In June last year many changes were made to Canada’s temporary foreign worker (TFW) program in an attempt to address the concern that foreigners were taking away jobs from the Canadian people. As a result of these changes, several foreign workers now face an April 1 deadline to leave Canada, with their employers scrambling to find suitable replacements to fill in for them.
Experts believe that overhauling of TFW program might benefit a few regions in Canada, however it is most likely going to harm Alberta’s economy. In an attempt to soften the effects of the harsh measures, the employment ministry offered a minor reprieve to the program, allowing a one-time work permit extension for certain temporary foreign workers in Alberta. This exemption will be provided to those temporary workers who had made their applications under the Alberta Nominee Program before July 1, 2014, and meet the permanent residency requirements.
This adjustment will allow employers to retain some of their employees who had been working for them for the past four years, thus averting a looming labor shortage crisis. However, even though this measure may provide some respite to employers in Alberta, it fails to address the long-term need of businesses to find a consistent and reliable pool of low-skilled employees.
For instance, according to the revised rules of the TFW program, the employers will have to limit the numbers of temporary foreign workers to 10% of their workforce, which implies that the above exemption might not apply to many ‘waiting’ permanent residents who would therefore not be counted as TFWs despite belonging to low wage category.
Moreover, many low-skilled workers are in service jobs, while some are employed in high-demand jobs like driving trucks. For all of them, the Alberta Immigration Nominee Program is the only way to gain permanent residency, however, it is very likely that only those who are in high demand jobs or high skilled jobs and have strong language skills will qualify for the work permit extensions. Thus despite the reprieve, many TFWs will be leaving Canada from 1st of April, forcing Alberta’s employers to search for people who are willing to do the low-paying jobs of serving food and cleaning. While this leaves the door open for many Canadians to take up these jobs, it remains to be seen how many are willing to do so and therefore fill the urgent requirements of the businesses.
The figures for 2013 show 40,471 TFWs working in Alberta across different occupations. 75% of TFWs who entered Alberta in 2013 were working in low-wage positions. According to the new rules, Alberta can accept only up to 5,500 provincial nominees annually. There would be thousands of applications for this annual quota, from which the government of Alberta will have to choose suitable candidates for both low-skilled jobs that don’t find many Canadian takers as well as for high demand and highly skilled jobs. This will be an arduous task, and whatever the outcome, is likely to adversely affect Alberta’s businesses.
Immigrations experts feel that the new rules may not be viable for Alberta’s economy and the federal government may end up having to take further steps in the coming months to fill the gaps in the labor market that may emerge in the near future.