Saturday, February 19, 2011


The following article appeared in the Globe and Mail. While it has some good information, it misses the mark: not all temporary worker categories are the same, some are intended to be of very short duration, others longer; many are based on international treaties and programs specifically tailored to import low skilled workers from specific countries for seasonal agricultural work. Those workers return home with their earnings and assist their families, who would otherwise live in abjec tpoverty.Also, the article misses the point that the vast majority of foreign workers in higher skilled levels become permanent residents by the time their permits expire, eitehr under the Canadian Expereicne Class, Arranged Employment, Provincial Nominee, or Skilled Worker categires. Their numbers are substantial.

Ideally, all immigrants would first become temporary foreign workers with pre-arranged employment and then progress to permanent residency seamlessly, while remaining in their positions. This would be a win-win situation for both employees and employers, the former holding a well paying job, and the latter investing in their training. The worst situation is the entry of workers without jobs or experience into the labour force, they fail to integrate quickly and begin to waste their skills and are rejected by employers. The days of unrestricted immigration based on "general" education without pre-arranged employment are over.

Also, the article ignores the fact that there is a significant number of spouses of foreign workers who hold open`work permits but do not necessarily work, and that there are thousands of refugee claimants whose claims have not yet been adjudicated who also have Work Permits, but do not necessarily have a job, or if they do, it is typically low-skilled. Those categories are also counted as `temporary foreign workers`. Finally, there are several thousand international students who have Work Permits while they attend school, and several other thousand `Working holiday`Work Permit holders from countries such as Ireland, UK, Australia, Germany, France, and other couple of dozen nations, who are also counted as `work permit holders` even though they are granted entry without pre-arranged employment and are free to look for a job white in Canada. Those numbers are not negligible and do in fact contribute to the growth of permit issuance, as more people qualify for them now than in the past.

Canada’s immigration policy: Who is on the guest list? - The Globe and Mail

Economy Lab

Canada’s immigration policy: Who is on the guest list?

Armine Yalnizyan

Globe and Mail Blog

Posted on Friday, February 18, 2011 2:32PM ESTcomments
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Labour market shortages will grow in the coming years, as boomers retire in record numbers. How we bring people into Canada to meet our labour market needs will shape the evolving nature of Canada itself. Immigration and temporary foreign workers are two very different answers to the problem of how to sustain our standard of living.

Immigration is driven by people wanting to settle in this country, and the entry quotas are set by public policy to meet the public interest of Canadians. Temporary foreign work permits are issued to meet the needs of employers who, ostensibly, face labour shortages that cannot be addressed by Canadian workers. This process is not based on quotas. In principle and practice, there are no upper limits.

These workers are brought into Canada as, essentially, the guests of the employer. They have few rights (of which they are often unaware). They have no access to services available to other immigrants. Theirs is rarely a path to permanent residency.

In 2010, Canada allowed 182,322 temporary foreign workers to enter Canada to meet employers’ needs. This is the second-highest number on record, the highest being in 2008.

Some temporary foreign work permits are issued for longer than a year, some only for months. Consequently the total number of temporary foreign workers to address employers’ identified labour market needs is higher than the number of entries in a given year.

In 2010, there were 283,096 temporary foreign workers in Canada, doing work that employers asserted there was no Canadian available to do.

That is the highest number of temporary foreign workers on record, but only slightly higher than the number recorded in 2009, during the worst of the recession.

The highest demand for temporary foreign workers stems from the fastest growing economies in Canada: Alberta and Saskatchewan. But every jurisdiction except Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut has at least doubled their utilization of these “guest workers”.

The biggest growth in employer demand has been for basic labour or unspecified skills, especially since the recession. In 2000, 11 per cent of temporary foreign workers performed basic labour or unspecified skills; now 34 per cent of them do. They used to primarily fall into the categories of nannies and caregivers, or seasonal agricultural workers. Employers are now using the temporary work permit program to bring in workers for hotels, fast food outlets, janitorial services and factories -- typical Canadian jobs, albeit low-paying.

"The temporary foreign worker program is really about contracting out immigration," says Yessy Byl, a lawyer who volunteers with the Edmonton Community Legal Centre. “In fact the government is setting the stage for a bizarre non-immigration program because those workers can’t immigrate.”

Whether unintentional or not, the shaping of public policy seems to be increasingly off-loaded to private sector interests rather than handled by those charged with addressing the public interest, which include but are broader than employers’ needs.

Local economic needs are an important factor in shaping immigration policy, and the involvement of employers can and should reduce skill mismatches.

But there’s a danger in allowing employers, alone, to define Canada’s immigration policy: Employers are increasingly looking for average workers, not skilled labour.

Cheap labour, that is. Workers who increasingly depend on the goodwill of their employer rather than the rule of law.

This week, the Law Commission of Ontario, in its ongoing efforts to make the law accessible to all residents, started looking at what can be done about the rise of vulnerable workers.

By allowing employers to drive the agenda based on their own short-term interests, the federal government has dropped the ball on Canada’s long-term interests and has taken immigration policy down a troubling path: the normalization of migrant labour in Canada.

For a country that has grown into one of the most diverse, peaceful and prosperous nations on the planet, this shift in immigration policy signals a troubling new direction.

Throughout our history the long-standing offer to newcomers, through unifying families and providing citizenship, was the promise of becoming full participants in Canadian society.

In its place, official policy increasingly sanctions and supports employers who use newcomers as cheap and disposable labour. It's bad for diversity, it's a terrible trend for workplaces, and it affects everyone.

The role of government is to protect the interests of Canadian workers as well as Canadian employers. That includes protecting the powerless from those willing to exploit our vulnerabilities. Backing away from that job turns immigration into a potential source of social tension, just as Canadians increasingly turn to immigrants to assure our economic future.

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