Expect influx of foreign workers, professionals under TPP, experts say

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has significant implications for labour mobility to and from Canada, with experts predicting it will open the Canadian labour market to a new wave of foreign workers. That influx may or may not be offset by increased mobility for Canadian workers abroad, experts say.

Many regulated professions, including trades, written into deal's fine print

An influx of skilled foreign workers is expected under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but the agreement also makes it easier for Canadians to work abroad. Whether the gains and losses will balance themselves out in Canada is up for debate among experts. (Shutterstock)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has significant implications for the movement of workers to and from Canada, with experts predicting it will open the Canadian labour market to a new wave of foreign workers.

That influx may or may not be offset by increased opportunities for Canadian workers to move abroad, the experts say.

"I think it's very facilitative [of workers coming here] for better or for worse," said Ryan Rosenberg, a Vancouver immigration lawyer.

"It reduces barriers significantly to a wider scope of nations" than previous trade agreements, he said.

No need to prove a Canadian unavailable for jobs

Rosenberg said he was surprised by the number of skilled occupations included in the agreement that won't require employers to perform labour market assessments to prove no Canadians are eligible for the jobs.

It's incredible how many skilled trades that are typically unionized positions are opened up to work permits [without labour market assessments].–Ryan Rosenberg, Vancouver immigration lawyer

"It's incredible how many skilled trades that are typically unionized positions are opened up to work permits [without labour market assessments]," he said.

The deal divides occupations into regulated and non-regulated professions. The regulated professions it lists include white-collar jobs in health care, engineering and the legal system, but also several skilled trades such as construction workers, plumbers and electricians.

The principle behind the deal is reciprocity, so the same measures that allow more foreign workers into Canada will allow Canadians easier access to foreign jobs, which could also help Canadian companies trying to expand abroad, Rosenberg said.

"It creates the environment for reciprocity [and] it gives Canadian businesses the same confidence we would give for businesses [coming here] in terms of managing their investments in other nations, so I see that as a positive economic builder," he said.​

Too soon to tell effect, others say

Others say the text of the deal is unclear in several areas when it comes to labour mobility, and that it's too soon to know how it will play out if and when it's ratified.

Arthur Sweetman, a professor in the economics department at McMaster University, said he believes the effect of the agreement on the Canadian labour market will depend largely on the provinces, since the regulation of professions is mostly within their jurisdiction.

While the Trans-Pacific Partnership allows regulated workers to enter Canada with a promise they will be treated "fairly," it doesn't say much about what Canadian requirements they will have to meet, Sweetman said.

"So they're allowed into the country; they have to be treated fairly once they're in the country, but fairly could mean they have to go through the entire regulatory process," he said. "I would suspect in many cases that's what the provinces want."

Mutual recognition agreements will be key

Sweetman said Ottawa and the provinces have been moving to increase mutual recognition of the regulated professions over the past several years.

That includes the establishment of a federal foreign credentials referral office, along with several "mutual recognition" agreements signed with other countries for specific professions.

But he said the number of such agreements is still limited among the TPP countries and have been reached mostly with Australia.

"TPP is going to push us towards having more mutual accreditation agreements over the next decade, to facilitate the real movement of people as opposed to the nominal movement of people," he said.

There will be winners and losers — it depends on where you sit.–Arthur Sweetman, McMaster University professor

So far, provincial reaction to the deal has been positive, but has focused on the potential advantages for sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing, and not on labour mobility.

Sweetman also said labour market provisions will affect some people positively, others negatively. For example, an influx of dentists and pharmacists could harm people working in those fields, but help consumers.

"There will be winners and losers — it depends on where you sit," he said. "If I was a pharmacist or a dentist I would be really worried about it.… If I was a consumer of dental services I would probably be quite happy, because prices are going to go down."

Temporary foreign workers

As for unregulated professions, Sweetman said there's no doubt TPP will allow many more temporary foreign workers into Canada.

"It's clear this will allow a larger number of people into the country and allow them to work in Canada without any real control," he said. 

Temporary foreign workers have been a hot-button topic in recent years, one that pushed the previous Conservative government to limit the number and type of workers entering Canada.

The federal government may face economic and political pressure to ensure TPP workers in Canada don't lead to an overall increase in temporary foreign workers, Sweetman said.

"I suspect what the federal government believes is there will be an increase in people from unregulated professions coming into Canada to work, but that they have enough scope from the rest of the world to cut back, so that the net is very little effect."

In the past, similar reciprocal agreements have generally led to more people coming to Canada than going abroad, Sweetman said.

Language is often the barrier for Canadians seeking to work in other countries, unlike many workers elsewhere who already speak English or French, he added.


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