Politics

Federal government fast-tracking temporary foreign worker approvals to fill labour gaps

The federal government is fast-tracking approvals for temporary foreign workers already in Canada, to make them available to fill labour gaps in critical sectors such as agriculture and health care during the pandemic.

Changes allow workers to switch employers immediately while permits are approved

Many foreign workers with employer-specific permits lost their jobs this spring due to COVID-19. Some have left Canada, others remained here because of travel restrictions. (CBC News)

The federal government is fast-tracking approvals for temporary foreign workers already in Canada, to make them available to fill labour gaps in critical sectors such as agriculture and health care during the pandemic.

Many foreign workers with employer-specific permits lost their jobs this spring due to the pandemic. Some have left Canada but others are still here because of travel restrictions.

The goal is to help employers in the agriculture, agri-food and health care sectors meet urgent needs for additional employees during the global health crisis.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said in a media release that the temporary policy change will allow Canadian businesses to recruit the workers they need and help the unemployed contribute to the Canadian economy during the pandemic.

"It just underscores the importance and the value of the contribution of the temporary workers who come here," Mendicino told CBC News.

"In many cases, these are workers who come back every year. There is a relationship there, a connection to not only their employers but their colleagues and frankly to Canada and that is a good thing because it allows us to meet our food supply needs."

Under the temporary new rules, a foreign worker can start a new job before being issued a new work permit. The approval process normally takes 10 weeks or more; the government plans to shorten that to 10 days or less.

Mendicino said workers still need to apply for the permit but once that process is completed and the permit is issued, it is applied retroactively.

"If they lose their job today and they get a job offer tomorrow, they can start working tomorrow and that's good news because it means that we are that much further along in meeting our food supply needs," he said.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said temporary foreign workers are an "integral" part of Canada's work force and support its ability to deliver essential goods and services during the global pandemic.

"While there will always be jobs for Canadians who choose to work in these sectors, these changes help support our economy by ensuring that temporary foreign workers already here can contribute during these extraordinary times," she said.

TFWs abiding by quarantine: Mendicino

To be eligible, workers must already be in Canada with employer-specific work permits, or must have been working under work permit exemptions.

An employers hiring a temporary foreign worker still needs to have, or obtain, a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) from Employment and Social Development Canada.

In 2019, about 190,000 employer-specific work permits were issued to foreign nationals. Mendicino said this measure will affect about 200,000 workers this year.

With farmers and fish processors worried about filling jobs during the pandemic, the federal government already has announced $50 million to help finance the added costs of covering temporary foreign workers while they comply with a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon their arrival in Canada.

"The program on the whole is working well. The workers that are coming in are abiding by the 14 day isolation period," said Mendicino.

With files from CBC's Peter Zimonjic

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