Employment Minister Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment, announced major changes to the temporary foreign worker program in Ottawa on Friday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Effective immediately, Ottawa will no longer process applications for temporary foreign workers in low-wage jobs in regions with an annual unemployment rate over six per cent, including Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

“Specifically, any applications for positions that require little or no education or training will not be processed in economic regions with an unemployment rate at or above six percent,” the Employment and Social Development website reads.

According to the website, that includes all of Nunavut, which has an unemployment rate of 13.5 per cent, and the N.W.T., which has a rate of 8.2 per cent.

Yukon’s territorial unemployment rate in 2013 was 5.4 per cent.

The rule change specifically refuses to process applications for temporary foreign workers in accommodation, food service and retail sales jobs, or in jobs where they would work as:

  • food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related occupations
  • light duty cleaners
  • cashiers
  • grocery clerks and store shelf stockers
  • helpers and labourers in construction
  • landscaping and grounds maintenance labourers
  • janitors, caretakers and building superintendents
  • security guards and related occupations
  • other attendants in accommodation and travel

Jason Kenney announced the changes in Ottawa Friday.

‘We are trying to modify our working hours’

Employers of temporary foreign workers in some Yellowknife restaurants have told the CBC they can’t find enough local people to fill jobs. Now at least one restaurant could be forced to reduce its services.

"We are trying to modify our working hours. To cut back. If no more workers are allowed in,” says Raymond Li, who runs the Sushi Cafe.

Li believes the local workforce is too expensive.

"Starting point, with no experience, they are all asking for $15 to $16 dollars an hour. We cannot afford it."

Ryan Wallace, 21, is unemployed in the capital, and in no rush to fill a low-skill, low-wage job.

"I think there are better jobs available to me. The North is kind of weird like that, there are higher paying jobs."

Cap on low-wage workers

The new rules also include a cap on low-wage temporary foreign workers.

“Employers with 10 or more employees will be subject to a cap of 10 percent on the proportion of their workforce that can consist of low-wage temporary foreign workers.”

The website notes that 11 low-wage workers were in Nunavut in 2013, 73 in the N.W.T. and 41 in Yukon (not including live-in caregivers and employers with a total workforce of fewer than 10 workers).

Those numbers are expected to go down under the new restrictions.

The goal, the website says, is to send the message that “temporary foreign workers cannot be used as a business model and employers must do more to recruit, hire and train Canadians.”

The changes will not apply to temporary foreign workers currently working in the North.