Despite a law banning the practice, a loophole is allowing Alberta-based employment agencies to charge some Canadian immigrants thousands of dollars in employment fees.
Alberta’s Fair Trading Act prohibits employment agencies from collecting fees “directly or indirectly” from immigrant workers; however, in what some critics see as being a significant loophole in the law, agencies are allowed to charge fees for services not considered to be “employment agency business services.” That broad-based category can often include employment-related services such as resume writing, job-skills training and immigration consulting.
According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), at least a dozen businesses in Alberta are utilizing that loophole in the immigration law, and operating as both employment agencies—who are not allowed to charge immigrants fees—as well as providing immigration consulting services, for which fees are permitted.
Complicating matters even more, the rules governing these practices varies wildly throughout Canada’s western provinces—British Columbia (BC), Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
While the laws applying to employment agencies are similar in both Alberta and BC, Manitoba has far stricter rules that totally ban recruiters from charging any fees. Saskatchewan’s laws are even more complex, as agencies can charge for immigration consulting with the workers’ consent, but employers must pay for any resume preparation or training that is provided.
A spokesman for the organization representing Canadian employment agencies said the members of his group have a code of ethics that prohibit charging for recruiting services. Randy Upright, national director of the Association of Canadian Search, Employment & Staffing Services (ACSESS) said it is the practice of members of his organization to not offer both recruiting and resume-writing/employment consulting services.
However, Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labor, is calling for changes to the Fair Trading Act, saying the law “has loopholes so big you could drive a truck through it.” McGowan is calling on the provincial government to re-write the law in order to close those loopholes, and make it more difficult for employment agencies to justify charging any fees to foreign workers seeking employment.
For its part, Alberta’s provincial government is resisting any pressure to change the law. Alberta’s Minister of Service Stephen Khan said he doesn’t agree that there are any loopholes in the existing law, and that his ministry investigates any claims by workers who believe they have been victimized by employment agencies.
Instead of changing the law, Khan said his government believes a better way to address any possible victimization of foreign workers is through greater education and public awareness.
To that end, Khan told the CBC that his ministry is doing its best to “create messaging” as well as “public awareness” in order to ensure that people—including foreign workers—“know what their rights are when it comes to these (employment) issues.”
Only a few weeks after its initial implementation, a growing number of critics are calling for changes to the new Canadian immigration law known as Express Entry.
In the first round of the Express Entry system, a total of 779 candidates were selected at the end of January to participate in the program; that number represented about 26 percent of the 3,000 applications the government accepted for the initial Express Entry draw.
Under the Express Entry program, candidates are assigned points based upon their age, education, professional qualifications and successful completion of a Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). A full half of the required 1,200 points in Express Entry are assigned based on attaining an LMIA. Under the LMIA system, employers are required to show that foreign applicants for Canadian work visas can prove that they possess skills in demand, and are filling a position that no Canadian is available to fill.
Although the January selection of candidates marked the first draw from the ‘pool’ of Express Entry applicants, the percentage of those accepted was seen by many as being rather low, and could be indicative of problems with the LMIA program. Toronto immigration lawyer Sergio Karas explained that LMIAs are “incredibly difficult to get…laborious and time insensitive and complicated” for Canadian employers to obtain.
The Express Entry program requires employers to successfully complete a two-step application process in which foreign applicants’ names are entered into a “pool”, and then ranked against other candidates under consideration for permanent residency based on the number of points assigned to them.
Over 10,000 foreign workers applied for the first round of Express Entry, with only 3,000 candidates being selected for the initial pool of names.
While critics of the Express Entry program expressed concern about its initial implementation, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said he was pleased with the program’s first round of applications. Alexander cited the fact that all Express Entry candidates had “valid job offers” and were “highly skilled”, and he believed that meant that they were more likely to successfully integrate into Canadian society.
Among the criticisms of the Express Entry system is also its alleged lack of transparency. Mario Bellissimo, past president of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration section, said the fact that the number of Express Entry applicants is not fixed but is instead a “moving target” means the program lacks transparency, and will likely call into question “the integrity of the (whole) system.”
A second Express Entry draw of applicants’ names was conducted in early February, and an additional 779 candidates were selected at that time. Under the rules of Express Entry, successful candidates must respond within 60 days of notice; those candidates not selected will remain in the pool for an additional six months, and will be entered into future draws.
The federal government is expected to conduct between 15 and 25 Express Entry draws during the current calendar year.
Concern is growing among foreign students studying in Canada that recent changes to Canada’s immigration laws may make it more difficult for them to obtain permanent residency in the country.
New Canadian immigration laws that took effect on January 1st mean that foreign students who have obtained work experience in Canada will no longer be given special consideration when applying for permanent residency. As a result, concern is growing among both students and universities that one of the most attractive reasons for international students to study in Canada no longer exists—and that fact may negatively impact the number of foreign students choosing to study in Canada.
In 2014, there was an estimated 300,000 foreign students studying in Canadian universities.
Prior to the changes to the country’s immigration law, foreign students in Canada with work experience were in a separate classification from other immigrants applying for permanent residency. However, under the new law—titled Express Entry—foreign students will be added to the general ‘pool’ of skilled foreign workers seeking to obtain permanent residency in Canada.
Under the Express Entry program, the federal government claims that the foreign workers accepted into Canada will be better suited for the current employment openings available within the country. Points are awarded for things such as an applicant’s education, age and a positive Labor Market Impact Assessment, which is seen as proof that no Canadian is available to fill that position.
Concerns are being raised that foreign students in Canada will not be selected under the new point system as it will be difficult for someone just graduating to prove that he or she should be selected.
With a federal election almost certain to take place this year, the governing Conservative Party has made immigration a top priority; the new Express Entry program was part of a much broader revision of Canada’s immigration laws in 2014 that tightened many immigration rules, and is seen by many as being the Conservative’s attempt to strengthen the party’s political image heading into this year’s election.
Toronto-based immigration lawyer Robin Seligman said the new Express Entry system will prove to be “devastating to international students that relied on policies that were put into place by this government to help post-graduate international students transition to permanent residence.”
Many foreign students in Canada—who recently graduated—attempted to beat the new law by submitting their permanent residency applications last fall, prior to the beginning of the Express Entry system. However, thousands of foreign students received notices in January from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) informing them that the Canadian Experience Class program for which they were applying had reached its capacity back in October.
Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has said the government expects the Express Entry program to meet the country’s employment needs, but that he remains open to making some revisions to ensure that the new immigration rules brought in last year address Canada’s changing employment market.
The federal government has thrown a lifeline to temporary foreign workers in Alberta who were facing an April 1st deadline for the expiration of their Canadian work visa. Under the new federal order, those foreign workers will be granted an extra year to try and resolve their Canadian residency question.
Alberta has long complained that tighter federal restrictions on the province’s ability to recruit foreign workers have hurt its businesses and overall economic growth. This move by Ottawa to provide additional time for Alberta’s temporary foreign workers to resolve their residency problems, is viewed by most observers as an attempt by the federal government to address those concerns.
Under recent changes to Canada’s immigration laws, temporary foreign workers who arrived in 2011 or earlier, and had not yet received permanent residency, would have to leave Canada by April 1st of this year.
With this new measure, Alberta’s temporary foreign workers who would have been affected by that law will be granted a one-time, one year work permit—as long as they have contacted immigration officials and are in the queue to receive permanent residency status.
This exemption for Alberta’s temporary foreign workers will also exempt those same workers from being counted among their employers foreign worker allotment. Under the tighter federal restrictions, employers are restricted to having no more than 10 percent of their workforce consist of low-wage temporary foreign workers. By exempting these temporary foreign workers, the federal government is also allowing some Alberta employers to exceed that 10 percent limit, albeit temporarily.
Alberta currently has approximately 10,000 temporary foreign workers queued up for its Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program—the federal program that allows each province to ‘nominate’ foreign workers to live and work in their respective province. It’s estimated that at least 1,000 of those Alberta foreign workers will be affected by this one-time federal exemption.
With its booming energy sector and related shortage of workers, Alberta had been pushing the federal government to provide avenues for the province’s temporary foreign workers to achieve permanent residency. Provincial leaders hope this move by the federal government will increase the likelihood that many of Alberta’s temporary foreign workers become permanent residents.
An issue further complicating matters is the average wait time for processing permanent residency applications for Alberta’s foreign workers; currently, processing time is said to be between 12 and 25 months. That’s raised concerns among many of Alberta’s small business owners, fearful that they may lose their experienced foreign workers due to a bureaucratic technicality.
The industry that could be hardest hit if Alberta began losing its temporary foreign workers is the province’s restaurant sector. Mark Von Schellwitz, a spokesperson for the organization Restaurants Canada, welcomed the federal government extension and exemption of Alberta’s temporary foreign workers from the April 1st deadline.
“In many cases, these temporary foreign workers have worked here and established roots in Alberta communities,” said Schellwitz. “They’ll be very, very good Albertans, and it would be unfair to them to have their (permanent residency) applications cut short because their work permit has expired.”