May 19, 2017 – Temporary foreign workers have been brought into Canada to do jobs there may have been Canadians available for, a damning audit of the program has concluded.
Auditor-General Michael Ferguson says not enough was done to ensure genuine labour shortages existed, and that ‘employers hired temporary foreign workers only as a last resort’.
Furthermore, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) did not rigorously investigate potential abuse of the program through on-site inspections and face-to-face interviews.
ESDC also failed to measure the impact of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) on Canada’s labour market.
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“The department … did not consider sufficient labour market information to determine whether jobs could be filled by Canadians,” the report said.
ESDC were particularly lax around caregivers and the fish and seafood industry, where ‘the department should have better questioned whether temporary foreign workers were filling real labour shortages’.
The report continued: “In particular, there were indications that unemployed Canadians who last worked in a fish and seafood processing plant may have been available for work.
“These findings matter because the program was designed to help employers fill job vacancies that they cannot otherwise fill, and Canadians expect the department to manage the program in a way that makes sure the program is used to respond only to real Canadian labour market shortages.”
Four key conclusions of the Auditor-General’s report
- ESDC did not do enough to ensure that employers hired temporary foreign workers only as a last resort.
The report reads: “In some cases, ESDC approved applications for temporary foreign workers even when employers had not demonstrated reasonable efforts to train existing employees or hire unemployed Canadians, including those from under-represented groups.”
- ESDC did not use all existing labour market information to determine whether Canadians could fill available positions.
The report reads: “When considering applications from employers requesting to hire temporary foreign workers, program officers at ESDC had access to some – but not all – of the labour market information they needed to assess the applications. For example, program officers did not use employment insurance data and had access to only some record of employment information. This information could have helped them assess whether there were real labour shortages and whether there were Canadians available to fill the positions identified by employers in their applications. For example, ESDC approved applications from employers of fish and seafood processing plants even when it was aware that unemployed Canadians who last worked in a fish and seafood processing plant may have been available for work.”
- ESDC made limited use of its expanded powers to identify employers that did not comply with program requirements.
The report reads: “ESDC increased its enforcement activities since announcing program reforms. However, it did not use the information it had to focus its activities on employers of the most vulnerable temporary foreign workers or employers that were most at risk of not complying with the program. We also found that the Department did very few on-site inspections of employers. Furthermore, we found that when an enforcement activity resulted in a recommendation to take action against an employer, the recommendation could take months to go through all the levels of approval.”
- The Department did not measure the results of the program and its impact on the labour market
The report reads: “ESDC did not have a performance measurement strategy for the program and did not use information to measure the results of the program. For example, ESDC did not use information about temporary foreign workers who lost their jobs to reassess its original decisions to approve the jobs under the program. It also did not know whether the program had unintended consequences.
The current federal government can point to the fact that the period covered by the report – January 1, 2013 to August 31, 2016 – includes only 10 months when it was in power.
Many of the issues raised come because of policies implemented by the previous Conservative government, which significantly cracked down on use of the program following some high-profile abuses.
Since the Liberals came to power under Justin Trudeau, they have commissioned a parliamentary committee to consider how TFWP can best serve Canada.
The committee came back with 21 recommendations on how it could be improved, focusing on the rights of the workers as well as the integrity of the program.
Since then the Liberal shave made changes in several key areas:
Key Temporary Foreign Worker Program Changes
- Abolishment of cumulative duration rule that said a worker under TFWP could only stay in Canada for four years, after which they could not return under the program for another four years.
- 10 per cent workforce cap for employers who began using the TFWP after June 20, 2014. Those who have been using the program since before then were capped at 20 per cent.
- Employers required to do more to hire Canadians. Special emphasis will be on youth, new permanent residents, women, indigenous people and the disabled.
- Users of TFWP to help government transition Canadians into the workforce through more use of outreach and training programs.
- Plan to eliminate Labour Market Impact Assessment fee for:
- Families seeking caregivers for persons with high medical needs.
- Families earning less than $150,000 seeking childcare.
- Increased compliance inspections of firms employing temporary workers.
- Making sure workers know their rights and protections on arrival.
- Improved communication with provinces and territories.
A further key change will also see the establishment of the Global Talent Stream under TFWP, allowing work permits for high-skilled workers to be processing inside two weeks.
Key Features of Global Talent Stream
- Two-week standard for processing Canada work permit applications (and Canada visa applications when applicable) for highly skilled talent.
- Dedicated service for companies looking to make significant job-creating investments in Canada.
- Dropping of the work permit requirement for short-term highly skilled work (30 days or less in a 12-month period), and brief academic stays.
- Companies applying for workers through the Global Talent Stream will have access to the new streamlined application process that will provide:
- Client-focused service to help guide eligible employers through the application process and the development of the Labour Market Benefits Plan, with a service standard of 10 business days.
- Eligibility for workers to have their work permit applications processed in 10 business days.
The new audit, therefore, comes at a time when significant changes are either planed or have already been made to TFWP.
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