Temporary foreign workers pin hopes on April 1 reprieve

On April 1, thousands of temporary foreign workers who have been in Canada for more than four years will either need to be on the path to becoming permanent residents, or will have to leave the country.

In Alberta alone, 10,000 temporary foreign workers have applied to stay in Canada

Temporary foreign workers hope for April 1 reprieve

9 years ago
Duration 1:08
In Alberta alone, 10,000 temporary foreign workers have applied to stay in Canada

Stephan Biletzki is like thousands of temporary foreign workers in Alberta: his life is in limbo and all he can do is wait.

His work permit will expire April 1, which is when a deadline kicks in for those workers who have been in Canada for more than four years. They either need to be on the path to becoming permanent residents, or they have to leave the country.

"It is rather nerve-wracking, I have to admit," the 35-year-old said from the dining room of the hotel where he works in Jasper, Alta.

He is one of about 10,000 temporary foreign workers who have applied to stay in Canada through the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program. The overwhelming number of applications has led to lengthy backlog in the system.

Biletzki submitted his paperwork in December 2013, and he is still waiting for his application to be processed. His hope now is that he will be one of 1,000 workers to be granted an extension, which will let him remain in Canada for another year while his paperwork is dealt with.

The federal government announced the reprieve earlier this year, but officials in Alberta say they are still in the process of contacting employees and can't say when all of those who will receive an extension will be notified.

That leaves Biletzki checking his email several times a day, waiting for some kind of news.

"I know it's not just me in this position, and that there are lot of people in this position. I understand that things take some time. But of course, I am hoping things will come through," he said.

Desperate to stay

While the federal government's recent overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program was designed to reduce abuse and make it harder for companies to bring in foreign labour, the tens of thousands of workers who are already settled in Alberta are desperate to stay.

After six years of working in Canada, Romel Dabo is packing up his young family in Edson, Alta., and preparing to head back to the Philippines due to changes in Canadian law around temporary foreign workers. (Briar Stewart/CBC)
​Biletzki moved to Jasper in 2007 from Berlin, Germany, after securing a job at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. He works as a banquet server, and is heavily involved in the local community - he has helped to organize soccer tournaments, fundraisers and even the annual rodeo. But now, like many other workers, he is facing the very real prospect of having to go home.

Romel Dabo is also waiting to hear from the government. For six years, Dabo sent part of his paycheque from his job at Tim Hortons to his parents, who are farmers in the Philippines. The money also allowed him to send his son, who is still living there, to private school. 

Now he has a young family to take care of in Alberta as well. While staying in a home with other temporary foreign workers, he met and married a woman, and they now have an eight-month-old son together.

Dabo became teary-eyed when he talked about his family's future. "I know our quality of life is going to be changed for sure."

Romel Dabo got married while in Canada, and now has an eight-month old son named Gabrielle. (Briar Stewart/CBC)
Like Biletzki, Dabo applied to stay in Canada under the provincial nominee program back in 2013. While he has a file number, he doesn't know whether he will be granted an extension, which is why he and his wife have already begun packing up their belongings in cardboard boxes that now line the kitchen of their rental home.

Even though he is preparing to leave, Dabo said he remains optimistic.

"I still keep praying all the time that the application I submit to them will give us a chance to stay here," he says.

However, the reality is that soon many will be going home. 

Alberta can only hand out a  maximum  of 5,500 nominations for permanent residency each year, and the only way a worker can qualify for an extension to stay is if their current permit is still valid.  So as the clock ticks toward April 1, and as contracts are on the verge of expiring, more workers will inevitably have to abandon their hope of staying in Canada.

(Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada)