A change to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that could see some migrant workers refused work permits from April 1, 2015 should be scrapped because it would force an exodus of foreign workers from B.C., says an advocate.

On April 1, 2011, the federal government introduced legislation known as the "four in and four out" rule, limiting how long some temporary foreign workers could work in Canada to four years.

The first temporary foreign workers to whom the rule applies could reach their four-year limit on April 1, 2015 — and for those affected, that deadline is fast approaching.

After that, they must wait another four years — either outside Canada or in Canada as a visitor or student  before they can be granted a fresh work permit.

Previously, temporary foreign workers who came to Canada under the low-skilled stream could reapply to continue working for their Canadian employer.

Elise Hjalmarson, with Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture, is petitioning against the regulation. Hjalmarson calls the new rule "legislated unemployment" for foreign workers in Canada.

"I think if you're good enough to work here, you're good enough to stay," she told Radio West.

"Ultimately, we want to live in a society where everyone has equal access to rights, where we don't have an underclass of workers that are constantly looking over their shoulder, that they're worried that they're going to be legislated out of a job."

Thousands will be impacted, says advocate

While migrant farm workers who come to B.C.'s Okanagan region under the seasonal agricultural program won't be affected, others who come under the low-skilled stream will, Hjalmarson said.

Hjalmarson said she believes approximately 80,000 temporary foreign workers are employed in B.C., and thousands of them will be impacted by the new rule.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has made an exception for TFWs approaching their four-year limit in Alberta, offering a bridging permit if they applied for permanent residency under the Provincial Nominee Program by July 1, 2014.

Meanwhile, Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney has said Ottawa is willing to extend similar measures to other provinces.

CIC also lists several other situations in which workers may be exempt from the four year rule, including:

  • Management and professional workers, including spouses and dependants

  • Workers exempt due to international agreements, Canadian interests, self-support, humanitarian reasons

  • Workers doing jobs which do not require a work permit

  • Permanent resident applicants who have received a positive selection decision or approval in principle

  • Provincial nominees applying for an employer-specific work permit

​For more information about the four-year rule, check the CIC website.

To hear the full interview with Elise Hjalmarson, click on the audio labelled: Migrant advocate says temporary foreign workers being legislated out of a job. 

With files from The Canadian Press