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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 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, which means faster processing times for applications, work permit exemptions and enhanced customer service for this stream.

Bad news

  • The most recent budget called for an increase in audits of employers who use the TFWP, which can be very stressful and can severely hinder your ability to carry out your regular business operations - especially as you cannot access TFWs until the process is complete (which can take weeks, if not months). 
    • If your business has experienced an inspection or audit by Service Canada, please share your story with us. We will be sharing these stories with government officials to make sure they understand the full impacts these audits have on businesses like yours.

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

We know that you care about your employees and are already doing everything you can to make sure you’re following all the rules and requirements of the program. 

While we have made some progress on this file, 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.
  • Ensure that Service Canada officers’ onsite inspections and audits do not take place during peak production periods or any time that could cause a significant slowdown for your business.
  • Ensure that audits are carried out quickly and with minimal disturbance to your business, and that your business can still access the TFWP while an audit is underway.