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Work Permits and Temporary Foreign Workers – What About Jobs for Canadians?

Bringing temporary foreign workers into Canada is often met with public resistance.  Some Canadians feel that temporary foreign workers take away from qualified Canadians. 

 This isn’t necessarily the case.  Temporary Foreign Workers, when recruited and hired legally, can have a very positive effect on our economy.  Questions do arise, however, as to whether the hiring of temporary foreign workers who meet only the lowest of skill requirements can actually benefit Canada. Should these temporary foreign workers be granted work permits?

 The National Occupational Classification, or NOC, is a system used by the Canadian government to classify jobs based on their description.  There are two streams under which a job may be categorized: “higher-skilled” occupations and “lower-skilled” occupations.

 Temporary foreign workers who apply for work permits under the “higher-skilled” occupational classifications are individuals who qualify for managerial, professional, and technical/skilled trades occupations.  The “lower-skilled” occupations are for individuals with an intermediate employment level, including truck drivers and restaurant servers, and general labour jobs such as cleaning staff and certain farm workers.

 So, how many people actually get work permits under these “lower-skilled” skill levels?  According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, nearly 32,000 temporary foreign workers entered Canada under these skill levels. By comparison, over 36,000 higher skilled workers entered Canada in the same period and obtained work permits.

 According to an article in the Vancouver Sun, there is a great concern that “the temporary foreign worker program’s popularity could “lessen employers’ incentive to hire and/or train Canadians’”.  According to this article, there was a report released in October urging the Government to put a cap on the number of temporary foreign workers to ensure that Canadians are not being overlooked for lower-skilled employment. 

 If the number of higher-skilled temporary foreign workers admitted into Canada is only slightly higher than those in lower-skilled occupations, the big question is why Canadian employers feel the need to look past our borders to recruit such individuals.  Are Canadian citizens not applying for these jobs, or are they being overlooked?  Why are these lower-skilled workers so attracted with Canada? Where are the higher-skilled workers flocking to?  Leslie Seidle of the Institute for Research on Public Policy states that “admitting growing numbers of low-skilled [workers] may lead to ‘deskilling’ of the country’s immigrant pool”. 

 Regardless of skill level, employers need workers to grow their businesses and provide goods, services and opportunities for Canadians. If Canadians do not step forward, hiring temporary foreign workers and getting them work permits is necessary.

 What Citizenship and Immigration Canada must do is ensure that before any temporary foreign worker comes to Canada, that a rigorous process is put into place to ensure that Canadians are offered jobs first. Of course, exceptions can and should be made. For instance, if Canadians are given the ability to work abroad in other countries on the basis of reciprocal trade treaties, Canada should treat temporary foreign workers from those countries the same as those countries treat Canadians. The best examples of this are intra-company transfers – employees of multinational companies who get transferred abroad.

 Canada’s requirement that employers must advertise thoroughly for vacant positions and must offer a wage at our above the median wage paid for that occupation are necessary protections for Canadians. This process, known as the Labour Market Opinion, or LMO process, is necessary. Recent rule changes that allow for the government to enforce these LMO rules and investigate employers will also assist in making sure a “Canada first” policy will be adhered to when employers apply for LMOs.

 The one thing that is missing from the puzzle is a better matching system of Canadian employers with Canadian job seekers. Late last year, the government passed legislation allowing Citizenship and Immigration Canada to set up an “expression of interest” system that will allow potential immigrants to post resumes that Canadian employers can review. If we really want a “Canada first” policy, Canadians should also be able to post resumes on this same system so Canadian employers can decide if the Canadian is better qualified for the job than the foreign national. Before hiring a foreign national or temporary foreign worker, Canadian employers should be able to access this type of system.

 R. Reis Pagtakhan is a Canadian corporate immigration lawyer.

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About Reis Pagtakhan

Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration law partner with MLT Aikins LLP. His extensive experience includes assisting businesses obtain temporary entry to Canada and permanent residency for their executives, employees and contractors from all over the world. Reis has lectured on and written papers on immigration law for the Law Society of Manitoba, the Manitoba Bar Association, the Human Resources Management Association of Manitoba, the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association, and the Community Legal Education Association of Manitoba. He has presented position papers before the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Immigration Department officials and Manitoba Labour and Immigration. He has written articles on immigration for the CBC, the Winnipeg Free Press, trade, industry and ethnic publications.

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