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CFIB report urges overhaul of foreign worker program

Business federation addresses labour shortage, permanent residence issues


(Canadian OH&S News) — The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is calling for major changes to the country’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), intending to address labour shortages and help more temporary foreign workers (TFW) achieve permanent residence.

In a 38-page report published on Dec. 1, Taking the Temporary out of the TFW Program, the CFIB proposed replacing the TFWP with a new “Introduction to Canada Visa” (ICV), which would allow an entry-level TFW to work for an employer for two years as a step towards living in Canada indefinitely. The ICV would also allow TFWs to change jobs if their employers don’t stick to their commitments, and each employer would be required to have one Canadian employee at the same wage rate to qualify for an ICV worker. The report called for strict enforcement of the program, on both national and provincial levels.

“It’s really our attempt to provide a permanent solution to chronic labour shortages,” said Monique Moreau, the CFIB’s director of national affairs. “We do know that a small proportion of our membership is using the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and turning to that as a permanent solution.” In response, the CFIB wants businesses to have another option and temporary foreign workers to get “some of the benefits that they would get under an immigration program.”

Proposal follows moratorium earlier this year

The proposal is also a reaction to controversial changes that Jason Kenney, federal Minister of Employment and Social Development, and Chris Alexander, Minister of Immigration, announced earlier this year. Kenney initiated a moratorium on access to the TFWP by the food services sector in April; two months later, both ministers increased fines, application fees and employer inspections, among other reforms designed to prevent program abuse.

“We had a few bad eggs, or bad apples if you will, who were abusing the program,” said Moreau. “There should have been more oversight of individuals who were abusing the program.” She added that most CFIB members had tried repeatedly to hire more Canadians and, failing that, turned to the TFWP instead.

According to Moreau, a serious problem with Canada’s current immigration system is that only high-skilled individuals can get into the country permanently. “We are admitting great numbers of these very skilled individuals who then don’t necessarily find work in their fields,” she noted. “This is particularly prevalent in Ottawa, where many of the taxi drivers who work in the city are also engineers, lawyers, very educated people who haven’t been able to find work in their fields.”

The ICV, by contrast, would give low-skilled workers a fair path to citizenship. “You shouldn’t need a Ph.D. to live the Canadian Dream,” Moreau said.

The CFIB has been working closely with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to create this report for several months, so the government is already aware of it. “We are trying to propose a solution that’s policy-oriented and achieves many of the same goals that Minister Kenney has outlined as a concern for him,” said Moreau, “but it also provides the small business community with some assurances that the government understands that there is a labour shortage for them and it is at low skill levels.”

ESDC was contacted by COHSN for comment, but did not respond by press time.

Taking the Temporary out of the TFW Program is available to read online at http://www.cfib-fcei.ca/cfib-documents/rr3341.pdf.