Ottawa set to enforce four-year limit on temporary foreign workers

 

But some fear many will switch to ‘underground’ employment rather than leave

 
 
 
 
Ottawa is being warned that many of the temporary foreign workers whose four-year term in Canada under new rules is up will go underground. However, the new rules had already made temporary foreign workers too expensive for some sectors such as restaurants, and so the deadline to leave will likely not have a major effect on businesses.
 

Ottawa is being warned that many of the temporary foreign workers whose four-year term in Canada under new rules is up will go underground. However, the new rules had already made temporary foreign workers too expensive for some sectors such as restaurants, and so the deadline to leave will likely not have a major effect on businesses.

Photograph by: mf coallier

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OTTAWA — The Harper government is poised to enforce an exodus of temporary foreign workers as experts warn that some of those facing a deadline starting on April 1 will refuse to leave and instead enter the underground economy.

The deadline, denounced as “racist” and unfair by advocacy groups this week, is the result of Ottawa imposing a four-year limit on its controversial temporary foreign workers program on April 1, 2011.

The group Justice for Migrant Workers estimated the deadline will affect 70,000 low-wage workers, but the government is refusing to say how many will have to leave.

The deadline treats temporary workers as “disposable and expendable,” Justice for Migrant Workers spokesman Chris Ramsaroop said in a statement this week. “Conservative policies deny the contributions that migrant workers have made toward building our communities. … We need to revoke this racist policy.”

Federal spokesman Remi Lariviere said the four-year maximum was intended to give migrants an opportunity to seek permanent residence “rather than using work permits to remain in Canada indefinitely.”

Those who go home can apply again under the program in four years, though rules were changed last year to make it harder and more expensive for employers to rely on this tool.

Lariviere said the Canada Border Services Agency will take “the appropriate action” to remove anyone who ignores the order.

The temporary foreign workers program has four streams — higher- and lower-skilled workers, agricultural workers and live-in caregivers.

The four-year limit provided exceptions for managers and professionals, and for workers who have received a positive assessment for their permanent residence applications. As a result live-in caregivers, who typically seek permanent residency status after working two years as a caregiver, are unlikely to be affected.

“Where you’re seeing the impact coming in is going to be with respect to lower-skill-level workers,” said Joshua Sohn, a Vancouver immigration lawyer.

Immigrant experts have long speculated on whether the April 1 deadline would be broadly respected.

The key fear is that Canada will experience the same situation faced by the U.S., which has struggled to deal with numerous undocumented migrants from Latin America, and European countries like Germany and France, where so-called “guest workers” from Turkey and North Africa have ended up staying for decades without having their status formalized.

“When you have a system that may in fact lead to people going underground, working without proper documentation, it makes them open to greater opportunities to be exploited,” Sohn said.

According to Leo Alejandria, some B.C. workers have already moved to new provinces and found jobs that pay under the table after their temporary foreign worker permits aren’t renewed.

“People are not talking about it. They don’t plan to go underground — they don’t tell it to you — they just disappear. Then you hear from a friend of friend,” said Alejandria, speaking for the Filipino community organization Migrante B.C.

A Library of Parliament research paper released in December warned that Ottawa “will have to be prepared for different possible outcomes” as a result of the deadline, including the growth of a population without legal immigration status.”

Rob Vineberg, a former senior immigration bureaucrat who will be at the Metropolis conference in Vancouver later this month, has recommended alternatives because of the risk that the April 1 deadline will increase the number of undocumented workers in Canada.

Ottawa, he said, should consider a “transitional” temporary foreign worker program tailored for any worker who can speak an official language and has a permanent job offer.

He also suggested that low-skilled temporary foreign workers also be allowed to apply for permanent residence status after two years if they’ve demonstrated a willingness to improve their skills through part-time studies in Canada.

“We should keep temporary programs for temporary jobs and always provide a path to permanent residence for permanent jobs,” Vineberg said.

B.C. and Alberta have been by far the largest users of the temporary foreign workers program, which has grown dramatically since the mid-2000s.

Work permits were approved for 24,502 B.C.-bound temporary foreign worker in 2013, compared to 15,687 in 2006, when the Conservatives took power, and 11,223 in 2004.

But many employers have become less reliant on foreign workers for low-skill jobs as a result of tighter rules imposed last years, according to Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

“It’s not a secure form of labour supply any longer. In most cases it’s too expensive, it’s too cumbersome, it’s got too many rules,” he said, predicting that the deadline won’t have a huge effect on the service industry.

poneil@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/poneilinottawa

blindsay@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/bethanylindsay

 
 
 
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Ottawa is being warned that many of the temporary foreign workers whose four-year term in Canada under new rules is up will go underground. However, the new rules had already made temporary foreign workers too expensive for some sectors such as restaurants, and so the deadline to leave will likely not have a major effect on businesses.
 

Ottawa is being warned that many of the temporary foreign workers whose four-year term in Canada under new rules is up will go underground. However, the new rules had already made temporary foreign workers too expensive for some sectors such as restaurants, and so the deadline to leave will likely not have a major effect on businesses.

Photograph by: mf coallier

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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