The B.C. government has abruptly ended its provincial immigration program for the next three months, saying new federal limits on temporary foreign workers have caused an unmanageable flood of applicants seeking entry to Canada through British Columbia.
According to Jobs Minister Shirley Bond, no new applications will be accepted until July 2, giving her staff time to process a growing backlog while her ministry looks at what qualifications it will seek from those hoping to come to B.C. through the provincial nominee program (PNP). Some exceptions will be made in high-need categories such as health-care workers
Under the program, Ottawa allows the provinces limited control over immigration. This year, B.C. will grant permanent resident status to 5,500 immigrants to fill labour-market needs.
Applications to the provincial program increased after the federal government introduced tighter controls on its temporary foreign worker program. A year ago, B.C. could process a PNP application in 12 weeks; now the wait list is 13 months, and there are already more people in the queue than B.C. can admit this year.
Despite the provincial government warning that British Columbia faces a skills shortage with an anticipated construction boom in the north, many of the temporary foreign workers in B.C. are being hired for low-wage jobs in the hospitality industry. The federal government was forced to make changes after allegations surfaced last year that some employers, especially restaurants, were abusing the program.
Ottawa is phasing in limits on the number of temporary foreign workers that large- and medium-sized companies are permitted to hire and is promising more inspections of workplaces, bigger fines for companies that abuse the program and increased application fees for employers.
This is not the first time B.C. has frozen one of its immigration programs. In 2012, the province suspended a program after a suspicious surge in the number of business applicants for a category that promised a speedy visa in exchange for a $125,000 bond.