‘It’s a blessing’: Agriculture, tourism sectors hail TFW changes

December 21, 2016

By Vancouver Sun |

The federal government’s decision to get rid of a rule limiting how long temporary foreign workers can stay in Canada is being welcomed by Alberta businesses in industries as diverse as beef production and tourism, who hope the reform will ease labour shortages they say are ongoing in spite of the economic downturn.

“It’s a very positive change. We are facing critical labour shortages at the processing level,” said Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef.

“We’re not looking for temporary foreign workers,” he added. “We’re looking for workers who can stay and become permanent workers and continue here. Now, people won’t be forced to leave.”

The federal Liberal government’s announcement, made Tuesday afternoon, reverses the controversial cumulative duration rule, also called the “four-in-four-out” rule, which was put into place by the previous Conservative government in 2011 amid concerns that migrant workers were taking jobs that could be filled by Canadians.

The policy limited most temporary foreign workers to four years of working in Canada, after which they could not return for four years. Even so, employers in Alberta, including Banff hotels, mushroom farms and cattle feeders, continued to fill such jobs with temporary foreign workers after undergoing a process to prove they couldn’t find Canadians to fill those roles.

“Accessible seasonal labour is hard to come by,” said Grant Hicks, a honey farmer and past president of the Alberta Beekeeping Commission, who said the policy change would ease pressure on beekeepers that could have lost trained workers in 2017. “These people are the backbone of our industry.”

The four-year rule sent tens of thousands of foreign workers home, even though employers wanted them to stay, affecting large and small businesses alike. Hicks’ honey farm, which has just over a dozen employees, had to send two “trusted” foreign workers home in 2015, he said.

At the same time, thousands of desperate migrant workers stayed in Canada illegally to work in the underground economy after they hit the four-year cap, according to a Postmedia investigation earlier this year.

Many businesses, including the meat packers, also used the Temporary Foreign Worker program to bring workers into Canada so they could apply for permanent residency through Alberta’s immigrant nominee program.

In doing so, they faced a race against the clock to meet immigration requirements, said Mark Holthe, a Lethbridge immigration lawyer who works with farms and other businesses that hire temporary foreign workers. Many couldn’t apply for a provincial nomination until they had only one year left in Canada.

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