Nova Scotia's Labour and Advanced Education minister is appealing to the federal government to allow exceptions to recent changes in the temporary foreign worker program.

Some Maritime fish processors have expressed concerns they won't be able to hire temporary foreign workers. 

The federal government has imposed restrictions on the program to curtail alleged abuses that left Canadian workers jobless.

Processors say changes to federal rules could make it difficult for fish plants in this region to stay in business. 

Kelly Regan

Minister Kelly Regan is asking Ottawa for flexibility on changes to the temporary foreign worker program. (CBC)

Owners of lobster plants and a smoked salmon business in Guysborough County employ hundreds of temporary foreign workers from Asia, a practice that will soon be discontinued unless the area has unemployment below six per cent. 

Proposed changes would also restrict businesses from employing more than 10 per cent of a workforce with foreign workers by 2016.

However Kelly Regan, the provincial minister in charge of labour, is asking Ottawa for flexibility. 

"[Employment Minister Jason Kenney] has said to us is he is prepared to consider local exemptions if they were a particular industries or particular areas that were hard hit but we would have to come back with really solid evidence," she said.

The province has sent out 170 surveys to fish processors looking for information to mount an effective argument. Some employers say the aging and depopulation of rural areas has forced them to import people to work alongside Canadians, who will also be out of a job if the fish plants close. 

Regan acknowledged that while some abuses have taken place under the program, the changes risk hurting business by making it difficult for employers to find qualified workers.

Last year, just over 900 temporary foreign workers arrived to fill mostly low-wage jobs. Regan said the proposed changes would cut the number of people who come to Nova Scotia in half over the next few years.