Temporary foreign worker program facing changes

Employers may soon have to make more of an effort to hire Canadians before they'll be allowed to bring in temporary foreign workers such as nannies and farm help.
A worker makes his way through floating cranberries as the fruit is harvested in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Employers may soon have to make more of an effort to hire Canadians before they'll be allowed to bring in temporary foreign workers.

Changes hinted at in Thursday's federal budget will require employers who bring in temporary workers to ensure that they've more thoroughly scoured the local labour force before turning to workers from outside Canada.

"The government will look at ways to ensure that businesses have made all reasonable efforts to recruit from the domestic labour force before accessing the temporary foreign worker program," the budget says. 

It's not more specific than that. A spokesperson in the office of Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said further details will be provided in the next few months. 

The issue could affect employers who bring in thousands of foreign temporary workers to fill occupations as diverse as live-in caregivers and seasonal agricultural workers, as well as some workers in the construction and resource industries.

The temporary foreign worker program lets Canadian employers hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill immediate skills and labour shortages "when Canadians and permanent residents are not available," according to the program's guidelines. 

Employers who want to bring in foreign workers must satisfy a number of conditions.

Must advertise locally

For instance, employers looking to hire seasonal agricultural workers must now advertise locally and in a national job bank for at least 14 days before they can apply to bring in a foreign worker.

News that Ottawa may require them to do more to hire locally surprises Ken Forth, president of a non-profit organization that administers the seasonal agricultural worker program.

"We're already doing that," he told CBC News, pointing out that 80,000 Canadians are employed at farms in Ontario, compared to just 15,500 foreign workers. "We need all these links in the employment chain."  

The issue has particular resonance in southwestern Ontario — home to large agricultural operations that bring in foreign seasonal workers, but also an area which now has a higher-than-average unemployment rate with the demise of so many manufacturing jobs. 

That has resulted in many laid-off local workers drawing EI benefits while at the same time, workers are being brought in from other countries to fill jobs. 

Officials in the office of the human resources minister told CBC News that the upcoming changes are not meant to be an additional burden on employers but rather to ensure that foreign workers aren't taking jobs that Canadians could fill.

Ottawa also served notice in the budget that it wants to link the temporary foreign worker program with the EI system. The government said it is "developing approaches" to notify EI claimants when employers are looking for workers and telling employers if there are EI claimants in the same area who could fill the available position.