According to doctors, Ottawa’s bid to crack down on abuse of the temporary foreign worker program is hindering efforts to bring in a class of highly skilled labourers, the kind that Canada badly needs.
Physician recruiters across the country say the red tape and fees now associated with the program are a cause for concern for international physicians who want to fill vacancies in Canada’s hospitals and medical offices, especially in rural communities where doctor shortages are common.
A tightening of the rules in the last three years, including the most recent overhaul, announced last month, has convinced some recruiters to give up on the TFW program altogether. “Many, many, many recruiters that were doing this work back in 2011 have dropped off,” said Joan Mavrinac, head of the regional physician recruitment office for Essex County, which includes the border city of Windsor, Ont.
The TFW program had been under fire for more than a year when Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced sweeping reforms designed to prevent unscrupulous employers from importing low-wage foreign workers to displace Canadian employees.
The reforms include a 10-day turnaround time to process applications for highly skilled, high-wage workers, but they do not address any of the unique concerns of doctors, many of which stem from the fact MDs are generally self-employed.
For international physicians, the TFW program has functioned as both a bridge to permanent residency and a means to work in Canada temporarily or while continuing to live in the United States. But since most are independent contractors, there is no for-profit company ready and willing to pay the fees and wade through the paperwork as there would be in the case of other high-skilled professions.
That work is often left to health authorities or local physician recruitment offices, neither of which are flush with cash.
“Doctors are independent contractors. We’re working in a grey area where the application process doesn’t allow us to check that box,” said David Gravelle, the family physician recruitment officer for Southern Georgian Bay and a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Staff Physician Recruiters (CASPR), which represents community and hospital-based recruiters.
To bring in a doctor under the TFW program, recruiters first have to secure a labour market impact assessment (LMIA), verifying there is a shortage of doctors in that location and that no qualified Canadians are available to fill it. To get an LMIA, recruiters have to place national advertisements in at least three places, including the federal government’s national job bank, for at least four weeks.
Instead of declaring a blanket shortage in one town recruiters have to secure an LMIA for every address, even if those addresses are close to each other. If a new foreign doctor wants to work at three different locations, the recruiter needs to obtain LMIAs for each location.
Prior to 2013, LMIAs were free. Last year, Ottawa introduced a $275 fee. Last month, as part of the TFW overhaul, the federal government increased the fee to $1,000 per LMIA, money Ottawa is planning to spend on beefing up and expanding inspections.
A spokesman for Employment and Social Development Canada, said that recruiters in Windsor contacted the department in 2013, and that officials have been working to sort out the difficulties there.
Mr. Kenney’s press secretary Alexandra Fortier said in a statement that the TFW program will now be administered based on wage, “because wage is a more objective and accurate reflection of skill level and labour need in a given area. This new process will allow physicians to be processed faster and will bring their applications on top of the pile.”
Ms. Mavrinac, the Essex County recruiter, said there are 16 American doctors who currently cross the border to work in her area under the TFW program. She is in the midst of processing applications for two more American doctors who want to commute from the U.S., after which she will not be accepting any others, unless they plan to relocate to Canada.
Source: The Globe And Mail