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Temporary foreign workers could 'de-skill' Canadian immigrant pool




Peter O'Neil

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The Vancouver Sun

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The soaring popularity of temporary foreign workers in Canada's business community may lead to a "de-skilling" of the Canadian immigrant labour pool, according to a report released Thursday.

The Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy, in its second critical assessment of Ottawa's record use of temporary workers to meet the demands of the business community, analyzed immigration policies in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

The latest report looked specifically at how provincial governments (other than Quebec, which runs its own system) increasingly help temporary foreign workers obtain permanent residency under the BC Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).

In B.C., an average of 79 per cent of PNP nominees came from the temporary worker program from 2005 to 2010, with the percentage hitting 93 per cent in 2010.

The PNP, introduced in the late 1990s, is popular with provincial governments and accounts for one-quarter of all economic immigrants entering Canada.

The program has its benefits - provinces process applicants faster than Ottawa, it gives provinces an ability to shape Canada's immigration program to fit local needs, and the program has resulted in a reduced concentration of immigrants in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, according to Leslie Seidle, of the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

But the author, after extensive interviews with federal and provincial officials, said the PNP's popularity could lead to unintended consequences.

Among them is the concern that the temporary foreign worker program's popularity could "lessen employers' incentive to hire and/or train Canadians," he wrote, noting that provinces don't screen permanent resident applications as comprehensively as Ottawa does under the federal skilled worker program.

That has also led to concerns that some temporary foreign workers, once they get permanent resident status, will leave that province for another region where their skills or work experience don't lead to the same work opportunities. "Concerns have been expressed (including in the interviews for this study) that admitting growing numbers of low-skilled (temporary foreign workers) may lead to a 'deskilling' of the country's immigrant pool," Seidle wrote.

The PNP program accepted 17,065 applicants in 2009, of which 3,000 were in B.C. That rose to 20,665 in 2010 (B.C. got 3,500) and in the subsequent two years. Ottawa, despite concerns about the provinces' handling of the programs, increased the target to 22,315 nationwide, and 3,800 in B.C., for this calendar year.

A previous institute report released in October called for an annual cap on TFWs while Ottawa considers reforms to ensure the newcomers don't take jobs from Canadians.

The number of TFWs accepted in Canada has soared from 110,613 in 2002 to 213,573 in 2012. Combined with those TFWs still in Canada last year, the total hit a record 491,547 last year.

poneil@postmedia.com Twitter.com/poneilinottawa

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Economic sectors

General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups

Public awareness and Researchers

Geographical focuses

British Columbia and National relevance

Spheres of activity

Political science