CALGARY - Temporary foreign workers are streaming into Alberta at breakneck speed to meet labour shortages - and are, for the first time, surpassing the province's yearly intake of permanent immigrants, according to new figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
The province is leading a national trend of growth in temporary foreign-worker numbers, even as the number of annual immigrants slows, a change which some say constitutes a major shift in Canadian immigration policy.
"It's an admission that our immigration system isn't working as planned," said University of Alberta sociologist Michael Haan, who studies immigration trends.
A total of 29,405 temporary foreign workers came to the province in 2007. In contrast, 20,857 permanent workers arrived.
According to data from the end of 2007, there are now more than 37,000 temporary foreign workers living in Alberta (up from about 22,000 in 2006), equivalent to half the population of Lethbridge, Alta.
Many employers say the temporary foreign worker program is the only way they can fill jobs.
"They're are a good thing for Canada and Alberta," said Lillian Davies of Calgary Aggregate Recycling Ltd., which has hired about a dozen temporary workers from Mexico and the Philippines, and hopes to keep some in the province permanently through the province's nominee program.
"They are good workers and they're easy to get along with," Davies said. "You can't get Canadian help. You can't get no help. Nobody wants to work here anymore, it seems."
Ontario and British Columbia still have larger populations, but nowhere is the number of temporary foreign workers - who are in the country on one- or two-year visas at the request of an employer - growing faster than in Alberta.
Between 2006 and 2007, the number of people entering Canada for the first time on a temporary work visa grew by 22 per cent. In Alberta, it grew by a staggering 66 per cent.
Even with just 10 per cent of Canada's total population, Alberta is now the makeshift home for almost one in five temporary foreign workers across the country.
But the province, along with the rest of the country, is failing to attract greater numbers of permanent immigrants. As a whole, the province attracted just 141 more immigrants in 2007 than a year earlier.
That follows trends seen across Canada of fewer immigrants coming for the second straight year in a row - dropping by about 15,000, to 236,758.
"While the number of permanent residents admitted this year was lower than planned, the overall number is up because of a significant increase in temporary residents to meet Canada's labour market needs," said Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman Karen Shadd.
"In fact, the number of people who came to Canada as permanent residents, temporary foreign workers, and foreign students in 2007 is the highest in Canada's history."
Calgary Herald, Thurs July 24 2008
Byline: Kelly Cryderman