Employers applying to hire temporary foreign workers will now have to pay a processing fee under promised changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, Jason Kenney, the minister of employment and social development announced on Wednesday.

Changes that went into effect on July 31 include a $275 processing fee per position, along with new language and advertising requirements.

The new fee is intended to cover the administrative costs of processing requests for a labour marker opinion, which is usually required to prove the need to hire a temporary foreign worker. There is no refund if the LMO is rejected and employers are not to recover the fee from the workers.

The new fee will ensure that "taxpayers no longer pay the cost of processing employer applications for temporary foreign workers," Kenney said in a news release issued Wednesday.

In 2012, 60 per cent of positive LMOs did not lead to a work permit being issued to a temporary foreign worker, which means taxpayers' dollars were spent to process applications that were never used, Kenney explained.

The government announced some changes in April, following a CBC Go Public story on the use of foreign workers by the Royal Bank of Canada.

The federal government defended the program at first, but after sustained public outrage it promised to reform it.

The Opposition New Democrats called the changes "cosmetic" because they do little to ensure that employers comply with the rules.

In a telephone interview with CBC News, Jinny Sims, the immigration, citizenship and multiculturalism critic for the NDP, said some of the changes do put "a little bit more onus on the employer."

"However, what's missing from the announcement is any kind of enforcement," Sims said.

The NDP would like to see the federal government monitor the way employers are using the LMOs, as well as the work permits issued to temporary foreign workers.

"There also has to be far more oversight over the working conditions of the employees once they are here," Sims said.

In an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Liberal citizenship and immigration critic Kevin Lamoureux called the new fee a "tax grab" on small businesses.

Onus on employers

"The reforms announced today and in recent months further strengthen the integrity of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and ensure that more employers hire Canadians before hiring temporary foreign workers," Kenney said.

"These improvements help ensure the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is only used as intended: to fill acute skills shortages on a temporary basis."

Also effective as of July 31:

  • English and French are now the only languages that can be identified as a job requirement although exceptions can be made in rare cases.
  • Employers are required to advertise their positions for a minimum period of four weeks instead of two before they can apply to hire temporary foreign workers.
  • Employers will have to use two additional methods of recruitment beyond the national job bank, and one of those methods will have to be national in scope.
  • Employers are required to "actively" seek qualified Canadians from the time they submit the LMO application until the time it's approved.
  • Employers will have to answer additional questions to ensure that temporary foreign workers are not used to outsource Canadian jobs.

As part of the federal government's ongoing reform to the temporary foreign workers program, the federal government is also working on introducing further changes such as:

  • Increasing the government’s authority to revoke work permits.
  • Suspend, revoke and refuse to process LMOs.
  • Ensure employers who rely on temporary foreign workers have a firm plan in place to transition to a Canadian workforce.

The current changes do not apply to on-farm primary agriculture occupations, such as those under the seasonal agricultural worker program.