Prince Edward Island has the highest growth rate of temporary foreign workers in Atlantic Canada.

A new report shows the province leads the region, which has more than tripled the number of such workers over the last decade.

David Chaundy, senior economist with the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, said the labour market is changing in Atlantic Canada.

"We're seeing an aging population. We're seeing young people moving out of rural communities into urban centres, as well as younger people moving to Alberta and other provinces,” he said. “We're seeing a loss of population in that core, working-age group."

He said that's part of the reason the number of temporary foreign workers has been increasing.

P.E.I.’s number of temporary workers has rapidly grown. There were:

  • 139 in 2005
  • 644 in 2009
  • 1,000+ in 2012

The report included statistics on all Canadian provinces, and the growth in P.E.I. was easily the highest in the country. The Island is, however, below the national average: just 1.6 per cent of the workforce, compared to 1.9 per cent nationally. That is still the largest percentage of temporary foreign workers in Atlantic Canada.

Low-skill jobs

The APEC report found the temporary foreign workers are concentrated in low-skill jobs such as fish-plant workers and in the food-service sector. About 250 worked in fish plants in 2012

Dennis King, the executive director of Seafood Processors Association P.E.I., said seafood processors struggle to find labour.

"It is an avenue of last resort for most of our operators, but it has performed a valuable service over the last few years,” he said.

King said the industry seeks local workers, advertising and offering transportation and accommodation, but it doesn’t draw enough.

"We would love to have all locals working here and we'll continue working toward that effort,” he said.

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