‘Unskilled’ temporary foreign workers still having to fend for themselves, despite provincial changes
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Spruce Grove Examiner
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Changes to federal and provincial guidelines for the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) carry both good and bad news for those affected by the program.
Although officially a federal program, new immigration options for foreign workers were announced by the Alberta government on June 20, 2013.
Under the expanded Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP), which now includes an Alberta Work Experience category, temporary foreign workers can now nominate themselves for permanent residency, rather than having to wait for their employers to nominate them.
According to a release from the provincial government, these workers will need to have worked in a key in-demand occupation for at least two years, along with other requirements. More than 100 occupations are eligible for the program.
“We have many skilled foreign workers already here working and contributing to our communities and our province,” stated Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk in the release, which went on to say that Alberta will have a projected labour gap of 114,000 workers by 2021.
But provincial changes aren’t enough, according to the Spruce Grove Chamber of Commerce.
“(This change is) a huge step forward for our province, but it’s not going to take care of everybody,” said executive director Brenda Johnson.
“The public needs to understand that the temporary foreign worker program is a federal program.”
That federal program also recently saw changes, which Johnson said have alarming effects for the Spruce Grove area.
On April 29, 2013, the federal government introduced legislative, regulatory and administrative changes that temporarily suspend the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion process, introduce fees for employers for the processing of Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) and increase the fees for work permits and ensure employers who rely on temporary foreign workers have a firm plan to transition to a Canadian workforce, among others.
The suspension of the accelerated labour market opinion process means longer wait times for businesses, Johnson said.
“Not only is the business in dire need of a temporary foreign worker, but now they have to wait months before the federal government is going to actually approve it,” she said.
“As much as we’d like to tell you the province is growing, it’s growing because of the temporary foreign workers that apply and go into the AINP program.”
The big problem Johnson sees is the federal differentiation between skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers.
“We have different levels of employment in the area; some retail, some food services, some manufacturing, industrial, that use temporary foreign workers on a fairly regular basis to top off their employment, because there aren’t enough workers available in Alberta — and certainly not in our region. Part of the problem with the temporary foreign worker program is they address the retail and food services sector in most cases, and at most job levels, as ‘unskilled.’ So it’s very hard for these businesses to keep an employee,” she explained.
“Effective April 1, 2015, all these temporary foreign workers must return back to their countries, apart from maybe one out of every 20.
“So realistically, you’re looking at our retail and food services sector having the potential of shortening their hours, closing their businesses — this is a huge effect.”
Johnson says the provincial changes announced in June will help somewhat, but the challenges posed by the federal program need to be addressed soon.
“The (federal) changes are a bad thing for Alberta. Alberta has been requesting a made-in-Alberta solution from the federal government for years,” she said.
The Alberta Work Experience Category will be taking applications for permanent residency until Nov. 28, 2013.
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