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Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Fighting for a long-term solution to labour shortages”

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As a business owner, you know how hard it can be to find qualified workers – particularly if your business is in a remote area. CFIB knows that despite trying to hire Canadian workers, sometimes business owners are left with no choice but to hire a temporary foreign worker.

So while the notion of Canadian jobs being outsourced to foreign workers makes for a catchy news headline, the truth is that these stories don’t reflect the reality of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). What’s worse is that this debate has taken away from the fundamental reality that the program is essential to the survival of many small businesses.

What is the Temporary Foreign Worker Program?

The TFWP allows you to hire a worker from abroad to fill a temporary position when a Canadian worker isn’t available. In order to hire a worker, you are required to send an application (labour market opinion) to the government, which is time-consuming and expensive: the application costs $1,000 and is non-refundable, even if you are denied.

While the TFWP is designed to temporarily fill gaps in your workforce, it is often used to fill permanent positions that employers consistently have trouble filling. This is why we are advocating for a permanent solution to labour shortages, especially for employers who need low- and un-skilled workers. Currently, it is harder for you to access lower-skilled workers through the available immigration programs, particularly at the federal level.

Easier re-application for workers, and other changes to the TFWP

In 2014, the federal government made some changes that made it even harder for you to hire a TFW, including limiting access to the TFWP for businesses in the hospitality and retail sectors. As a result of our advocacy for small businesses who need to fill labour shortages, the current government is reviewing the TFW program on an ongoing basis.

In the meantime, they have announced several changes to the program that bring both good news and some bad news if you’re looking to hire TFWs:

Good news

  • The four-in-four-out rule was eliminated, meaning that temporary foreign workers will be allowed to reapply for the same or another job after their first four years are over without having to leave Canada.
  • The government has allowed unlimited hiring of TFWs in all seasonal industries, including fish-processing and tourism, under a one-year exemption until December 31, 2017. The exemption applies to all seasonal industries that employ TFWs for up to of 180 days; however, you will still have to confirm that the position cannot be filled locally before hiring a TFW.
  • The government will maintain the percentage on the number of low-wage TFWs that you can hire at 20% of the workforce (for employers who used the program before June 20, 2014) and will lower the cap to 10% for new users of the program.
  • A Global Skills Strategy was announced that offers express entry to high-skilled workers, particularly in the high-tech field.


Bad news

  • Increased onsite inspections of workplaces and new recruitment requirements for low-wage positions may lead to more stress and red tape for employers like you. These inspections ignore that you’re already doing everything you can to hire Canadians, including those in underrepresented groups, and only use the TFWP as a last resort.


What we’re asking for: long-term solutions, not band-aids

While these changes are a step in the right direction, there are still barriers preventing your business from accessing the workers it needs. Here is what we’re asking the government to do:

  • Implement an “Introduction to Canada Visa,” which would give foreign workers of all skill levels, including entry-level, the opportunity to work with an employer for two years as a defined step towards permanent residency.
  • Review the current $1,000 application fee for the TFW program, or at a minimum, refund the fee for rejected applications, minus the $100 administrative fee.