be unable to compete, but business failures are a necessary reality of a healthy well-functioning economy. Thirty-seven per cent of Canadian businesses fail within the first five years, and 57 per cent by 10 years, according to a recent Industry Canada analysis. In the food and accommodations industry, only 31 per cent survive 10 years. This continuous flow of business creation and destruction ensures all production inputs, including workers and capital, are employed where they are most efficient and contribute most to the economy. There is good reason to believe that Canada’s $100-billion public expenditure for the Canada emergency wage subsidy has interrupted this competitive process. Allowing it to return is an important step in easing the current labour crunch.

Despite exceptionally tight labour markets, Canadian wage growth remains lethargic. Statistics Canada’s most recent estimate suggests a 3.4-per-cent year-over-year increase in average wages over all employees, less than the 4.3-per-cent average increase recorded in the second half of 2019. In the seven sectors targeted for enhanced temporary foreign worker expansions in the Workforce Solutions Road Map, job vacancies increased 89 per cent between the fourth quarter of 2020 and 2021 but the average wage being offered to fill these vacancies increased by only 3.6 per cent (holding the sector mix of the vacancies constant). Over the same period, consumer prices in Canada increased 4.7 per cent, suggesting declining real wages, which, of course, is entirely at odds with labour shortages.

Does relying on foreign guest workers to fill low-wage job vacancies make sense in this environment? Is a justifiable rationale for the low-wage stream of Canada’s temporary foreign worker program to support businesses that fail in the absence of a ready source of cheap labour that is contractually tied to them?

What is the solution?

Optimal policy in high-wage labour markets is not optimal policy in low-wage markets. We need to think more clearly about what economic objectives we are seeking to achieve when easing access to low-wage temporary foreign workers.

Abruptly ending the low-wage temporary foreign workers stream might unduly disrupt businesses that have become reliant on this program. An alternative proposal, which deserves more consideration, is a “cap and trade” system in which Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada issues a fixed number of permits to satisfy current demand, but gradually lowers the number of permits issued in subsequent years. Employers may respond to this rationing of permits by trading unused permits to other employers whose willingness to pay for permits is higher. The cap ensures certainty in the number of permits issued, while the market for temporary foreign workers is left to determine the competitive market price for permits. In this way, temporary foreign workers will be employed by firms where they are the most productive, thereby improving the economic efficiency of the system and the wages and working conditions of Canada’s lowest-wage workers.

Source: The economic case against low-wage temporary foreign workers

Ottawa expands access to temporary foreign workers to ease labour crunch

As others have noted, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” as the government is likely to discover as did the previous government in 2014 (see So who is to blame for the temporary foreign worker mess?).

The federal government is allowing Canadian employers to hire significantly more temporary foreign workers as part of changes to its immigration rules, a move aimed at easing labour shortages that have aggravated businesses during the recovery from the pandemic.

The federal employment ministry announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program on Monday that will ultimately increase the number of TFWs allowed into Canada, both in low- and high-wage jobs. The changes will also streamline the application process for employers.

The loosened restrictions deliver a boon to businesses just days before the release of the 2022 federal budget, which corporate Canada will be watching closely for measures aimed at growing Canada’s economy after two years of market gyrations and massive public spending.

Starting on April 30, employers will be allowed to increase the number of low-wage TFWs they hire, from 10 per cent to 20 per cent of their total workforces, until further notice. For seven key sectors that have suffered from particularly acute labour shortage issues over the past few years – such as food manufacturing; hospitals, nursing and residential care; and accommodation and food services – the TFW cap for low-wage workers will be raised to 30 per cent for one year.

The government is also planning to remove a cap on the number of low-wage positions that employers in seasonal industries, such as fish and seafood processing, can fill through the program. Employers will now be able to keep TFWs in these positions for 270 days, instead of the current 180 days.

In addition, the government is expanding the duration of time that a foreign worker hired through the Global Talent Streams program (which is geared at high-wage foreign workers) can be employed in Canada, to three years from two. Technology leaders in Canada have continually lobbied Ottawa to loosen immigration rules for high-skilled workers, because the battle for tech talent often pits domestic firms against deep-pocketed Silicon Valley giants.

Many businesses in Canada, particularly those that were impacted by on-and-off lockdowns over the past two years, have been struggling to find domestic workers willing to be employed on the front lines of an ongoing pandemic, and have been calling on the government to allow them to access the TFW program.

Canadian employers were recruiting for roughly 915,000 positions in the fourth quarter of 2021, an increase of 80 per cent over the number of openings two years prior, according to Statistics Canada. In December, the labour need was particularly acute in three industries, each of which had more than 100,000 open positions: accommodation and food services, retail, and health care and social assistance.

Even as demand for labour has increased, employment in Canada has jumped above prepandemic levels. The national unemployment rate is 5.5 per cent, putting it just shy of a record low – a sign that worker availability is waning.

“As we begin to recover from the pandemic and look to fill remaining job vacancies, we will continue to make our Temporary Foreign Worker Program more accessible, efficient and agile to support employers who are looking to staff up and grow their operations,” Sean Fraser, the federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said in a statement.

TFWs are allowed into Canada on temporary visas, and they usually face legal restrictions on where they can work and the types of labour they can perform. A TFW can try to gain permanent residency in Canada, but those who aren’t granted permanent status are required to leave the country when their visas expire.

The expansion of the TFW program was met with mixed reactions. Employers and business lobby groups applauded the changes, while labour advocates cautioned that increasing the number of TFWs effectively increases the number of precarious workers with fewer rights than Canadians.

“We feel like the business community has been heard around labour shortages, particularly in the short term,” said Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies and inclusive growth at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The TFW program changes are “going to go a long way to help address those issues in many sectors.”

For decades, the TFW program has been a focal point of criticism in Canada’s immigration system. Its opponents have said it is overused by companies looking to drive down labour costs. Another frequent criticism is that the program allows employers to exploit migrant workers.

Only 0.4 per cent of Canada’s overall labour force consists of workers from the TFW program, according to the government. Most end up working in low-wage jobs. Agriculture alone accounts for 60 per cent of all TFWs.

Seasonal agriculture workers often live in employer-provided bunkhouses. Those crowded conditions have been blamed for a rash of COVID-19 outbreaks among migrant workers over the past two years, resulting in thousands getting sick and some dying. Labour groups say inhumane treatment of agricultural workers is acute in Ontario, where they are barred from unionizing or entering into collective bargaining agreements.

“This is very concerning. When workers come into this country tied to an employer, it completely limits their ability to speak up about any unfair labour practices or health issues,” said Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Centre, a labour advocacy group.

Ms. Ladd added that allowing an influx of foreign workers to enter the country without a clear path toward permanent residency, which would give them full labour and health protections under the law, is regressive.

The government has said increasing the Global Talent Streams visa period to three years from two will allow this class of foreign worker to more easily find ways to qualify for permanent residency.

Jane Deeks, a spokesperson for Carla Qualtrough, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, said nearly 152,000 applicants transitioned from worker status to permanent residency between January and November of 2021.

Source: Ottawa expands access to temporary foreign workers to ease labour crunch

Québec tarde à simplifier la venue de certains travailleurs temporaires en demande

Of note, appears more with respect to Quebec changes than the feds:

Le gouvernement Legault peine à tenir ses promesses pour amener des renforts de l’étranger à un Québec en pénurie de main-d’œuvre. Le Devoir a appris que des métiers peu spécialisés mais faisant l’objet d’une forte demande ne se trouvent pas, comme cela était prévu, sur la nouvelle liste des professions ayant accès au traitement simplifié pour l’octroi d’un permis de travail temporaire, ce qui inquiète les employeurs.

Ainsi, 37 professions de niveau C, selon la classification nationale des professions, comme chauffeurs de transport, manutentionnaires et opérateur de machinerie lourde, ne figurent toujours pas sur cette liste publiée le 24 février dernier bien que Jean Boulet, ministre de l’Immigration et du Travail, eût annoncé il y a quatre mois qu’elles y seraient.

Soumises à une très forte demande, les professions de préposés aux bénéficiaires, aides-infirmières et aides-soignantes ne sont pas non plus sur la liste. Selon le site Internet du ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale, les « travaux [pour ajouter ces professions de niveau C] se poursuivent avec le gouvernement fédéral ».

Dans d’autres secteurs en forte pénurie de main-d’œuvre, certaines professions demandant un peu plus de qualifications (niveau B) ont carrément été retirées de la liste, ce qui suscite l’incompréhension tant chez les employeurs que chez les firmes de recrutement et spécialistes en immigration. « J’ai été surprise de voir que le poste de superviseur des ventes avait été supprimé de la liste », souligne Béatrice Lemay, avocate en immigration chez Immétis. Plusieurs de ses clients sont des entreprises dans le domaine du commerce au détail, un secteur où les postes de caissiers, de vendeurs et de commis aux ventes sont très difficiles à pourvoir. « Il y a de l’incompréhension des deux côtés. C’est pourtant un secteur avec une grosse pénurie de main-d’œuvre et on s’est retrouvés avec encore moins de solutions », note-t-elle.

La profession de boulanger-pâtissier devait être rajoutée à la liste, mais elle n’y est finalement pas, bien que plusieurs propriétaires de boulangeries aient dénoncé un grave problème de recrutement l’an dernier dans Le Devoir. D’autres professions de catégorie B, comme surveillant de transport routier ou dessinatrice de mode, attendent aussi d’être réhabilitées sur la liste.

Au total, tous niveaux confondus, 71 professions, considérées comme « en déficit important de main-d’œuvre » par Québec et la Commission des partenaires du marché du travail, devaient être ajoutées sur la liste du traitement simplifié, dont la moitié avait été retirée de la liste par le gouvernement Legault lui-même.

Délais trop longs

À l’heure actuelle, faire venir un travailleur étranger est un processus qui peut prendre jusqu’à un an. Il faut d’abord que l’employeur fasse une étude d’impact sur le marché du travail afin de prouver qu’il comble un réel besoin et qu’aucun Canadien n’est disponible pour l’emploi. Cette démarche, qui coûte 1000 $ par travailleur qu’on veut faire venir, peut prendre de quatre à cinq mois. Une demande de permis de travail met autant de temps à être traitée par le fédéral.

De plus, l’employeur doit aussi avoir préalablement affiché pendant au moins un mois le poste et démontrer que personne ici n’a répondu à l’appel. Cette dernière démarche n’est toutefois pas obligatoire si la profession en question figure sur la liste de traitement simplifié. Celle-ci permet également à un employeur de faire venir autant de travailleurs qu’il veut et d’octroyer des contrats de 36 mois au lieu de 24, ce qui peut faciliter l’accès à la résidence permanente.

Ho Sung Kim, vice-président d’AURAY Sourcing Immigration, explique que la déception a été grande chez certains de ses clients qui attendaient impatiemment ces changements qui devaient contribuer à réduire les délais pour faire venir des travailleurs étrangers temporaires. « Je vois mal pourquoi on attend autant », estime-t-il. Selon lui, même si ça débloquait rapidement, il est déjà trop tard pour que les employeurs puissent faire venir des travailleurs pour la saison estivale. « Ça n’irait pas avant 2023. » Il aurait fallu que les changements à la liste soient faits à l’automne dernier, a-t-il ajouté.

Problèmes informatiques

Le ministre Jean Boulet dit avoir été informé que, si la trentaine de professions de niveau C tarde à être ajoutée à la liste, c’est qu’Emploi et Développement social Canada, qui est responsable du Programme des travailleurs étrangers temporaires, « a rencontré des enjeux informatiques » [sic]. Il demeure vague sur l’échéancier, indiquant qu’Ottawa devrait être en mesure de respecter « au cours des prochaines semaines » l’entente de principe conclue en août dernier, et qui a été annoncée de manière plus détaillée par le ministre le 1er novembre.

Lors de cette dernière annonce faite il y a quatre mois, le ministre Boulet affirmait au Devoir que ces assouplissements représentaient « la plus grande avancée du Québec en matière d’immigration temporaire » depuis 1991. Des quatre assouplissements négociés, deux ont déjà été mis en œuvre : l’exemption de l’affichage pour certaines professions demandant peu de qualifications (niveau D) a été réalisée en décembre dernier, et la hausse du seuil de 10 à 20 % de travailleurs étrangers permis pour les entreprises de certains secteurs, notamment le commerce de détail, les soins de santé et hébergement, est entrée en vigueur un mois plus tard.

Selon Ho Sung Kim, le « vrai » problème demeure les trop grands délais de traitement du gouvernement fédéral, qui gère le Programme des travailleurs étrangers temporaires. « Même si on a des assouplissements et un traitement simplifié, c’est réduire le délai de traitement du permis de travail qui va aider les entreprises. Parce que leur besoin de main-d’œuvre est déjà pour hier. »

Interrogé sur ses « problèmes informatiques », Emploi et Développement social Canada s’est contenté d’indiquer qu’il « demeure déterminé à travailler avec le Québec pour aider la province à répondre à ses besoins en main-d’œuvre tout en garantissant les droits et la protection des travailleurs ».

Source: Québec tarde à simplifier la venue de certains travailleurs temporaires en demande