Last week, Ottawa announced there had been a 74 per cent reduction in the number of temporary foreign worker applications received in July and August when compared to the same period in 2012.
While the government says this shows its reforms to the program are "successful," a decrease in temporary foreign worker applications will create a long-term problem in recruiting future Canadians, and contradicts other government goals of protecting the investment employers put into these types of workers.
To ensure that Canada continues to attract the immigrants we need, that it protects Canadian jobs and the investment employers put into temporary foreign workers, here is what the federal government must do with its temporary foreign worker program:
- First, it is time that the federal government should call the temporary foreign worker program what it really is — a probationary permanent residency program.
Referring to individuals as temporary foreign workers gives the impression that they are here for a short time and are disposable. While not every temporary foreign worker wants to immigrate to Canada, changing the name of these employees to probationary permanent residents will more accurately reflect the eventual immigration purpose of many of these employees.
- Secondly, changing the name of these types of employees will only work if the federal government backs up any changes with action.
Since 2008, the government has promoted the use of the temporary foreign worker program as a probationary permanent residency program through what they call the Canadian Experience Class. This program must continue and must be expanded.
The Canadian Experience Class provides temporary foreign workers, who have worked in Canada for one-year, a pathway to citizenship. When this program was first proposed the government said it was because “employers invest in their workers; when workers leave Canada, so too does their investment." In 2014, the federal government expects to approve Canadian employers’ investments in more than 15,000 of Canadian Experience Class employees.
- Thirdly, the federal government should change the Canadian Experience Class to allow all temporary foreign workers the ability to apply for permanent residency.
Under current federal rules, only certain high-skilled temporary foreign workers can apply for permanent residency. The federal government should adopt Manitoba’s immigration approach which allows for all temporary foreign workers to apply for Canadian permanent residency regardless of skill level.
For years, Ottawa has argued that workers it describes as “low-skilled” are not the type of immigrants that Canada wants. However, the federal government’s June overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program undermines this argument.
Today, employers of “low-skilled” temporary foreign workers must show greater proof that there are no Canadians or permanent residents willing to take a job before a foreigner can be hired. If the government is so confident that its foreign worker overhaul will put Canadians first, then the only foreigners who will be allowed to work in Canada will be ones who are truly needed.
- Fourthly, the federal government should allow probationary permanent residents to apply for permanent residency immediately upon arrival, as opposed to waiting for one year.
Before these employees come to Canada, they are screened by employers to ensure they have the skills for the job. Then the federal government checks to make sure no Canadians are willing and able to take the job. Once this check is passed, another federal department double checks the employer’s skill assessment of the employee. As a result, by the time the probationary permanent resident arrives in Canada, they have already been tripled checked.
Allowing temporary foreign workers to apply for permanent residency on arrival will better ensure that employers earn the loyalty of all employees, Canadian and foreign. Under the current system, temporary foreign workers are typically restricted to working for only one employer, which some claim opens up a potential for abuse. By reducing the time these workers are tied to one employer, companies will have to offer wage and benefit packages that are attractive to all employees in order to retain them.
- Finally, the federal government should stop its mixed messages on immigration.
In July, only a few weeks after the overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program, the federal government said “Canada needs high levels of immigration to meet current and future labour market needs, which will ensure our economic growth and long-term prosperity.” If so, then why tout the restrictions on the number of temporary foreign workers who will become tomorrow’s Canadians?
Encouraging temporary foreign workers to become permanent residents is the best solution to ensure Canada’s economic growth and long-term prosperity. What Canada needs to do is ensure that Canadians and Canadian permanent residents get jobs first. Once this is ensured, it is necessary to expand, not restrict the flow of temporary foreign workers to Canada as probationary permanent residents.
R. Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.