Ottawa announces changes to the temporary foreign worker program

Incessant media reports and a very public backlash: Those are invariably the two impetuses for any government to act quickly.

That seems to be the case with regard to the temporary foreign worker program.

On Monday afternoon, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney held a press conference to announce new rules with regard to the controversial program meant to help Canadian companies withstand short term labour shortages.

Here are some of the changes as explained by Minister Finley.

First, we will require that employers using the Program pay temporary foreign workers the prevailing wage for a job.

Let me clarify that change.

In the past, employers had the flexibility to pay temporary foreign worker wages up to 15% below the prevailing wage for a higher-skilled occupation, and 5% below the prevailing wage for a lower-skilled occupation.

Provided they could demonstrate that the wage being paid to a temporary foreign worker was the same as that being paid to their Canadian employees in the same job and in the same location.

This measure was not effective and the option will no longer be available under the new wage policy.

Second…following concerns that have been raised, we are temporarily suspending the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion Process. This suspension is effective immediately.

Third…we will be asking additional questions as part of the Labour Market Opinion application process used by employers. This will be to specifically ensure that when employers bring in temporary foreign workers, no Canadian workers are displaced as a result of outsourcing.

Furthermore…we are restricting English and French as the only languages that can be identified as a job requirement.

In addition to the above, employers will now be charged a fee for using the temporary worker program; the dollar amount has yet to be determined.

The program has been the subject of controversy since last month when CBC reported that some Royal Bank of Canada employees were losing their jobs to temporary foreign workers.

[ Related: PM 'concerned' about temporary foreign worker growth ]

As is often the case with regard to immigration matters, there are polarizing opinions about the changes.

Prior to the announcement, the Alberta Federation of Labour suggested that any changes would just be cosmetic.

"This is more slippery politics from the Harper government," AFL president Gil McGown told the Globe and Mail.

"They’re trying to give the impression that something big is being done to address public concerns … when in reality the foundations of the program remain unchanged."

Conversely, immigration lawyer Michael Niren says the changes "are a knee-jerk reaction" and that Canada's immigration procedures are already stacked against employers.

"The changes are going in the wrong direction from an economic perspective. If Canada is to compete globally, Canadian employers should be left free to decide who to hire and when. There are already enough restrictions in place though the current [labour market opinion] process. " he told Yahoo! Canada News.

"Efforts should be made into making Canadian workers more competitive and not putting up artificial barriers for employers. In my view hiring someone just because they are Canadian is very un-Canadian. This protectionist approach always backfires. It may be politically appealing to some but the economic pain will be felt by not only employers but by the very people the government intends to protect.

[ Related: Scrap Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Steelworkers ]

"These bureaucratic road blocks will only result in higher prices felt by consumers, lay offs and possible increases in taxes in the end. Temporary foreign workers help keep Canada competitive."

(Photo courtesy of Citizenship and Immigration Canada)

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