StatsCan Study: How temporary were Canada’s temporary foreign workers?

Spoiler alert – apart from Agricultural Workers program – is that the overall trend is temporary workers staying for longer periods with most temporary workers in Canada for 10 years or more transitioning from temporary to permanent residency status:

Temporary foreign workers are admitted to Canada through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program (Government of Canada) with the objectives of addressing short-term labour shortages and advancing Canada’s broad economic and cultural interests. The number of temporary foreign workers present in Canada increased from 52,000 in 1996 to 310,000 in 2015. Given the growing presence of temporary foreign workers, their rate and length of stay in Canada are relevant to national immigration and labour market policies.

This Statistics Canada study documents the length of time that temporary foreign workers remain in Canada and the extent to which longer durations of stays are the result of extended use of temporary residence permits or transitions to permanent resident status.

In the study, temporary foreign workers are defined as individuals who were aged 18 to 64 at the time of their arrival in Canada, who received a work permit between 1990 and 2009, and whose first admission to Canada was primarily for work purposes. These individuals were followed for at least five years, and for up to 15 years, after their first admission to Canada. The study is based on the Temporary Residents File.

Durations of stay among temporary foreign workers became longer through the 2000s. Of the 264,000 temporary foreign workers first admitted to Canada from 1995 to 1999, 13% (or 35,000) were still in Canada five years after their initial arrival. This was the case for 37% (or 187,000) of the approximately 500,000 temporary foreign workers first admitted to Canada from 2005 to 2009. The same pattern was evident 10 years after arrival among earlier cohorts. Specifically, 11% of temporary foreign workers first admitted to Canada from 1995 to 1999 and 18% of those first admitted from 2000 to 2004 were still in Canada 10 years after their initial arrival in Canada.

Almost 90% of temporary foreign workers who were still in Canada after 10 years had obtained permanent resident status, having made the transition from temporary foreign worker to landed immigrant. This was the case among temporary foreign workers in virtually all ongoing programs, with the exception of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. Temporary foreign workers in this program were unique in that almost one-quarter continued to receive work permits for seasonal employment 10 years after their initial arrival in Canada. Temporary foreign worker programs, such as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, have been associated with different options for transitioning to permanent residence status.

via The Daily — Study: How temporary were Canada’s temporary foreign workers?

Why Canadian meat plants want permanent residency for migrant workers

Doing jobs most Canadians don’t want to do (currently reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle about the horrors or early 20th century meat packing plants in Chicago):

Doing his rounds on the floor of the meat processing plant, Tony Morreale points to the “empty holes” on the production line, where positions are unfilled because of the meat cutter shortage.

Outside Conestoga Meats, a huge hiring sign has become a fixture in front of the 115,000-square-foot facility located in this community near Kitchener. The plant processes more than 30,000 hogs a week, slaughtering the swine, derinding, deboning and slicing them into primo cuts for Canadian grocery chains and for export to China and Japan.

“The hiring sign has become part of the grass for me,” said Morreale, Conestoga’s vice-president of operations, zigzagging around the conveyor belts carrying carcasses to be cut by butchers wearing helmets, earmuffs, goggles and white robes.

“We just can’t find enough Canadians to do the job,” said Morreale, whose company has 950 employees, including 70 temporary foreign workers.

“The industry is such that we have difficulties attracting and retaining individuals,” said Morreale. “We have temporary foreign workers, but these are year-round jobs and we want them to stay permanently.”

Morreale and Canada’s $6 billion meat processing industry are just the latest to call on Ottawa to ease the access to permanent residency for their migrant workers. Earlier this fall, Canadian mushroom growers, who employ 4,330 people and generate $1 billion in sales a year, issued a similar plea.

Both industries have experienced perennial labour shortages because they are located primarily in rural Canada, which has been plagued by an aging population and outmigration of youth. Migrant workers have become a lifeline — a complement to the work force that keeps those operations running.

Those calls follow a recent Toronto Star series, The Hands that Pick Your Food, which found Canada has been increasing its reliance on migrant workers in the agri-food sector and that the lack of access to permanent residency can expose workers to abusive and exploitative working conditions.

The meat industry currently employs 66,330 people, and Ron Davidson, a spokesperson for the Canadian Meat Council, estimates some 2,000 of them are migrant workers. A recent survey of 15 of the country’s largest meat plants identified a shortage of 1,500 workers. The industry, mostly unionized, has the same pay scale for both foreign and Canadian workers, who earn between $14 and $18 an hour.

Davidson said meat-cutters, the majority of them unionized full-time positions, also have medical, dental and eye care coverage as well as retirement pensions.

But, he says, the labour gap persists

“Canadians don’t want to move to a rural environment and we can’t put a slaughterhouse in a city. It is arduous work and many Canadians don’t find it pleasant,” he said.

Even offering skills development programs haven’t worked. “We tried to put together a college diploma program to train Canadians, but we had to cancel for the lack of interest,” said Davidson. “Not everybody can do it. You need the skills to do the right cuts. You need food safety knowledge. It takes months of training.”

Raising wages is also not an option.

“There is no tariff and quota for the import of meat,” said Davidson. “We have to stay globally competitive or we are not going to have a domestic meat industry at all.”

Jennefer Griffith, executive director of the Food Processing Human Resources Council, said the temporary foreign worker program is just a band-aid fix to the meat industry’s labour gap and Ottawa must change its policy to bring in the so-called “low-skilled” blue-collar workers as permanent residents as a long-term solution.

“The meat industry is not a sexy industry,” said Griffith. “Because of the perception of the job and its physicality, Canadians just aren’t interested.”

Blanket changes made by the former Conservative government to restrict the migrant worker program have not made things easier for the sector, Griffith said.

In response to reports of employers in the IT and mining sectors using migrant workers to replace Canadians, the Harper government raised the application fee employers have to pay for migrant workers from $200 to $1,000 — and capped the proportion of foreign workers at up to 10 per cent of a company’s work force.

To make the situation worse, the Liberal government changed the immigration selection system and made it more difficult for butchers to become permanent residents.

Under the old system, butchers could qualify as long as they had a job offer in Canada and possessed minimum proficiency in English or French. Now, the job offer doesn’t give them an edge.

Mauritian retail butcher Michael Marjolin came to work at Conestoga in 2015 under the low-skilled foreign worker program and applied for permanent residency in early November.

Serhiy Levytskyy, left, and Michael Marjolin are working as retail butchers at Conestoga Meats, but uncertain of their future.
Serhiy Levytskyy, left, and Michael Marjolin are working as retail butchers at Conestoga Meats, but uncertain of their future.  (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE/TORONTO STAR)  

He scored 420 points under Canada’s Express Entry program for skilled workers because he got 100 bonus points from having French as his first language and have a brother in Canada. (His score is close enough to the 439 passing mark in the latest selection draw.)

“I love this job and I want to stay here and continue to work for Conestoga,” said the 36-year-old, who has nine years of experience in meat cutting.

His colleague Serhiy Levytskyy, came here from Ukraine in October 2016 after working as a retail butcher in Italy for nine years, just before the federal government removed the 600-point advantage he had had prior to the changes.

“I came because I would be able to become a permanent resident with the job offer,” said the 34-year-old, who can do all the cuts, but now specializes in the highly-skilled loin carving. “Now I’m screwed, because I will have to leave Canada if my work permit cannot be renewed. It’s a stressful situation.”

It is also a stressful situation for Canadian employers such as Alberta-based Sunterra Farms, which has 1,000 employees and processes 3,500 pigs a week.

Mark Chambers, Sunterra’s production manager, said the company has to submit a new labour market impact assessment application to renew the work permit of a migrant worker, which expires every year. The process is tedious and involves advertising the jobs to Canadians and filling out page after page of forms, he said.

“We would love to add another new plant if we could find the workers.

“The (permit) extension can be turned down and the decisions are arbitrary,” noted Chambers, who also co-chairs Canada’s Agriculture and Agri-food Labour Task Force. “That’s what’s preventing us from growing.”

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen would not comment for the story.

Pauline Zwiers, vice-president of human resources at Conestoga Meats, said the company has tried repeatedly to attract and retain Canadian workers: relocation assistance, busing in workers from urban centres, reaching out to newcomer communities for recruitment, expanding the human resources department to improve service and introducing leadership development training.

At one point, she said, Conestoga hired Canadian workers indiscriminately and the turnover rate hit 39 per cent. Now, their turnover rate stands at 25 per cent, compared to just 4 per cent among the foreign workers.

“The foreign workers are supplementing our workforce,” said Zwiers. “We need the stability to facilitate our growth. It’s not a temporary need. They are already here in Canada and deserve the opportunity to stay.”

via Why Canadian meat plants want permanent residency for migrant workers | Toronto Star

Leamington is at the frontlines of the boom in migrant workers. Here’s how it’s changed

Good profile on Leamington and its seasonal agricultural workers:

On Friday evening, in the heart of this farming city, the workers arrive by bicycle and private bus.

Hundreds of labourers crowd the sidewalks, restaurants and shops on this municipality 50 kilometres southeast of Windsor, famous for its greenhouses and tomatoes.

It’s payday and at almost every turn the old city core is alive with bodies and chatter.

But these farm labourers are speaking Spanish and Patois.

Like many of Ontario’s downtowns, Leamington’s has seen better days. But the thousands of low-wage temporary farm workers from Mexico and the Caribbean, the work they provide and the money they spend here — Mayor John Paterson figures $15 million a year — has transformed the local economy.

Where Theresa’s Fashion once was is now Chica Linda, catering to workers looking to buy clothes to send home to family. Across the road, Mr. 2 Pizzas is now Crazy Chicken, where the menu is available in Spanish and features a cartoon sombrero-wearing bird rocking maracas, its fridge stocked with bottles of Mexican Jarritos soft drinks. Gino’s Restaurant and Wine Bar next door is now La Hacienda, a Mexican restaurant. Clubs offer salsa music and buckets of Corona and Caribbean vibe.

For the unfamiliar, it is jaw-dropping to behold. Yet transformation, like any change, can be simultaneously embraced, tolerated and loathed.

While these migrant workers and their effects on the community are particularly obvious in Leamington, the racial tension between them and the locals is far from unique in a rural Canada increasingly reliant on the labour provided by the migrant worker program.

This is the story of one migrant worker town and how people are learning to get along. Mostly.


Dubbed the “Greenhouse Capital of North America,” Leamington is located on the 42nd parallel — the same latitude as northern California — and draws its agricultural strength from the amount of sunshine it gets and the fertile soil it’s blessed with.

Everyday, some 200 tractor-trailers leave this municipality to deliver fresh produce — from its famous tomatoes to peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms and flowers — to destinations around the world.

Initially called Gainesville, the community was built by immigrants: first, the Scottish, German and Dutch, followed in the postwar era by Italians, Portuguese and Lebanese.

A shortage of labour has always been an issue for Leamington, as far back as Paterson, 63, who was born and grew up here, can remember.

But what distinguishes the earlier waves of migrants from those coming now is that the former came as permanent residents, while the majority nowadays are guest workers — mostly lonely men separated from their families, with temporary status only.

Leamington has more than 1,500 acres of greenhouses, with another 200 acres waiting for municipal approvals.
Leamington has more than 1,500 acres of greenhouses, with another 200 acres waiting for municipal approvals.  (JIM RANKIN/TORONTO STAR)  

More than 10 per cent of the 54,000 average migrant farm workers to Canada work in Leamington, accounting for one-sixth of the town’s population during the farming season.

The number of migrant farm workers in Leamington has surged in the last decade, mostly because of the exponential growth of the greenhouse operations here. Today, the town has more than 1,500 acres of greenhouses, with another 200 acres waiting for municipal approvals.

South of Hwy. 401, along Hwy. 77 are row after row of greenhouses, with new ones under construction. With a $60 million gas line completed earlier this year, the town hopes to finish its $80 million hydro line next June, along with a $7 million water system and a $40 million sewage system in order to meet the needs of more greenhouses in the next five years. Medical cannabis production companies are knocking on its doors.

Everywhere you go, you see hiring signs for general labour, pickers and packing staff at greenhouses. The jobs promise a minimum 48 hours of work a week.

“We don’t have enough people in Ontario that are willing to do that kind of labour or those kind of hours for that kind of pay,” said Paterson.

“I don’t think the greenhouse industry would exist if it wasn’t for the farm worker program. There just wouldn’t be the manpower to make it happen. The program is of ultimate importance.”

Source: Leamington is at the frontlines of the boom in migrant workers. Here’s how it’s changed | Toronto Star

Temporary Foreign Worker program must be changed, workers say

Hard to know how widespread this abuse is but nature of program and vulnerability of workers means significant potential for such abuse:

Henry Aguirre, a temporary foreign worker from Guatemala, considered himself lucky when he got a job in Quebec as a chicken catcher, rounding up poultry and handing them over for processing.

Aguirre, 27, said he was quickly disillusioned when he learned the job paid him by volume instead of full-time, with no pay for time spent travelling from farm to farm.

He said he and his fellow Guatemalan workers had signed job offers they didn’t understand since they were all written in French.

“We didn’t understand the work permit; if we had, we wouldn’t have signed,” he said through an interpreter in a recent interview.

Aguirre was one of a group of foreign workers and activists who attended a small demonstration outside Montreal’s St Joseph’s Oratory earlier this month to call for changes to Canada’s temporary foreign worker program.

Among other things, they are calling for an end to the practice of issuing closed work permits, which restricts a worker to a single employer.

Viviana Medina, a community organizer who attended the protest, said closed work permits, language barriers and a fear of losing their jobs means many workers are reluctant to file complaints against their employers.

“The moment they say something, they’ll be sent back,” she said. “They have to stay in these conditions because they don’t want to lose their jobs.”

A study from the Université du Québec published earlier this month found that many Guatemalan migrant workers in the province are charged recruitment fees in their home countries, despite such practices being prohibited.

The study, which is based on interviews conducted between June and November 2015, found some workers even ended up using the deeds to their homes as a guarantee they’d pay back the money they owed for recruitment fees, according to the spokesman for a union that helped with the study.

“The precarity that brings really makes it difficult for a worker to ever take a stand and complain about the working or living conditions or abuses in the workplace or lack of getting the things that were guaranteed to them,” said Pablo Godoy of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

The federal government says it acknowledges the need for action and has taken a number of steps to reduce exploitation and abuse of temporary workers.

“Changes include increased inspections, improved information sharing and referrals for criminal investigation, and administrative monetary penalties and bans for employers who violate program conditions,” Julia Sullivan, an official with the department of Employment and Social Development, wrote in an email.

The government plans to do more in the future by further increasing inspections and making sure workers and employers understand their rights and obligations, she said.

Aguirre, frustrated with catching chickens, eventually began using a job placement agency to look for other work.

He and 14 others were subsequently picked up by border services in Oct. 2016 accused of violating the terms of their work permit, he said.

The workers have filed complaints with the province’s workplace health and safety board and requested a judicial review of their treatment during their arrest.

Their lawyer, Susan Ramirez, says she’s met hundreds of workers who have been denied health care or other rights.

“It’s a systemic problem,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s problematic because they’re under the governance of one employer who ignores their rights, and there’s a language barrier.”

Aguirre, for his part, has successfully obtained an open work permit until October, when the request for a judicial review will be heard in court.

Source: Temporary Foreign Worker program must be changed, workers say

Temporary foreign worker program rife with oversight problems, says auditor

Which program has the OAG not found problems with?

Highlights oversight and enforcement capacity issues within government. Above chart shows both temporary workers under the TFWP and the International Mobility Program:

Canada’s temporary foreign workers program is rife with oversight problems that appear to have allowed lower-paid international workers to take jobs that out-of-work Canadians could fill, the federal auditor general says.

Some companies have effectively built a business model on the program that could be having unintended consequences that the government doesn’t know about, including wage suppression or discouraging capital investment and innovation, said Michael Ferguson’s report on the program, part of a fresh batch of federal audits tabled Tuesday.

Ferguson’s report says the government approved applications for temporary foreign workers even when employers had not demonstrated reasonable efforts to train existing employees or hire unemployed Canadians, including those from under-represented groups, such as First Nations.

Nor did officials effectively crack down on companies that were found to have run afoul of the rules; few on-site inspections or face-to-face interviews with the foreign workers themselves were conducted, the audit found. Even when corrective action was recommended, it took months for all the necessary approvals.

Ferguson is calling for better oversight of the program and more pushback from federal officials to ensure companies applying to hire temporary foreign workers are doing so for the right reasons.

The department overseeing the program, Employment and Social Development Canada, says it plans to implement all of Ferguson’s recommendations.

Ferguson’s report comes months after a Commons committee recommended an overhaul to the program, and three years after the previous Conservative government made changes in a bid to ensure the program worked as intended: to help companies fill job vacancies only when qualified Canadians couldn’t be found for the work, and only when it didn’t negatively affect the local labour market.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada dropped from 163,000 to just over 90,000, a result of the 2014 changes and the economic downturn.

Despite the drop in numbers, the audit team said it found numerous cases where employers gave dizzying reasons for needing a temporary foreign worker that departmental officials failed to challenge in 40 per cent of the cases reviewed as part of the audit.

Source: Temporary foreign worker program rife with oversight problems, says auditor – Macleans.ca

Businesses applaud changes to allow temporary foreign workers to stay as long as permits renewed

Yet another reversal of the previous government’s policy but partial  -the caps on company numbers remain with priority to be given to under-represented groups in Canada:

The government announced Tuesday afternoon it will allow migrant workers to continue filling jobs in industries ranging from meat-packing to tourism for as many years as their employers continue to renew their permit – in effect, making the presence of these temporary workers more permanent.

“Many people who fell under this category are people who would return to Canada, again and again and again, year after year,” said Michael Burt, director of industrial economic trends at the Conference Board of Canada. “It’s a positive thing in a sense that, broadly speaking, both employers and TFWs were looking for opportunities to stay in Canada to keep that relationship going.”

After four years of working in Canada, most migrant workers in occupations requiring little or no post-secondary education would then be unable to return here for another four years unless they secured permanent residency through a provincial immigration program.

That “four-in-four-out” policy was created by the Conservative government in 2011 to ensure that jobs filled by temporary foreign workers were truly temporary. It led to thousands of foreign workers remaining in Canada undocumented, and thousands more leaving while employers in industries like agriculture, food processing and hospitality complained of persistent labour shortages.

“It uprooted people who had lived and worked in the country for many, many years,” said Syed Hussan, an organizer with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, which is calling for permanent residency for temporary foreign workers upon landing.

In many cases, employers proved no Canadians were available for the jobs these workers were leaving behind so they could hire new temporary foreign workers to fill the roles. In others, the four-year limit, combined with other restrictions on the temporary foreign worker program, meant that jobs went unfilled even though employers increased efforts to recruit Canadians.

“It has had the effect of forcing a lot of people to go home that we should really be pursuing to stay in Canada permanently, as opposed to giving them the boot,” said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Kelly and other industry representatives are hopeful the Liberal government will soon follow through on its promise to develop pathways to permanent residency for lower-skilled workers, who are currently shut out of federal immigration programs.

…Some economists, such as Armine Yalnizyan at the left-wing Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, also support granting permanent residency to more migrant workers. Relying on a permanent stream of temporary workers destabilizes local labour markets by suppressing wages and opportunities for young Canadians, Yalnizyan said.

But others say the removal of the four-year limit blurs the distinctions between permanent and temporary immigration programs, raising questions about the future of Canada’s immigration system.

“What distinguishes the two streams now, when the idea of ‘temporary’ is taken out of the equation by removing the amount of time they can spend in Canada?” said Colin Busby, associate director of research at the C.D. Howe Institute.

It is unclear how Canada will balance taking in a large number of temporary foreign workers permanently with the permanent immigration system’s traditional focus on high-skilled workers to meet Canada’s long-term economic needs, Busby added.

But, for many in the agricultural sector, including Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council, long-term economic and social integration of temporary workers is precisely the point.

“There should be opportunities for them and pathways to become Canadian citizens,” she said.

Number of federal inspections under foreign worker program on rise

As the Liberal government considers relaxing some of the requirements for the Temporary Foreign Workers program, it will be important to maintain an active investigation program both to combat misuse as well as ensure public confidence in the integrity of the program:

The number of federal inspections under the temporary foreign worker program is up dramatically this year and two businesses have been added to a public blacklist.

In response to complaints of poor working and living conditions, federal officials investigated Obeid Farms in Vanessa, Ont., where they concluded that 20 temporary foreign workers were consistently working seven days a week.

Officials also took issue with how the travel costs of workers were handled by AYR Motor Express, a New Brunswick-based trucking company.

Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk personally signed off on the decision to publicly ban the two companies from the program temporarily.

The minister’s move comes as the Liberal government is weighing options for a further update to the temporary foreign worker program that will be announced later this year. In spite of sluggish economic growth, Canadian firms from coast to coast and across many sectors and skill levels continue to report labour shortages and insist that there is a genuine need for the controversial program.

Regarding Obeid Farms, a note to the Employment Minister submitted in Federal Court said this is the first time a public ban has been invoked in relation to the seasonal agricultural worker section of the temporary foreign worker program.

“Such determination would therefore have broader implications for this sector. It is likely that a determination of non-compliance will garner significant public and stakeholder attention,” deputy Employment Minister Louise Levonian wrote in a June 17 memo.

The threat of being named and shamed is a major source of anxiety for employers who hire temporary foreign workers. Many firms have hired lawyers in order to manage what are viewed by some as excessive requests for documentation.

Data obtained by The Globe and Mail reveal that in 2014, when the federal government launched a new inspection regime, no inspections were conducted under the new rules. That figure rose to 586 the following year.

However, officials have already conducted 1,537 inspections as of Aug. 15 of this year.

The spike in inspections is a result of sweeping reforms announced in 2014 by the then-Conservative government in response to high-profile cases of abuse in the program, including companies hiring foreign workers when Canadians were available. The 2014 reforms split the program in two, maintaining a smaller temporary foreign worker program while carving out areas like intra-company transfers and student exchanges into a new international mobility program.

The reforms raised the fees for obtaining a permit, called a labour market impact assessment, from $250 to $1,000. The added revenue was meant to cover the cost of increased inspections, with a goal of “thousands” of inspections a year.

Liberal Immigration Minister John McCallum recently told The Globe that those 2014 changes went too far and that the new government will be announcing further updates to the program later this year.

Source: Number of federal inspections under foreign worker program on rise – The Globe and Mail

Canada’s uncomfortable reliance on migrant workers

The dark side of temporary foreign workers (the film maker introduced her latest film – not sure if it was shown – at the Metropolis Conference in Mexico City last year):

Min Sook Lee read all those headlines in February and March. A documentary filmmaker, she had been busy chronicling another side of the ketchup frenzy, an angle nobody bothered to mention: the migrant, temporary labourers—thousands of them—who toil in the vast greenhouses of Leamington, picking and packaging the vegetables we eat every day, tomatoes included. “I am keenly aware of how Leamington has been drumming up a lot of nationalist fervour,” Lee says. “I think that myopia has to be interrupted.”

Her latest project, Migrant Dreams, will do just that. Premiering at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival on May 1, the film explores the dark side of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), a controversial federal initiative that allows companies—from hotels to fast-food restaurants to slaughterhouses—to hire out-of-country employees when they can’t find willing Canadians to do the work. A story of abuse and exploitation in the heart of tomato country, the documentary evokes anything but national pride.

“When people talk about buying organic, buying local, I think it’s a really shortsighted viewpoint because it doesn’t factor in who is doing the work,” Lee says. “Yes, it’s important to buy local, but also to think about labour issues. Are the people in the local farms and local work sites being treated properly?”

The film raises many other uncomfortable questions, at a time when Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have promised to launch a review of the TFWP. Why are most of these employees denied the chance to pursue permanent residency in a country defined by immigration? Why are they tied to one company while they’re here, barred from switching jobs? Who is checking to make sure their workplaces are safe and their accommodations humane? “This is a very critical, necessary public dialogue that we need to have,” Lee says. “There has been almost no political will or national interest in the situation of migrant workers. This isn’t new.”

In existence (in one form or another) for more than four decades, the TFWP was created to address critical labour shortages in particular sectors. Simply put, if an employer cannot find a Canadian to do a certain job, it can ask Ottawa’s permission to contract a provisional worker from abroad, for a maximum stint of four years. The government will then conduct a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to confirm that a Canadian can’t be found to fill the opening. At this moment, more than 60,000 foreigners are working in Canada under the TFWP.

When the program does make news, the theme is usually the same: Are these foreign workers stealing paycheques from hard-working Canadians? In 2012, Vancouver-based HD Mining came under fire for hiring 200 people from China for a coal mine project, triggering a court challenge by organized labour groups. A few months later, RBC was forced into full damage-control mode amid allegations that the bank was replacing some IT staff with temporary foreign workers. Although the original story was slightly torqued, perception became reality. (An internal government document, leaked to a newspaper at the time, confirmed people’s worst fears. Some employers may be using migrant workers to address “long-term structural labour gaps” instead of short-term needs, it said.)

In 2013, Stephen Harper’s government announced major changes, giving the feds more power to suspend work permits if employers abuse the program, and requiring companies to have a “firm plan” to eventually transition to a Canadian workforce. Further reforms followed, including fines ranging from $500 to $1 million for “misuse” of the TFWP. “Our government is committed to ensuring that Canadians are always considered first for available jobs,” the Tories proclaimed.

But so often lost in the debate are the foreign workers themselves—and how the system treats them. “They perform what I sometimes think of as invisible work,” says Jody Brown, a Toronto lawyer who represents some TFWs. “It is not good to paint the entire industry with the same brush, because I know there are some employers out there who recruit temporary foreign workers and do treat them appropriately. But there is definitely a dark side to it.”

Lee’s film follows a group of Indonesian women who are essentially prisoners to their greenhouse employers in the Leamington area, constantly afraid of losing their jobs and being deported before their contracts expire. It also reveals the shady world of international recruiters, some of whom charge foreign workers thousands of dollars in illegal fees—and show up every week to collect their payments. (In December 2014, the Ontario Provincial Police laid extortion charges against three alleged recruiters in the region, saying they charged illicit fees ranging from $1,400 to $11,500. The trio’s next court date, in Windsor, is scheduled for Aug. 3.)

Source: Canada’s uncomfortable reliance on migrant workers

Ottawa allows seasonal exemption to temporary foreign worker rules

Not surprising, given the regional politics:

The Liberal government has quietly approved changes aimed at helping Atlantic Canadian seafood processors that will allow them to bring in unlimited numbers of low-skilled temporary foreign workers to fill seasonal jobs this year.

Ottawa approved the foreign-worker exemption in response to lobbying from Atlantic seafood processors and Liberal MPs, who warned that recent restrictions to the temporary foreign worker program were hampering business. New Brunswick Fisheries Minister Rick Doucet recently said the labour shortage in his province is so bad that some lobster processing plants have had to throw lobsters in the trash.

The Liberals – who swept all 32 ridings in Atlantic Canada in last year’s federal election – are justifying the exemption as a short-term measure to buy time until a full review of the foreign worker program can be conducted later this year.

Other industry groups – such as Restaurants Canada – are questioning why exemptions are being allowed for some sectors and not others, and why they were never told of the change.

The House of Commons finance committee recently heard from a wide range of industry associations, including the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, that requested a loosening of restrictions to the program.

The temporary exemption comes as Finance Minister Bill Morneau prepares to deliver a budget on Tuesday that will outline the federal government’s response to rising unemployment caused by the decline in Canada’s energy sector in Western Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador, which has long been a source of work for thousands of Atlantic Canadians.

Source: Ottawa allows seasonal exemption to temporary foreign worker rules – The Globe and Mail

Temporary foreign workers program faces federal review

Not unexpected to see political pressure from Atlantic Canada.

Will be interesting to watch the political debate, given that former Minister Kenney sees one of his legacies threatened (after reversing earlier Conservative policies than made it easier for businesses to hire Temporary Foreign Workers) and the degree to which the Government responds:

While the Liberals criticized the Conservative government’s handling of the program, the party did not propose reforms in its 2015 election platform.

All seats in Atlantic Canada went to Liberals, and MPs from the region are pressing hard for changes, saying the restrictions hurt seasonal businesses and the service sector.

Nova Scotia Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner, who is also Ms. Mihychuk’s parliamentary secretary, said the program needs to be overhauled to take into account the demands of seasonal businesses.

“Changes over the last couple of years have impacted seasonal industries. We still generate over 50 per cent of the regional GDP through seasonal industries. The work force is getting older. The out-migration is significant,” he said.

Yvonne Jones, the Liberal MP from Labrador, said the changes to the TFW program hurt her province’s tourism and fish processing industries, making it difficult to get seasonal labour.

“Because of the fact we are unable to recruit under the temporary foreign worker program, we have seen a lot of businesses having to close or scale back their hours and days of operations. This is really affecting services to communities that need that service,” Ms. Jones said.

Conservative MP Jason Kenney, the former minister who overhauled the program, said it would be dumb economic policy to exempt fish plant workers from the terms of the temporary workers program when so many Atlantic Canadians are unemployed and many jobless oil workers are returning from Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“This is classic Liberal position. Make it easy for local fish plant workers to go on unemployment insurance and make it easier for the employers to bring in fish plant workers from overseas,” he said.

Mr. Kenney said one of the reasons his government tightened the rules for employment insurance and temporary foreign workers was that communities in Atlantic Canada had local fish plant workers collecting employment insurance while foreigners were doing their jobs.

Ms. Mihychuk said the review by the Commons employment committee needs to encompass every sector of the economy, including the impact of the collapse in oil prices.

“You look at the massive layoffs in Alberta, it’s really changing the labour market,” she said. “A lot of indigenous people are strongly opposed to [TFW], saying it’s time for indigenous people to be given a chance. So there are a lot of different angles to the whole program.”

Unemployment among aboriginal people is more than twice the rate for non-aboriginals, according to the 2011 National Household Survey.

The Liberals also believe a credible pathway to citizenship for foreign workers is needed.

“It’s a situation that is complicated. These are people – excellent people – and a lot of them want to stay in the country,” Ms. Mihychuk added.

The Liberals say the Conservatives mismanaged the 2014 reforms and based many of their regional employment assumptions on inaccurate labour market data.

“Under the temporary workers program, basically, they connected it to data around employment statistics, but those employment statistics were not completely accurate,” Ms. Jones said. “They looked at large regions as opposed to individual areas where the problem was most sensitive. And because they didn’t go with the [mandatory] long-form census, a lot of the data was incomplete,” she added.

Mr. Kenney said the review is unnecessary, saying the reforms he brought in were balanced and well thought-out.

“I think our changes have turned out to be prescient given the downturn in the western economy, in particular where the most skilled part [of TFW] was being overused. With over 100,000 Albertans having lost their jobs in the past few months, and if more people were pouring into the Alberta labour market from abroad as de facto indentured workers while many Canadians are facing unemployment, that would be totally unacceptable,” he said.

Source: Temporary foreign workers program faces federal review – The Globe and Mail