Alberta’s Labor Minister Lashes Out At Temporary Foreign Worker Program

temporary foreign worker program

Alberta Labor Minister Thomas Lukaszuk

Calling the federal government’s existing Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program “inhumane and economically unsound”, Alberta’s labor minister also warns that his province’s economy relies heavily on the availability of foreign workers.

In a recent speech at an immigration forum at the University of Alberta, the province’s labor minister Thomas Lukaszuk also harshly criticized the federal government’s recent freeze on hiring TFW workers within Canada’s food service industry.

Labeling the federal government ‘s freeze on TFW workers as “un-Canadian”, Lukaszuk added that “there was zero consultation with those that are most affected, which is you, or with the provincial government.”

He added that the (federal) “government has the capacity to fix a program, without just stopping it.”

Speaking not only as Alberta’s Labor Minister but as Co-Chair of the Council of Canadian Immigration Ministers, Lukaszuk restated his conviction about the need for foreign workers in his province. He also expressed his support for having a pathway to permanent residency for foreign workers.

“A revolving door [for immigrants] is simply not humane, and is economically not sound,” Lukaszuk said. “In most cases what we need in Canada, and especially in Alberta, are permanent foreign workers.”

The issue of immigration is also a personal one for the Labor Minister; Lukaszuk told the audience that he and his family emigrated from Poland when he was a child, and that under the current Canadian immigration laws they would not have been allowed to do so.

Going forward, Lukaszuk pledged that he will continue to press the federal government to create a foreign worker program that—unlike the current program–is designed to be both “humane” and better meet the considerable employment needs of Alberta.

Canadian Immigration Policy Shifting To Benefit Employers, Experts Warn

canada visa

Canada’s immigration policy is dramatically shifting its emphasis to benefit employers over the interests of new Canadian immigrants.

That’s the finding of a new study of Canada’s immigration laws conducted by researchers at Toronto’s Ryerson University and the Migration Policy Group; the study was conducted as part of an update of the Migration Policy Effectiveness Index (MIPEX), which compares and rates countries based on their immigration policies. In 2011, Canada was number 3 among countries ranked on MIPEX.

However, according to the authors of the new study, much has changed in the ensuing years, and in that study they’re voicing concern that Canada’s immigration policies are now being designed primarily to benefit employers. The researchers warn that Canada’s new immigration laws will treat immigrants “not as future citizens…but merely as convenient and cheap labor.”

According to the MIPEX research, after the Immigration Act of 1967, Canada began to select immigrants based on qualifications such as education, work experience and familiarity with English or French. It was, the study says, a system based on “pragmatism and equity” that became the immigration model for other countries.

By contrast, the MIPEX study researchers say the Conservative government’s “Express Entry” system—to be introduced in 2015—will transform the immigration system into a “job bank serving government and industry by matching prospective immigrants with employers seeking workers.”

Using a harsh comparison, the study’s authors say the new Express Entry program is a throwback to the almost century-old Canadian immigration plan of the 1920s, which “gave two railway companies almost full-sway over Canada’s immigration policies” and allowed immigrants to stay only as long as their labor was required.

In addition, the MIPEX study points out that the 1967 Immigration Act emphasized the importance of reuniting immigrant families, explaining that currently Canada defines “dependent children” as being under the age of 22, but that the government plans to change that to 9 years old under the new law.

Perhaps the most significant change in Canada’s immigration laws, according to the MIPEX researchers, is Citizenship Bill C-24—that bill, currently before Parliament, makes it far more difficult to become a Canadian citizen.

According to the MIPEX study, proposed C-24 changes such as increasing residency requirements, tripling the application fee, removing the right to appeal a negative citizenship decision, and stripping citizenship from dual citizens if they’re convicted of a crime all add up to a policy designed to make attaining Canadian citizenship far more difficult.

Ultimately, the MIPEX researchers call for a “full and transparent national debate” on the seismic shift taking place in Canada’s immigration laws.  Of equal importance, they warn, is that this immigration debate takes place soon, before “future MIPEX results show that Canada’s immigration effectiveness, compared to that of other countries, is dropping down on the list — way down.”


Canadian Banking Executive Extols Immigration Benefits to Canada

The head of one of Canada’s largest banks is calling for greater immigration diversity, and more cooperation between the federal and provincial governments in building a successful Canadian immigration policy.

Gordon Nixon, the Chief Executive Office of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), as well as chairman of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, says that Canada’s cultural diversity—resulting from its immigration policy—makes the country stronger.

“Our economic strength is derived from the combination of what we all have in common, and what makes each of us different,” Nixon recently wrote in the Globe & Mail. The Royal Bank CEO added that immigration plays a growing role in Canada’s future, with projections that by 2031 about 28 percent of all Canadians will be foreign-born, a considerable increase from the current 20 percent.

Nixon, an influential voice in Canada’s financial community, also pointed out that his bank conducted a study in 2012 confirming the enormous economic impact of Canada’s immigrant workforce.  According to Nixon,  the RBC study found there’s an economic price paid—by all Canadians—for the inequality between the salaries of native-born Canadians and immigrants doing the same job.

“If immigrants were earning equal pay to Canadian-born peers, personal income would be $31-billion higher—more than 2.1 per cent of Canada’s GDP. This means we are failing to tap the full potential of these highly skilled people, and the full economic potential of our nation,” Nixon explained.

As head of one of the country’s largest financial institutions, Nixon also argued that the international experience that immigrants bring to the Canadian workforce is an important asset in the modern global economy.

Cautioning that there is a “war for talent” among nations, Nixon argued that—contrary to what some believe about the challenges newcomers face in integrating into Canada—immigrants’ international experience “is an asset to business, and relates directly to the modern Canadian context.”

Both governments, and businesses, have a vital role to play in shaping the future of Canada’s immigration, according to Nixon; business leaders, no matter the size of their company, should actively advocate for diversity within their business, and not only acknowledge existing biases but “identify them and develop strategies to compensate for them.”

Nixon also called on the federal and provincial governments to “address inter-provincial barriers” preventing immigrant movement between provinces, as well as “invest substantially” in programs that help immigrants integrate into Canadian society.

As it plans for the future, Canada needs to build upon its long history of promoting immigration, Nixon wrote.

According to Nixon, “Canada has relied on diversity and immigration to build a prosperous economy, and will continue to do so in the years ahead. We are good at it, but we need to get better to maintain that competitive edge.”

Canada Ponders Major Overhaul To Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Will Canada’s foreign workers soon have a higher minimum wage than some native-born Canadians?

That’s just one of several proposals under consideration as Canada’s Conservative government reacts to the enormous public and political fallout from the country’s Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program.

Over the last several weeks, the TFW program has rocketed to the top of national debate both in Canada’s parliament, as well as in public forums. Spurring the controversy has been a rash of high profile stories of alleged employer abuse of foreign workers, which resulted in the government freezing the hiring of foreign workers within the food service sector.

With an eye on the federal election expected in 2015, the Conservative government is now considering several proposals that would result in a major revamping of the TFW program. During a recent closed-door meeting with Canadian employer groups, Employment Minister Jason Kenney put forth a number of major reforms of the TFW, including:

  • Imposing a minimum wage for TFW employees that would be higher than the one for Canadian workers; the industry most affected would likely be the food service sector, the same industry recently accused of abuse of foreign workers
  • Restructuring the TFW program to make it easier for Canadian employers to hire foreign workers in regions with lower unemployment, while making it more difficult to hire foreign workers in areas with higher unemployment
  • Perhaps the most dramatic change to the TFW program under consideration is an enormous increase in the employer user fee, from the current $275 to a potential high of $2325, the amount charged by the United States for a similar program

According to media reports, after meeting with the employer groups to discuss the possible TFW changes, both Employment Minister Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander subsequently met with four of Canada’s largest labor organizations.

It’s expected that the federal government could run into several challenges should it decide to implement the proposed TFW program changes. For example, the proposal to establish a federal minimum wage for foreign workers would run counter to the established principal of allowing provinces to set their own minimum wages.

In addition, the Canadian restaurant sector is expressing deep concern about placing further restrictions on the TFW program, given the significant role that foreign workers play in that industry.

“The idea that wages could be elevated to the degree that the minister seemed to be indicating is just not going to be workable for our industry,” explained Joyce Reynolds, executive vice-president of Restaurants Canada. “It would (also) impact a lot of industries other than ours as well.”


New Canadian Visa Aims At Attracting Mexican Visitors

Canadian Visa

Canada’s government is hoping that its new “Can+” immigration program will make it easier to say ‘hola’ to a growing number of visitors from Mexico.

Under the newly introduced Can+ program, Mexican nationals who’ve visited either Canada or the United States within the last 10 years will be eligible for expedited visa processing.

In addition to making it easier for Mexicans to visit Canada, Citizenship & Immigration Canada (CIC) says the new program will also free up Canadian immigration officials to work on other cases, as well as improving visa processing times. The Canadian government is pledging that under the new Can+ program, Mexican visitors can expect to have their visa requests processed in ten days or less.

The ties between Canada and Mexico are strong, and apparently growing; more than 34,000 visitor visas, study and work permits were issued to Mexican nationals between January and April of this year, a 20 percent jump over the same period in 2013. Conversely, more than 2 million Canadians travel south to Mexico each year.

Still, the Canadian government is predicting that if the Can+ program turns out to be as successful as hoped, the number of Mexican visitors to Canada may increase by a whopping 50 percent.

At least part of the government’s optimistic predictions about the Can+ program are based on a six-month test pilot of the program that produced highly positive results. According to CIC, during the Can+ test pilot, Mexican visas were issued in seven days—or less—and the program received a 95 percent approval rating from participants.

In addition to the Can+ program, and to further help accommodate the considerable Mexican interest in visiting Canada, CIC offers three other “express” visa programs for Mexican nationals, including:

  • Business Express—a program that expedites business-related travel from Mexico to Canada, with visas approved “within days” of application
  • Travel Express—a simplified, expedited visa application process for Mexican tourists using travel agencies registered with the Canadian embassy
  • Mexican Student Pilot—a program fast-tracking Mexican study permit applications, designed for Mexican students who are studying at participating Canadian educational institutions


Canadian Migrant Workers Oppose Conservative, Liberal Policy

Canada’s largest migrant worker coalition is lashing out against the Conservative government’s handling of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, as well as recent Liberal Party proposals to fix the program.

The Migrant Workers Alliance For Change (MWAC) has called for “immediate changes” to the recently instituted moratorium on hiring TFW employees within the food service sector.

Rather than freezing the hiring of TFW workers, the MWAC is calling for the Canadian government to provide a permanent immigration pathway for ‘low-skilled industries’ and make it easier for migrant workers to gain permanent status within Canada; a spokesperson the MWAC added that “the media is full of stories of migrant worker exploitation, but this moratorium won’t end the abuse, it will just make workers more precarious.”

Representatives from the MWAC also voiced concern that the Canadian government’s moratorium on TFW workers in the food service sector could have the opposite of the desired effect, actually hurting the very workers it was designed to help.

“Recent reports expose how provincial and federal laws exclude migrants from basic workplace protections,” explained MWAC spokesperson Syed Hussan. “The solution is to change those two-tiered laws that create conditions of lowered wages and working conditions, and that pit migrant workers against unemployed or under-employed citizens.”

However, the MWAC took an equally critical view of the changes proposed to the TFW program by the opposition Liberal Party.

Rather than scaling back and tightening the requirements under the TFW program—as recently proposed by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau–the MWAC calls on both the government and opposition parties to include migrant workers under all labor protection laws.

The real solution to abuse of the TFW program, according to the MWAC, is to “remove those exclusions from labor protections for all workers” thus making migrant workers ‘allies’—rather than competitors—with Canadian workers.

The other key element to solving the problem of foreign worker abuse, according to the MWAC, is to recognize that foreign workers are an integral part of the Canadian workforce.

“To treat them (foreign workers) as a separate entity, as the Liberals do, makes no economic sense, and continues the divisiveness drummed up over the last month,” says the MWAC’s Hussan. “Migrants are our friends and family, not just a market-input brought in when needed.”

Canadians Worry About Possible Shortage Of Foreign Live-In Caregivers

Canada visa

With the government pledging to crackdown on Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, there’s now growing concern about a possible shortage of foreign-born, live-in caregivers within Canada.

Amid several high-profile allegations of employer abuse of the TFW program, Employment Minister Jason Kenney has vowed to tighten the rules governing that program, leading some within Canada’s caregiver/nanny industry to worry about the shortage of available foreign-born caregivers. Manuela Gruber Hersch, head of The Association of Caregiver & Nanny Agencies Canada, is publicly warning about serious shortages of live-in caregivers, and that any crackdown on the TFW program could also worsen an already bad situation within her industry.

“We need bodies, and there simply aren’t enough Canadian (born) live-in caregivers,” Hersch said. “There’s a huge demand outside of big cities like Toronto and Vancouver, and demand across the country, for elder care because we have an aging population and families are caring for sick, aging parents.”

Compounding the problem, according to Hersch, were changes made last year to the live-in caregiver program that included a $275 processing fee for every caregiver application, as well as an increase in wait times for approval.

In acknowledgment of the shortage, the government pledged to almost double the number of caregivers and nannies as permanent residents receiving approval this year over last.

Still, in an effort to alleviate the current shortage, placement agencies have turned to the International Experience Canada (IEC) program, which allows more than 50,000 foreigners—aged 18-35, from 32 different countries—to work in Canada for up to two years without the requirement of a Labour Market Opinion approval.

Hersch expressed her industry’s worry that, given the recent bad press surrounding the TFW program, the government might well crackdown on the IEC program as well.

A spokesperson for the Employment Minister responded, saying that “Canadians must always have first crack at available jobs, but our government recognizes the important contributions of live-in caregivers to Canadian families and our economy.”

For its part, and despite their recent criticism of the TFW program, the opposition Liberal Party has expressed its support for the live-in caregiver program.

John McCallum, the party’s immigration critic, said his party believes that the live-in caregiver program “is broken already”, and given the need for caregivers in Canada, it should be sparred from any further crackdown.


Security Concerns Entrap Some Innocent Immigrants In Canadian Immigration Web

Legal experts are warning that strict enforcement of Canada’s anti-terrorism laws may be entrapping innocent Canadian immigrants.

In what’s been described as an “extreme over-reaction” to terrorism concerns, a section of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) that was added after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 is being blamed for blocking the successful immigration of some innocent foreigners.

Though only 37-words long, the statutory addition to the IRPA bars admission to Canada to any person who has supported an organization “that there are reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in” acts of subversion or terrorism.1 Some experts in Canadian immigration law believe that description is so broad—and vague—that if taken literally, any member of the British or American military could be barred for “seeking to subvert” the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Of more specific concern are examples of immigrants barred from Canada as a result of this law, including an elderly woman whose “crime” was stitching together uniforms for Ethiopian armed rebels, or another man in his 60s who once donated $50 to the militant opposition in his country.

Angus Grant, an attorney specializing in Canadian immigration, told the Toronto Star that “the breadth of the (terrorism) law is breathtaking” and termed the implementation of the IRPA law as “outrageous”.

Lawyers like Grant, familiar with Canada’s implementation of the IRPA anti-terrorism statute, also point out that Canadian government officials have shown little flexibility when considering requests for humanitarian or compassionate waivers of such deportations. In support of this belief, the Toronto Star cited a report by the Canadian Border Services Agency that showed an apparent spike in “security-related” deportations in recent years.

Another immigration attorney, Lorne Waldman, told The Star he believes the CIC case management review process for such deportations is flawed, since the CIC bureaucrats in the position of deciding the “security” cases are asked to rule on deportation decisions made by the very entity he or she works for—the CIC.

“(CIC) Minister-delegates are not independent because they are so close to those running the (ministry),” Waldman said. “It’s hardly surprising that most of the time the decisions reflect what the government wants.”

Canadian Liberal Leader Calls For Scaling Back Temporary Foreign Worker Program

work in canada

The man who many predict may be Canada’s next prime minister is calling for dramatic changes to his nation’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program.

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau is critical of the Conservative government’s handling of the TFW program, stating that since taking office Prime Minister Stephen Harper has “transformed the Temporary Foreign Worker Program — which was originally designed to bring in temporary workers on a limited basis when no Canadian could be found — into one that has brought in a large pool of vulnerable workers.”

In a high profile newspaper editorial, Trudeau lashed out at the Harper government for mishandling the TFW program, pointing out that number of short-term foreign workers in Canada has more than doubled from 141,000 in 2005 to 338,000 in 2012; as a result, Trudeau says, there were nearly as many temporary workers admitted into Canada in 2012 as there were permanent residents.

Trudeau went on to say his party believes this dramatic increase in the TFW program has badly hurt the Canadian middle class, by driving down wages and “displacing Canadian workers.”

Supporting this belief, Trudeau wrote, is the fact that the TFW program has grown substantially in areas that are facing higher unemployment such as Southwestern Ontario.

The Liberal leader cited the fact that in Windsor, Ontario, the number of unemployed workers has increased 40 percent, while the number of foreign workers in that city rose 86 percent; similarly, unemployment in London, Ontario, rose 27 percent while the number of TFW workers jumped by 87 percent.

Trudeau said the recent decision by Employment Minister Jason Kenney to suspend the TFW program for the food service industry was too little and too late, and that abuse of the program is “not rare, it is far too common, and must end immediately.”

To do so, he proposed five specific changes to the TFW program:

  • Scaling back the TFW to its original purpose, filling jobs with foreign workers only when Canadians cannot be found for the positions
  • Re-committing Canada to attracting permanent immigrants with a clear pathway to citizenship, with a goal towards ‘nation building’
  • Greater transparency, and public disclosure, of applications/approvals granted under the TFW program
  • Requiring that Canadian employers demonstrate they have attempted to fill positions with Canadians prior to approval of the hiring of foreign workers
  • Tightening the Labour Market Opinion approval process to ensure that only businesses with ‘legitimate needs’ can access the TFW program

Trudeau concluded that ultimately these changes must be made to the TFW, if only for the sake of fairness.

“In the end, this is a basic issue of fairness,” Trudeau wrote. “Fairness for Canadians who need work, and for vulnerable people who travel to Canada from abroad in search of a real opportunity to succeed. I believe it is wrong for Canada to follow the path of countries who exploit large numbers of guest workers, who have no realistic prospect of citizenship.”

Canada Freezes Hiring of Foreign Workers in Food Services

In a dramatic reaction to recent claims of employer abuse of temporary foreign workers (TFW), Canada’s Employment Minister Jason Kenney has temporarily frozen the hiring of foreign workers within the food service sector.

Kenney’s strong reaction comes in the wake of a series of employer abuse claims from foreign workers in the food service sectors in British Columbia (BC), Alberta and Saskatchewan. In issuing the freeze on hiring foreign workers, Kenney stated that he “wanted to send a message—particularly to the food service sector—that such abuse would not be tolerated.”

However, not everyone welcomed the TFW hiring freeze within the food service industry. Alberta’s Labor Minister Tom Lukaszuk said that it was “unfair to freeze the hiring of an entire sector because there are problems with a few players.”

In recent years, the booming natural resources sector in Western Canada has resulted in a dramatic increase in the hiring of temporary foreign workers, and so it’s no surprise that the Alberta minister’s views are shared by others—particularly in more remote regions where hiring Canadians has been a problem.

There has been an increased focus on the hiring of foreign workers within Canada, especially in the wake of several high-profile reports about alleged abuse within the food service industry; major food retailers, including McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s Donuts, have revoked the franchises of individual owners accused of alleged TFW abuse.

More than 338,000 foreign workers had Canadian work visas in 2012, and—on a per capita basis–Canada leads the Group of Seven nations in overall immigration.

For their part, representatives of Canada’s food service sector expressed shock and anger at the sudden change in the TFW hiring policy.

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business—whose 109,000 members includes about 10,000 businesses in the hospitality sector affected by the TFW freeze—warned that some of his members may have to shut down their businesses if they can’t continue to hire temporary foreign workers.

Kelly said that rather than going after the problem of alleged abuse of foreign workers in the food service sector, the government has instead chosen to “eliminate access to the program for thousands and thousands of businesses.”  He added that about 10 percent of his 109,000 members currently hire workers under the TFW program.

Criticism of the TFW program has also come from the academic world. The same day that the government froze the hiring of foreign workers in the food service sector, the nationally respected Canadian think tank—the C.D. Howe Institute—criticized the government for repeatedly easing the rules for hiring foreigners between 2002 and 2013. The institute said there was “little empirical evidence of shortages in many occupations” across Canada that would justify the hiring of additional foreigners.