Two immigration programs suspended

The Alberta Federation of Labour is commending Alberta's labour minister for suspending two immigration programs it says were being used inappropriately to fill job gaps.

Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk announced Monday the Immigrant Nominee Program will not accept any new applications in its family stream and the U.S. visa holder category. The suspension is being called temporary until further notice.

"We are entirely behind him. We think that's the right thing to do," said Nancy Furlong, AFL secretary-treasurer.

The INP was introduced to help augment the Alberta workforce with skilled immigrants. In 2008, the family stream and the U.S. visa holder category were added, both resulting in a large number of applications.

Lukaszuk cited the current job market conditions as the impetus for the suspension, and a

preference to keep Albertans employed as opposed to

unemployed outsiders looking for jobs.

The suspension impacts temporary foreign workers, a number of which can be found in Fort McMurray including the oilsands, but Lukaszuk called it a positive impact.

Though the temporary foreign worker program is a federal initiative, he explained the province manages the INP and has a "solid cap" on how many individuals Alberta is allowed to nominate and keep.

Lukaszuk said he has just renegotiated that cap, increasing that number from 4,200 to 5,000. As a result, of those temporary foreign workers who want to stay and whom employers need to keep and have satisfied the federal requirements, "we get to keep 5,000 per year."

Until the suspension, which came into immediate effect, that number was "eaten up" by individuals entering Canada under the family stream and the U.S. visa holder stream who were not necessarily connected to any employment in Alberta.

The U.S. visa holders are people who entered the United States as temporary foreign workers but when the economy tanked in the U.S., they didn't want to go back to where they came from, he explained, so they were applying to enter Canada to look for work here.

"The odds of finding a job in Canada are still better than they are in the United States. Again, it's unemployed individuals; it's not Americans. By and large ... they're not from North America."

Under the family stream, it's bringing in family members such as a niece from another part of the world who have certain education and experience in a particular profession.

"The problem is that you do not have to have employment waiting for her so when she arrives, then she looks for work like you and I. So again, unattached to employers."

These people from both categories would simply arrive and then start looking for a job, competing with currently unemployed Albertans also looking for work, said Lukaszuk.

"Obviously my prerogative is to make sure that any and all jobs are first considered by Albertans and given to Albertans. Having external competition of unemployed people arriving here and competing with Albertans for jobs is simply wrong."

Under the INP program for 2009, a total of 4,216 certificates were issued. Out of that number, 450 were issued under the family stream category while 943 were issued under the U.S. visa holder category. The majority - 2,426 - were issued in the employment driven-stream to employer-nominated people.

With the suspension, that means those 5,000 spots are available for temporary foreign

workers already attached to an employer and are not competing with Albertans looking for a

job because they're already employed.

"We have always held the view that the temporary foreign worker program is being used inappropriately, that it's the wrong route," said Furlong. She pointed out the program was originally intended for a very small, boutique group of people where the skill level might equal 100 of them in the world.

"It worked fine for that and students, and it was only the advent of the huge boom that people started to abuse it."

Closing the door to unemployed people through the two categories is welcome news in opening the "premium" spots for TFWs already employed who want to stay in the country, she added.

Lukaszuk admitted there is a misconception out there that the TFWs are taking work from unemployed Albertans but that's not the case. In order for an employer to hire a TFW, the employer has to prove there is a need. The employers has to satisfy the federal government that the job was made available to local Albertans at the same rate of pay and employment conditions, and was to be advertised not only within Alberta, but coast to coast.

When that employer doesn't get qualified applications for that particular position, then the federal government will issue the employer a labour market opinion to hire a temporary foreign worker because there are no Canadians interested in that job.

There is a chance the programs will not be returned, but he noted that decision will be largely driven by Alberta's economy.

"My personal commitment is to Albertans. I was elected by Albertans and it would be unconscionable of me as Minister of Labour to have Albertans unemployed, collecting EI or social services while I'm letting in unemployed foreign workers coming here to look for work. I simply cannot allow (that) to happen so as soon as I could I quickly stopped that."

He said his policy, and that of the Alberta government is overall, Canadian immigration policies and laws should be primarily based on what is good for Canadians first.

"That should be our first consideration and all others should be secondary.

What's good for Alberta right now, he added, is not to have unemployed outsiders competing with unemployed Albertans, and to only bring in individuals for jobs that cannot be filled by Albertans and are instantly attached to employment.

"My ideal immigrant is a person who arrives on Saturday and goes to work on Monday."

Alberta will continue to accept immigration applications from skilled workers, semi-skilled workers in certain occupations, international students, compulsory trades, engineering occupations, and self-employed farmers.

Fort McMurray Today, Tues Aug 24 2010
Byline: Carol Christian

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