Businesses applaud changes to allow temporary foreign workers to stay as long as permits renewed

Yet another reversal of the previous government’s policy but partial  -the caps on company numbers remain with priority to be given to under-represented groups in Canada:

The government announced Tuesday afternoon it will allow migrant workers to continue filling jobs in industries ranging from meat-packing to tourism for as many years as their employers continue to renew their permit – in effect, making the presence of these temporary workers more permanent.

“Many people who fell under this category are people who would return to Canada, again and again and again, year after year,” said Michael Burt, director of industrial economic trends at the Conference Board of Canada. “It’s a positive thing in a sense that, broadly speaking, both employers and TFWs were looking for opportunities to stay in Canada to keep that relationship going.”

After four years of working in Canada, most migrant workers in occupations requiring little or no post-secondary education would then be unable to return here for another four years unless they secured permanent residency through a provincial immigration program.

That “four-in-four-out” policy was created by the Conservative government in 2011 to ensure that jobs filled by temporary foreign workers were truly temporary. It led to thousands of foreign workers remaining in Canada undocumented, and thousands more leaving while employers in industries like agriculture, food processing and hospitality complained of persistent labour shortages.

“It uprooted people who had lived and worked in the country for many, many years,” said Syed Hussan, an organizer with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, which is calling for permanent residency for temporary foreign workers upon landing.

In many cases, employers proved no Canadians were available for the jobs these workers were leaving behind so they could hire new temporary foreign workers to fill the roles. In others, the four-year limit, combined with other restrictions on the temporary foreign worker program, meant that jobs went unfilled even though employers increased efforts to recruit Canadians.

“It has had the effect of forcing a lot of people to go home that we should really be pursuing to stay in Canada permanently, as opposed to giving them the boot,” said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Kelly and other industry representatives are hopeful the Liberal government will soon follow through on its promise to develop pathways to permanent residency for lower-skilled workers, who are currently shut out of federal immigration programs.

…Some economists, such as Armine Yalnizyan at the left-wing Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, also support granting permanent residency to more migrant workers. Relying on a permanent stream of temporary workers destabilizes local labour markets by suppressing wages and opportunities for young Canadians, Yalnizyan said.

But others say the removal of the four-year limit blurs the distinctions between permanent and temporary immigration programs, raising questions about the future of Canada’s immigration system.

“What distinguishes the two streams now, when the idea of ‘temporary’ is taken out of the equation by removing the amount of time they can spend in Canada?” said Colin Busby, associate director of research at the C.D. Howe Institute.

It is unclear how Canada will balance taking in a large number of temporary foreign workers permanently with the permanent immigration system’s traditional focus on high-skilled workers to meet Canada’s long-term economic needs, Busby added.

But, for many in the agricultural sector, including Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council, long-term economic and social integration of temporary workers is precisely the point.

“There should be opportunities for them and pathways to become Canadian citizens,” she said.

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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