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My take on how government can get the Temporary Foreign Worker Program right?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this article in the Winnipeg Free Press providing my two cents worth on how the foreign worker program should be changed to better respond to the needs of Canadian businesses while still taking into account the need to find jobs for unemployed Canadians.

 In that article, I indicated that it was important for the government to set up a foreign worker program that would do the following:

  1. Ensure that unemployed Canadians and permanent residents are first in line for jobs;
  2. Provide a quicker system for bringing in temporary foreign workers where it can be proven that there are no Canadians or Canadian permanent residents available for the job;
  3. Ensure that the new temporary foreign worker system does not include “blanket bans” on temporary foreign workers in specific areas or industries, but focused assessments on individual business needs in specific market places;
  4. Provide a pathway for permanent residence for temporary foreign workers.

If the federal government does all of the above, we would have an immigration system (not just a temporary foreign worker system) that would build Canada for the future.  Canadians would have confidence that jobs for them will be put first and businesses will have confidence that if there truly are vacancies for positions that, they will be filled in a short period of time. Also, temporary foreign workers would have the ability to become permanent residents which would make them less vulnerable to exploitation by the very few unscrupulous employers who may take advantage of them.

Without these fixes, the temporary foreign worker program will remain a disaster.

Currently, businesses only need to advertise for vacant positions and do not need to provide any proof that they looked at qualified Canadians who have applied for the job.  This is failure of the government’s obligation to unemployed Canadians.  

As well, when temporary foreign workers are truly needed, businesses must wait months for the temporary foreign worker to be processed.  For small business, who may need workers immediately, the temporary foreign worker program’s delays will stifle growth and the ability of those businesses to compete in the marketplace.

A couple of years ago, I wrote this article and this article on a class action laws suit brought by temporary foreign workers in BC.  If these temporary foreign workers were given a pathway to permanent residence, perhaps the Canadian employer would have been more motivated to treat them better so they could retain them as employees after they become permanent residents.  The temporary foreign worker program should not be a ticket to long term servitude.

The problem with the way that he current government has administered the temporary foreign workers program is that it seems to lurch from one public relations issue to another.  This approach is no way to design a comprehensive policy.

One does not have to think too far back to remember the disastrous accelerated Labour Market Opinion policy that allowed certain employers to pay some temporary foreign workers less than employers who hired Canadians.  Hopefully, when the rules on temporary foreign workers are announced in the coming weeks, we will see a well-thought out policy as opposed to the “back of the napkin” stuff that has sometimes been put together by government.

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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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