In a dramatic move, the provincial government of British Columbia (BC) has frozen its immigration program and will not accept any immigrants for the next three months.
In making the announcement of the freeze, BC Jobs Minister Shirley Bond said the three month freeze would give her staff time to work its way through the backlog of applications that have accumulated in recent months. The freeze—which will last until July 2nd—means that BC will no longer accept any new immigrants under its Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) that allows each province to sponsor foreign workers to settle in their respective province.
Bond said the backlog was in large part due to the changes to federal law restricting temporary foreign workers; as a result of those changes, more immigrants are seeking to enter BC via the PNP.
Bond added that certain exceptions will be made during the freeze, particularly for foreign workers involved in high-need employment categories, such as health care. It’s expected that in 2015, BC will grant permanent resident status to about 5,500 foreign workers under the PNP program.
Illustrative of the immense impact that the changes to federal immigration laws have had on BC is the fact that one year ago, the province was processing the average PNP application in about 12 weeks; that same process now takes about 13 months, and BC has already reached its maximum number of PNP applicants for the entire calendar year.
For her part, Bond squarely placed the blame for the freeze—and the overloaded immigration system in BC—on the back of the federal government, stating that “the (BC) system is trying to adjust to the changes that the federal government has imposed.” Those changes, according to Bond, have meant that the provincial government has had to hire more staff to handle immigration applications; she added that PNP applications already received would be processed on a “first come, first served” basis, rather than on the need to fill openings in any business sector.
Like its neighbor Alberta, the provincial government in BC has been warning that the province faces a labor shortage in its northern and rural areas, and had called for the federal government to address the need for foreign workers in those regions.
However, after several high-profile allegations emerged last year of abuse of foreign workers—particularly in the food services sector—the federal government tightened the rules governing the hiring of ‘temporary foreign workers’ who would normally fill those positions. The result, Bond says, has been a flood of applications for BC’s PNP immigration program—resulting in the need for the current freeze on applicants.
For its part, the association representing BC’s restaurant industry is supporting the freeze, and using the occasion to once again voice its opposition to the federal government limiting the availability of unskilled foreign workers.
Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurants & Foodservices Association, said the federal government “rocked the boat” of the temporary foreign worker program mostly for “short-term, political optics.” He also stated his support of the provincial government’s freeze, and a review of how it uses its PNP program to better serve BC’s immigration needs.