The federal government is tightening rules for businesses that want to hire temporary foreign workers, but some northern businesses people say the changes will make it harder to recruit the employees they need.

Mike Bradshaw, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, said businesses already spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to hire Canadians. He said some businesses in the North can’t afford to wait months longer.

"It doesn't make any sense to us to penalize employers and businesses to make it even more difficult to work their way through the process," he said. "When you do everything you can to attract people and they don't want to move, you still have a hole you have to fill."

Bradshaw said temporary foreign workers not only fill those holes, but are a benefit to the economy, especially if they are able stay after their work permit expires.

"That adds to our population base. They become permanent contributing members of our society here and of course that assists the transfer payments from the federal government," he said.

Canada introduced new fees. Businesses will also no longer be able to get fast-tracked labour market opionions, which are the approvals needed to hire employees from outside the country.

Ottawa made the changes after pressure from critics who said the system was taking jobs away from Canadians.

About 100 employers in the Northwest Territories use the program now.

Bradshaw said the economy in the North will need to rely on temporary foreign workers even more if new resource development projects take off. He said even if northerners are trained to fill jobs, there will still be large gaps.


Marion Lavigne, who runs Outcrop Communications in Yellowknife, said her company would have lost business if she hadn't been able to hire someone from outside of Canada. (CBC)

The president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce is also critical of the changes. Rick Karp said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney should reconsider his reforms, saying they make no sense.

"If they have to hire foreign workers, the minister is saying they will then need to have a plan to show how they will eventually hire Canadians for those positions. And so if we bring in a foreign worker on the nominee program which is for a permanent job and then the minister is telling us that we are going to have to eventually fire that person to hire a Canadian, seems contradictory," said Karp.

Karp said businesses in Yukon need help from the Department of Education to train more young people for the workforce.

Difficult to attract people to live in the North

"If we hadn't gotten somebody, we would've lost a fair amount of business," said Marion Lavigne, who runs Outcrop Communications in Yellowknife.

She turned to the temporary worker program because Outcrop has struggled to attract web developers. Now the company has five from outside Canada.

Lavigne said when advertising a position on the federal government's job board, only a fraction of applications come from Canadians.

"There just are not the people in Canada that have the experience, and if they do, they're employed and just want to work for you from a distance," she said.

Lavigne said an added benefit of using the temporary foreign worker program is that employees can't leave for different jobs unless they return to their home country and re-apply for a work permit.

"There's a certain amount of stability when they're working for you. The big concern is, if they're a good employee, can you convince them to stay longer than two years?"

Two of Outcrop's employees have applied for permanent residency.

"The amazing thing is these are highly skilled people who've done jobs in their home countries that we probably would never tackle here, but they are interested in leaving the country and trying something different and we hope they stay for the next 10 years," said Lavigne.