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EDMONTON - A group of temporary foreign workers will be given a year extension to stay in Alberta by a special agreement worked out between the province and federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
Many more of Alberta’s approximately 80,000 TFWs face departure on April 1 after a four-year stay.
But workers at a meeting Monday said the deal — which was reached through quiet negotiations and not announced publicly — raises many questions.
Effective Feb. 1, the agreement will grant a one-year extension to a “select group” of TFWs and will also allow Alberta employers to exceed the newly imposed cap of 30 per cent temporary foreign workers at a work site.
The Alberta government said the goal of the agreement is to give certain “eligible workers a stronger chance” to stay permanently, as well as allowing employers to carry on with workers already here, said Oghio Ikhalo, spokesperson for the department of jobs, skills, training and labour.
Those who will qualify for the extra year must already be in the queue for permanent residence under the provincial nominee program and have jobs in specified industries, said Ikhalo.
Likely more than 1,000 people will be eligible, she said, but could not say how high the number could be.
But Marcio Luciano of Migrants, an advocacy group, said the numbers are not clear and it could be several thousand who are eligible.
“It looks like a back-door way for employers to bring in more workers,” he said.
Employers can keep their current workforce and bring in more workers under their exemption, he said.
Clarizze Truscott said the program is confusing. It is supposed to give hope to low skilled workers in the provincial nominee queue. But such workers must also meet federal immigration requirements which call for a high school diploma and job skills, she said.
The program is “playing with people’s lives, giving hope, then dashing those hopes,” she said.
Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour says the number will be much higher given there are 10,000 people in the provincial nominee queue, according to provincial figures.
Without giving Alberta a greater quota, it won’t help more workers, he said. “It is creating false hope.”
In the next few weeks, the selected TWFs will receive a letter from the province informing them they are eligible to stay an extra year while their application is processed under the provincial nominee program. The department did not make a public announcement because it wants to deal directly with TFWs who will qualify, said Ikhalo.
McGowan said he is in favour of giving permanent residency to TFWs already in Canada.
But this new agreement also opens the door to increasing the number of TFWs, when Kenney’s reforms last spring were aimed at reducing the numbers.
“We can’t support that,” said McGowan.
In his reforms, Kenney called for a limit of 30 per cent TWFs at any work site last year, dropping down to 20 per cent by July 1, 2015 and 10 per cent by July 1, 2016.
“By exempting employers from the 20-per-cent cap, it allows employers here to keep more TFWs even when they are supposed be scaling back,” said McGowan.
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