Temporary foreign workers looking elsewhere for employment since Alberta recession, study says

June 26, 2018

By Brennan Doherty, The Star Calgary |

The oil and gas recession in Alberta left thousands of Canadians without jobs, but it also prompted thousands of temporary foreign workers to leave Wild Rose country for greener pastures.

A new study from ATB Financial, a Crown corporation that provides financial services in the province, says Alberta had 110,000 workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in 2014. Since then – when oil prices began to drop – their population has plummeted. As of last year, only 76,000 foreign workers remained in the province.

The study’s findings also line up with a drop in Temporary Foreign Worker Program applications in Alberta, according to a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. About 10,800 applications were made for the province in 2015. Just two years later, that had dropped to 7,500.

Foreign worker employment losses are roughly on par with those faced by Canadian-born Albertans, according to Alyson House, a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.

“That is very much consistent with the reduction in employment in the energy sector more broadly,” said House. “It’s a consistent decline.”

She noted that not all temporary foreign workers were employed in the energy sector. Many, according to IRCC data, also work in Alberta in agriculture or as caregivers, sectors that saw significant declines between 2015 and 2017. The ripple effect of unemployment during the recession had an impact on Alberta’s total job market.

House also pointed to ATB Financial’s most recent economic outlook report, published last May, which noted continued job losses in the retail, hospitality, and food service sectors. All of these, she said, employ many temporary foreign workers.

“There’s kind of this bigger effect going on,” House said.

The decline in Albertan foreign workers came as part of a decline in the Albertan economy thanks in part to falling oil prices. In 2015 alone, Alberta had a net loss of 19,600 jobs. At the time, it was the worst year for job losses in the province since 1982.

But some job market research suggests Alberta is finally being lifted out of its economic nosedive. According to ATB Financial’s latest economic outlook report, Alberta is, very slowly, recovering from the recession. Thought the energy sector isn’t likely to see a rebound any time soon, the province is showing a return to stability.

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