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The Expansion of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program as Many Canadians Struggle to Secure Meaningful Work in Budget 2022

Posted: Apr 20, 2022

Canada's Federal Budget 2022 unveiled an expansion of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFW) complete with a loosening of hiring rules for industries struggling to meet labour shortages across the country.

The changes will allow employers to hire foreign workers for lower-wage jobs in areas where the unemployment rate remains higher.

By April 30th, the government's Temporary Foreign Worker Program Workforce Solutions Road will allow employers in sectors with demonstrated labour shortages to hire up to 30 per cent of their workforce through the TFW Program for low-wage positions. This will be in place for one year. These sectors include food manufacturing, wood product manufacturing, furniture and related product manufacturing, accommodation and food services, construction, hospitals and nursing and residential care facilities.

All other employers will be allowed to hire up to 20 percent of their workforce through the TFW Program for low-wage positions until further notice. This is an increase from the previous 10 percent cap. There will also no longer be a limit to the number of low-wage positions that employers in seasonal sectors can fill through the program.

“These changes only make it easier for employers to bring in low-wage workers with few rights, instead of addressing the need for decent work and full immigration status,” said Syed Hussan, Executive Director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change in an interview with CTV News, following the federal budget.

The pros & cons of the temporary foreign workers program has largely been debated in Canada for decades. With government and employers in sectors such as agriculture and the service industry calling for an expansion of the program to fill the labour shortages of jobs left unfilled by domestic workers, while on the other hand - newcomer & migrant worker associations along with anti-poverty groups, rail against the program that brings migrants to Canada only on a temporary basis, with fewer rights, limited access to services, and no access to federally-funded settlement services.

These groups argue migrant workers are vulnerable with no monitoring to ensure their rights are protected. All while Canadians who want to work remain unable to do so - faced with barriers to employment such as a lack of training, racism, ableism, and limited employment support.

“Expanding the program to include minimum wage jobs in the Temporary Foreign Worker program, will only incentivize people to use the program. It begs the question, “Why aren't we investing in people in this country who aren't working?'” says Erick Ambtman with EndPoverty Edmonton.

“There are alot of Canadians who want to work. And there alot of jobs. The issue is that there is a mismatch of skills between people who want to work and the jobs that exist. So let's solve that problem by re-training Canadians rather than bringing in people from other countries who we exploit through pretty low pay and physically demanding jobs, and then in 2 years' time when their visas expire - they all have to go home because there is no pathway to citizenship. It's like you get to test drive a future citizen and after the test drive you just abandon the car. This program isn't working for Canada or foreign workers.”

But the argument remains, it takes time to train Canadians and labour shortages exist now. It's why the Alberta government is one of the louder proponents of the temporary foreign worker program's expansion.

But Ambtman says, “How many times do we do this? Instead of finding permanent solutions, every time we have a labour shortage issue we rely on the TFW program rather than focusing on solving this issue. So we bring migrant workers in to solve our labour shortage, then in 2 years' time we send them home when we see labour shortages as solved, only to just end up right back here with labour shortages that again our own Canadian workers are still unequipped to solve. We have to stop this cycle.”

The Alberta Government has recognized the need to retrain Albertans as a way of combating labour shortages. It created the Alberta at Work initiative launched in its last provincial budget that will provide roughly $370 million to help retrain workers, support apprenticeship programs, and boost enrollment in areas of skill shortages. But the Federal budget failed to provide much by way of similar retraining support, choosing to focus on solving the labour shortages with the TFW program instead.

In fact, Canada's reliance on the temporary foreign worker program has only grown in the last 2 decades. Statistics show in 2000, there were 22,752 temporary foreign work permit holders in Canada compared to almost 77, 000 two decades later.

This statistic shows the number of Temporary Foreign Worker Program work permit holders in Canada from 2000 to 2020. In 2000, there were 22,752 TFWP permit holders in Canada, compared with almost 77,000 two decades later. Source: Statista Statistics Canada Release date 2020

The bottom line is, migrant workers are increasingly being used to address labour demands that aren't temporary. According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, “Using temporary workers who enjoy fewer rights than permanent residents to fill long-term jobs is exploitative. It is not good for the workers, and it is not good for Canada.

Ambtman agrees, “There will continue to be labour shortages in this country if we can't get Canadians trained to meet our labour demands in sectors where they are needed, paired with good pay and benefits. We have a poverty crisis, with a large number of Canadians left out of the economy. We need to address the barriers to employment they're facing so that everyone can find meaningful employment and allow the economy to benefit from a trained and valuable workforce.”

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