Due to one-time bridging measures quietly rolled out this week, only a small fraction of temporary foreign workers in Alberta will qualify for an extended stay in Canada, the federal government says.
A lack of clarity is causing heightened anxiety among the thousands of vulnerable workers that want to find a solution before the looming April 1 deadline to leave the country. The new measures are the result of an agreement between the federal government and the province of Alberta. They are meant to help temporary foreign workers who are trying to transition to permanent residency but risk having their work permits expire before their applications are processed.
Under the terms of the agreement, temporary foreign workers who have a work permit set to expire in 2015 but are currently caught up in the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program’s queue applications may be eligible for a one-time, one-year bridging work permit.
The federal government will also provide a one-time exemption to these workers that will keep them from being counted under rules imposed last June requiring employers to ensure no more than 10 per cent of their workforce is made up of low-wage TFWs. However, even though the new measures have been praised by business groups, others are calling for more information about the number of permits that will be offered and what type of workers will receive them.
Neither the provincial government nor the federal government has made any kind of public announcement about the new measures,
More than 86,000 temporary foreign workers are working in Alberta and according to estimates “several thousand” will see their permits expire on April 1. This is when a four-year work duration limit put in place by the federal government in 2011 comes into effect.
Making matters worse is the fact the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program, a popular option for temporary foreign workers looking to transition to permanent residency, has seen a glut of applicants in recent months. Current processing times for applications now range between 1 to 2 years, meaning many workers could find themselves still in the queue by the time their permits expire.
The government estimates approximately 1,000 foreign workers could be eligible for a bridging permit under the terms of the new agreement, but that doesn’t mean 1,000 permits will be awarded.
A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said the federal government expects “only a small fraction” of the TFWs in Alberta will ultimately receive a bridging permit.
A worrying possibility is that the government may award the bulk of the permits to engineers, doctors, and other highly skilled individuals in the queue, leaving out lower-skilled food service and hotel industry workers.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said he believes the new measures are meant to placate business owners who have been complaining since June 2014, when the federal government imposed restrictions on the use of the temporary foreign worker program.