Significant numbers of temporary foreign workers continued to move to Alberta even as the economy shed jobs during the recession, says a new report from the province's largest labour group.
The draft report from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) found that although overall Alberta employment numbers dropped in 2009 and 2010, companies continued to bring in new temporary foreign workers in a hiring spree that first ramped up during the province's boom years. While the umbrella union group agreed there are true shortages of workers in a few trades and skills, the numbers show the real scarcity is in the "people willing to work for less," the group said
The issue of temporary foreign workers is of special concern in Alberta. In recent years, Alberta employers have been granted more than half of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada's approvals (called Labour Market Opinions) to bring in low-skilled temporary foreign workers, many of them destined for service jobs.
Unions and other critics say the temporary workers are more likely to be exploited by employers and the federal program drives down wages, while firms with an eye on expansion say they have no choice but to look overseas for employees.
"It's really very tough to hire," said Bobby Maglalang, human resources manager at Calgary-based Hi-Flyer Food (Canada) Inc., which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut franchises in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec.
In Alberta, Hi-Flyer Food has 110 temporary foreign workers – more than a quarter of its current staff – on its payroll, and is short more than 200 workers across the province. Mr. Maglalang said even the lowest-paid "team member" makes more than minimum wage, and it's not a matter of paying temporary foreign workers less than Canadians or permanent residents. The real issue is that restaurant owners can't match salaries paid by the oil and gas industry. "We need more workers. If only we could avoid hiring foreign workers."
Richard Truscott, Alberta director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said given the amount of red tape and cost involved in hiring foreign workers, most businesses would rather forgo the process. But he said there are just not enough Canadians willing to do some jobs. Mr. Truscott said the numbers compiled by the AFL might be explained by the cyclical nature of the economy and the "lag effect" in the federal program. Many business owners were caught off guard by the downturn that followed the boom years of 2006-2008, he said. "By the time those individuals arrived and were being integrated into the business, the economy had gone sour," Mr. Truscott said.
The draft report from the AFL said in 2009, while unemployment rose and a net 28,500 jobs were lost, Ottawa still allowed provincial employers to bring in 28,545 new temporary foreign workers. In 2010, 8,600 Alberta jobs were lost but 22,992 new temporary workers came in.
In the same three years and up to 2011 as the economy began to improve, the number of temporary foreign workers living in the province stayed between 58,000 and 66,000.
Speaking during a visit to Fort McMurray, AFL president Gil McGowan said while the Harper government says it wants Thursday's federal budget to breathe new life into trades and skills training, it is not really pushing companies to take apprenticeship programs seriously. He noted under new rules brought in last April, some employers can now pay temporary workers 5- to 15-per-cent less than the prevailing wage for Canadians.
"Through the temporary foreign worker program, they're actually distorting the labour market," Mr. McGowan said.
The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013
Byline: Kelly Cryderman
A pilot program that would fast-track the immigration process for trades workers began accepting applications Wednesday is a welcome change for the oilsands, says Oil Sands Developers Group Executive Director Ken Chapman.
However, Chapman says the program doesn't address challenges the natural resource sector has with immigration policies and as a result, the demand for blue-collar workers in Wood Buffalo and the oilsands will likely intensify in 2013.
The changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers program will reduce much of the red tape needed for trained foreign workers that specialize in 43 occupations. Some of these jobs include heavy-duty mechanics, ironworkers, millwrights, electrical work and welders — all jobs that are in short supply in Alberta.
Only 3,000 workers will be admitted through the program, a number Chapman says is problematic.
"That number alone is nowhere near to meeting the needs of Wood Buffalo or the oilsands, let alone other big projects in Canada," says Chapman. "We need skilled workers quickly and we're still competing with other markets with their own labour shortages."
While manufacturing has wavered in the last ten years, natural resources jobs have emerged as key industries for Canada's economic success.
British Columbia and Saskatchewan are both beginning to exploit their shale gas and oil deposits on a massive scale, while the territories, Ontario and Quebec have increased activities in their natural mineral and metal mining sector.
The program, titled the Federal Skilled Trades Program, gives preference to applicants with Canadian job offers and have a basic knowledge of English or French. At least two years of work experience in their trade is a bonus.
"Canadian employers have long been asking for ways to get the skilled tradespeople they need to meet demands in many industries across the country," said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on Wednesday. "We've listened to their concerns and created this program in response."
In July, the Alberta Federation of Labour told Today they were skeptical of the program and were worried that it would allow fewer safeguards for foreign workers.
Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the AFL, pointed to a 2010 provincial report that found 74% of employers who used the Temporary Foreign Worker program had violated the Employment Standards Act regarding pay rates and record keeping.
"Canadians should get first crack at these jobs. But the Harper government is more interested in the bottom line of their friends in the non-union construction sector," she said. "The result is employers can use these workers in ways that Canadians might not tolerate,"
To meet the labour demands in northeastern Alberta, Chapman says more needs to be done to make the region more accommodating to the needs of foreign workers.
"The last census saw about 15% of the population here came from outside of Canada. That should be sufficient to have, at least on a visiting basis, immigration counselings so workers can deal with immigration issues here, not in Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary," he said. "We need to give them more flexibility, make it easier to become citizens, easier for their families to come over if they're here long-term."
Chapman would also like to see language classes for promising skilled workers, rather than see them turned away due to a language barrier.
"If they're qualified and good on the tools but have problems in language, let's help them and not reject them," he said.
Fort McMurray Today, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013
Byline: Vincent McDermott
Hoping to quickly close Canada's growing labour gap of tradespeople, federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has unveiled a new plan that would quickly turn skilled foreign workers into permanent Canadian residents.
Kenney says the Skilled Trades Stream will help fill a serious labour shortage caused by Canada's growing natural resource economy, particularly in the oilsands and remote areas of the country. The program will only admit a maximum of 3,000 people to avoid backlogs. Applications will be accepted after Jan. 2, 2013.
"For too long, Canada's immigration system has not been open to these in-demand skilled workers," said Kenney. "These changes are long overdue and will help us move to a fast and flexible immigration system that works for Canada's economy."
Applicants will not have to meet the criteria of the points system that is already used for prospective immigrants or other skilled foreign workers.
Instead, the new program will consider applicants who have a job offer in Canada, have a basic proficiency in English or French, can prove they have experience in an in-demand trade. They must also show that their occupation qualifies as a trade under federal regulations.
The need for skilled tradespeople is most dire in Alberta, where the province estimates that it will need an additional 115,000 skilled tradesworkers over the next 10 years.
A spokesperson with the Alberta Federation of Labour said the program will help the province's economic growing pains. However, the AFL is still concerned about employment protection for low-skilled foreign workers already operating in Canada.
Fort McMurray Today, Tues Dec 11 2012
— Today staff
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney continues to remove barriers to ensure Alberta's oilsands and construction industries have access to the skilled tradespeople they need. Last week, Kenney expanded a pilot program that allows foreign workers to change bosses, rather than being tethered to one employer for the duration of their stay.
We think that makes sense and provides a measure of flexibility for temporary workers, as well as some assurance they won't have to endure abuse from their bosses.
"This collapses what used to be a six-month, complicated, bureaucratic process into a one-step process, where they can get a work permit in 30 minutes at the airport," Kenney said.
For the past year, foreign steamfitters and pipefitters in the pilot project have been able to move freely between Alberta employers. Now, other in-demand tradespeople, including welders, heavy-duty mechanics, ironworkers, millwrights and carpenters will also be able to join the program.
A concern raised by Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan bears noting. He says half the companies looking to hire foreign construction workers don't offer apprenticeship training programs - a shortcoming that should be remedied.
Canadians rightly expect skilled foreign workers to complement a homegrown workforce, not substitute for skills training. Both levels of government, and industry, need to ensure that young people, women and aboriginals, in particular, are given a chance to secure trades training so they can have access to lucrative and rewarding careers.
Calgary Herald Editorial, July 23 2012
April 2011: Widespread violations of child-labour laws revealed; government performance on oil sands shameful; fed Conservatives accused of hypocrisy in dealing with immigrants; Albertans...
Widespread violations of child-labour rules revealed in study
- Tens of thousands of adolescent Albertans are in the workforce – 21 per cent of them in illegal jobs, according to an Alberta Federation of Labour study. It found there were widespread violations of employment standards for adolescents and children in the province. For more information...
Government performance on oil sands shameful
- The Auditor General's report revealed the Progressive Conservative government has failed to institute a way of tracking its revenue from oil-sands operations, meaning it might have foregone billions of dollars in revenue. Meanwhile, Premier Stelmach and others in the government continue to act as pitch men for a pipeline company that wants to ship raw bitumen – and good jobs – out of the province. For more on AG press release ... and for Keystone XL release ...
Federal Conservatives accused of hypocrisy in dealing with immigrants
- The Conservative Party of Canada reaches out to immigrants Canadians with one hand, but crafts policies that punish them with the other. It has cut targets for real immigration, while increasing the number of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), who have little protection from abusive employers and recruitment agencies. New rules introduced this month will make it almost impossible for TFWs to even consider becoming citizens. For more information ...
Albertans warned to brace for Tea Party policies
- The infamous billionaire Koch brothers from Kansas – who have spent tens of millions of dollars funding climate-change deniers and the extreme right-wing Tea Party in the U.S. – have hired a lobbyist to push the Alberta government on taxation, economic development and energy and resource issues. Meanwhile, the AFL revealed that a provincial cabinet minister had links to an organization calling for restrictions to collective-bargaining rights in Alberta. For AFL press release ... and for the Edmonton Journal news item ...
Gate Gourmet locks out workers in Edmonton - About 60 workers at Gate Gourmet's facility at Edmonton International Airport have been locked out after rejecting a final offer from the company that included a three-year wage freeze. The employees, represented by UFCW 401, had been seeking only moderate increases that would barely allow them to keep up with the rising cost of living. Show your support by joining them on the picket line at Airport Road. For more ...
- April 28 - International Day of Mourning
- April 28 - May 1 – AFL Convention
- May 1 – May Day
- May 9-13 – CLC Convention
- May 17 - International Day Against Homophobia
- May 21 - International Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development
Did you know ...
- 8,200 Alberta children aged nine to 11 have jobs.
- 78 per cent of the jobs done by children are clearly illegal, including newspaper delivery and janitorial services.
- 26,000 adolescents, aged 12-14, work in Alberta.
- More than 21 per cent of working adolescents are employed in prohibited occupations, including janitorial services, sports teams and working on golf courses.
- 50 per cent of the jobs done by adolescents fall into the grey area of babysitting and yard work.
- The AFL study reveals that violations of child-labour laws included working too many hours, being paid less than minimum wage and working in prohibited jobs or performing prohibited tasks.
- The study also showed that parents did not fully understand their children's rights and had difficulty monitoring workplace conditions. For more ...
They include people like Tony, a 29-year-old Honduran, who left his Alberta farm job after complaining of long hours and lower-than-promised wages. He rode a bus to Toronto in mid-September with two fellow Hondurans from the same farm. He now works illegally renovating homes, and his friends work illegally cleaning schools.
"I want to be someone, to do something with my life - that's why I'm here," says Tony, who fears being deported.
Also citing employer abuse is a Salvadoran couple fired from their Halifax hotel jobs when the woman got pregnant. They moved here to look for work in September.
In another case, 20 Filipinos arrived in Vancouver last May after each had paid a recruiter $5,000 plus airfare. But the factory where they were to work had burned down a month earlier. No one bothered to tell them, or to notify the government to cancel their work permits. At least two of them are now working illegally in Toronto.
Others find themselves in positions similar to the 120 migrant workers at Rol-Land mushroom farm near Guelph, laid off last December when the recession hit. "Closed" work permits barred them from jobs with other employers. Thirty of them remained in Canada to face precarious prospects in the underground economy.
Unemployed temporary foreign workers add to the pressures on the city's own "guest workers," hit by the recession and an unemployment rate of 10 per cent.
The trend has intensified concern about a federal program that - virtually without debate - has almost doubled the number of workers entering Canada with temporary permits since 2003. They are here to fill labour shortages identified by employers and Ottawa.
Last year, 192,519 foreigners came with work permits of up to two years - almost as many as the permanent residents Canada selected through the immigration system.
According to an official count, on Dec. 1, 2008, there were 251,235 temporary foreign workers in the country.
The program is widely criticized for being poorly monitored and for leaving the workers vulnerable to exploitation. Some experts say it smacks of the failed guest worker programs in Europe, which developed generations of marginalized and resentful residents.
Employers, on the other hand, insist that regardless of the economy's ups and downs, labour shortages are real and longterm.
BUT IS THE Temporary Foreign Worker Program the best way to fill the need?
For many who study the program, the recession's impact on foreign workers has made that question more pressing.
When times were good, foreigners could renew work permits with the same employer or get federal approval to switch jobs. When times got bad, and domestic unemployment rose, the government began closing the tap on the program.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) must conduct labour market opinions (LMOs) when employers seek approval to hire workers abroad. LMOs are supposed to determine whether local citizens or permanent residents could do the job. In 2008, HRSDC approved 176,368 positions with LMOs.
But the first three months of this year saw a 25 per cent reduction in the number of jobs approved with LMOs (29,607) from the same period last year (40,020).
LMOs rejected in the first half of this year included ones involving employers who wanted to renew work permits for those already on their payroll - forcing the employers to lay them off instead.
They also included employers prevented from hiring foreign workers already here and out of a job. (Workers can remain in Canada until their work visas expire, but can't legally work for another employer without a new LMO.)
For many jobless foreign workers, returning home isn't much of an option. They left lives of poverty, are often burdened by debt from money paid to recruiters, and have families back home who depend on remittances.
"For the average Canadian worker, the economic downturn is a crisis, but for the temporary foreign worker, it's a catastrophe," says Naveen Mehta, a lawyer with the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Gauging the impact of foreign workers on the underground economy is difficult. Officials at Citizenship and Immigration Canada insist that the "vast majority" return home before their permits expire. But they can't prove it.
The government doesn't track when - or if - foreign workers leave the country. Nor does anyone track the number of those laid off. But it does advise employers to lay off foreign workers before Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
"We've got a growing illegal workforce," says Yessy Byl, an expert on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Alberta, the province that experienced the biggest increase of foreign workers in the past three years. "It's growing by leaps and bounds.
"You've got a hugely growing group of destitute people," adds Byl, who is also a labour lawyer with the Alberta Federation of Labour. "They have to work to survive."
Byl says the worst is yet to come: many of the 365,000 foreign workers who came to Canada in 2007 and 2008 will see their permits expire next year.
In a 2007 report, the RCMP estimated the number of undocumented workers in Canada ranged from 200,000 to 500,000. Toronto is widely seen as having the largest concentration.
St. Christopher House, a downtown social service agency, is bracing for an influx of underground foreign workers and has hired a new coordinator who recently completed doctoral studies on migrant workers.
"We are trying to get out in advance of that train coming down the track because we believe this issue is going to be big," says executive director Maureen Fair.
Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director of Toronto's FCJ Refugee Centre, says every month he sees two or three temporary foreign workers looking for help. One week in September, he met Tony, the Alberta farm worker, and the Salvadoran couple from Halifax.
But settlement agencies are in a bind. The federal government doesn't fund services for guest workers. If agencies help, they're diverting scarce funds from refugees and landed immigrants.
HISTORICALLY, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program was a relatively small federal initiative that brought in mostly high-skilled workers for specialized jobs. The live-in caregiver and seasonal agricultural worker programs were the only exceptions.
All that changed in 2002 when Ottawa allowed employers to bring in a wide range of low-skilled foreign workers to toil in the hospitality, food services, construction and manufacturing sectors.
Increases have been especially steep since 2006, under the Conservative government's watch.
"It's a priority of Stephen Harper's government to have immigration tailored more to the needs of Canadian employers," says Jeffrey Reitz, an immigration expert at the Munk Centre for International Studies.
The economy was hot, and employers - from Tim Hortons franchises to developers of Alberta's oilsands - scrambled to find workers. They turned to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
"They were doling out work permits like lollipops," says Toronto immigration lawyer Sergio Karas.
The most persistent criticism of the program is that it has addicted employers to cheap, disposable labour. In August, the federal government told a parliamentary committee that "overuse" of the program is the cause of many of its problems.
But it defended the program as necessary, noting that seasonal or cyclical jobs - vegetable picking or work on the oilsands - don't require permanent employees. The Harper government also described the regular immigration system as woefully inflexible and unable to meet labour market demands.
That system, which considers only workers with highly developed skills for permanent residency, is groaning under a backlog of some 900,000 applications. Decisions can take six years.
In 2007, at the peak of a revved-up economy, Canada let in 41,251 skilled workers as permanent residents - 17,660 fewer than in 2001. Meanwhile, 165,000 guest workers were brought in - the majority of them low-skilled.
"The temporary foreign worker program has become the faster and preferred way to get immigrants to Canada to meet long-term labour shortages," the bipartisan report of Parliament's Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration noted in May.
Some argue that the service industry is bringing in foreign workers to flip burgers, pour coffee and clean hotels simply to avoid offering the higher wages needed to attract domestic labour. What seems clear is that many are doing jobs few Canadians want - for example, dismembering pigs on "disassembly lines" in meat plants.
Yet, while high-skilled temporary workers can apply to become permanent residents under federal or provincial programs, most low-skilled workers can't (live-in caregivers are the big exception).
"The attitude is, `We don't want none of them riff-raff here,'" Byl charges.
Governments are rejecting the kinds of people who largely built the country after immigrating in successive waves through the last century, says Toronto immigration lawyer Elizabeth Long.
"Good enough to work, good enough to stay," is a slogan widely used by advocates of giving low-skilled workers a route to permanent status.
The Harper government is doing the opposite. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney last month proposed changes that would cap at four years the amount of time foreigners could work in Canada on temporary permits. They then would be barred from receiving another permit for six years.
The proposals have been widely panned. The parliamentary committee had recommended a path to permanent residency for all guest workers, at least those already here. It also called for "open" permits that would allow workers to switch jobs in the same sector.
Observers say foreign workers are much less likely to leave Canada if they're allowed to stay four years, as Ottawa is proposing. As one slogan, based on the experience of Europe and the U.S., says: "There is nothing more permanent than temporary foreign workers."
Germany stopped recruiting guest workers in 1973. But many stayed and brought over their families. By the mid-1980s, the program was largely responsible for having increased the number of permanent immigrants in Germany by almost 4 million. Left without settlement services for years, many live marginalized lives.
Jenna Hennebry, a sociologist at Wilfrid Laurier University, has researched temporary foreign workers for years. She believes a majority who lose their jobs stay in Canada beyond the time allowed by their work visas.
Some get advice from consultants to apply for refugee status. That clogs up the system but buys them time to stay and work in Canada. Others become undocumented.
Last spring, the Canadian Border Services Agency launched raids at several farms in southern Ontario, detaining about 100 people who had overstayed or violated the conditions of their work permits.
After one raid, about 40 workers from Thailand with expired work permits were sent to a detention centre in Rexdale. Immigration lawyer Long, who represented one of them, said most were deported without getting a chance to speak to a lawyer or file an assessment - guaranteed by the Charter of Rights - of the risk they faced if sent back.
Long said her client had borrowed $17,000 from "loan sharks" in Thailand to pay recruiters. Yet he was paid far less money than promised to work an overnight shift six days a week catching free-range chickens. He, too, was eventually deported.
Union officials and immigration experts say the size of Toronto's undocumented workforce keeps official employer demands for temporary foreign workers in the city - other than nannies - relatively low.
"Why would an employer go through the hassle of a temporary foreign work visa when he can draw from that pool of undocumented workers?" says Diego Mendez, spokesperson for the Greater Toronto local of the Service Employees International Union.
Toronto immigration lawyer Amina Sherazee believes the growing pool of undocumented workers suits Ottawa just fine.
"It's almost a deliberate attempt ... on the part of the government to keep a competitive workforce here who can be exploited cheaply to meet the needs of the market," she says.
Rico-Martinez notes that undocumented workers make up half of his centre's caseload. "We try to talk to the government about this issue, but they're in total denial."
Toronto Star, Sun Nov 01 2009
Byline: Sandro Contenta
Unite to prevent exploitation, improve conditions for Canada's rising number of temporary workers
Last fall, in a dingy boardroom in Ottawa, a group of union leaders sat uncomfortably with migrant worker advocates to discuss Canada's growing use of temporary foreign workers to fill labour shortages.
Union reps in construction trades, food and service industries raised concerns over migrants' substandard credentials and displacement of union jobs, while advocates complained about Canada's protected labour market and employers who exploit foreign workers.
"There was definitely discomfort and tension in the room," recalled Karl Flecker, a national director of the Canadian Labour Congress, who was at the meeting. "It was a frank dialogue, but people were cautious of one another."
Despite their differences, they formed an alliance and have been meeting regularly to discuss labour rights, strategize political lobbying, share information on corporate abusers and unscrupulous recruiters and build bridges with migrant-sending countries - a counterforce, they say, against the globalization of cheap labour.
Increasingly, the union movement has been turning its attention to the plight of migrant labourers and temporary foreign workers as their numbers increase and, in many cases, their poor working conditions come to light.
While western countries often use immigration to address labour shortages and maintain population growth, more and more they're relying on temporary guest workers.
In Canada the number of foreign temporary workers has risen from 122,848 to 165,198 in the last two years, while the number of landed immigrants dropped from 262,240 to 236,758, in the same period.
"I don't believe that if these workers were given the same rights and wages as Canadian workers, our employers would be as interested in bringing them in," said labour studies professor Charlotte Yates of McMaster University.
"It is a cheap labour policy," she added. "There is a danger that if we increase the number of migrant workers, we increase the number of vulnerable workers. It is going to affect Canada's overall labour market, pushing down wages."
Although Canada has just launched the Canadian Experience Class to allow foreign workers and international students on temporary permits to apply for permanent status from within Canada, those in low-paying and unskilled jobs - often the most vulnerable due to their lack of English and education - are still excluded.
With federal and provincial governments eager to respond to employers' needs, but slow to protect foreign workers, critics like Yates say unions have a key role to play.
But some, like John Mortimer, president of Labour Watch, a union watchdog, said migrant workers must take responsibility as well and do their own research before taking a job abroad. Labour organizing may not be a solution, he added.
"Some union leaders ... believe any worker is better off unionized than not. They are a business. It's more revenue," he said. "They accept that the temporary foreign worker programs are a reality, so they move to represent them, even though they may ... think they are taking jobs from Canadians."
Still, unions have made progress in organizing Canada's migrant workers in spite of legal limitations placed on unionization and high turnovers among certain fields.
This summer, the United Food and Commercial Workers signed a contract that included 70 migrant workers with Winnipeg's Mayfair Farms. In May, the Canadian Steelworkers Union and Migrante Ontario, a grassroots advocacy group, launched the Independent Workers Association (Home Worker Section) to offer live-in caregivers discounted legal counselling, insurance and dental plans.
Last year, the Alberta Federation of Labour set up an advocate's office to collect data and assist temporary foreign workers with complaints against employers.
"The unions are basically doing what the governments should be doing," said Stan Raper of the food and commercial workers' union, which last year forced a Red Deer, Alta., hog plant in a collective agreement to fund workplace training and a community integration program for 240 migrant workers from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Philippines and Ukraine.
The contract also made the employer sponsor 190 of the workers as landed immigrants through the Alberta Provincial Nominee program. Today, more than 75 have received their immigrant papers.
The B.C. government and Service Employees' Union is working with counterparts in 14 other countries to prepare foreign-trained health-care workers on Canadian working conditions, labour rights and basic settlement needs through multilingual education materials abroad.
"With globalization and transnational migration, you can only raise awareness and improve labour conditions by building bridges with workers in other countries," said Lorene Oikawa, the B.C. union's vice-president.
Despite the effort, Chris Ramsaroop of Justice for Migrant Workers said many foreign workers are still too afraid or too busy working to join the movement.
"It is very difficult to organize them because they are so isolated," said the community worker.
"We have a more racialized migrant workforce than ever. Canada's unions must develop more creative ways to ... include them in the labour movement."
Toronto Star, Aug 27 2008
Byline: Nicholas Keung
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
Globalization has increased acceptance of a multi-racial world and provided endless supplies of skilled and other labour, so what's not to love about mass immigration?
While Canada's opposition parties quibbled over modest measures expediting the arrival of skilled immigrant workers, one answer to that question appeared in a report from the British House of Lords. Stunningly, it concludes that record levels of immigration bring no economic benefits.
The Economic Impact of Immigration argues that immigration addresses neither labour shortages nor problems associated with an aging society. Rather, low-paid and young workers are being placed at a disadvantage because of competition from immigrants; worse, strains on public services and Britons being priced out of the housing market risk stoking social tensions.
According to the Telegraph, the British government welcomed this contribution to its "huge immigration shakeup."
Here in Canada, few noticed the British report or even Britain's "immigration shakeup," though for similar reasons cracks have been appearing in Canada's immigration portfolio too, and a small but growing number of academics, former civil servants and diplomats knowledgeable about Canada's complex and inefficient immigration system are speaking out.
Martin Collacott and James Bissett have reached conclusions similar to the new thinking on immigration now gripping most Western democracies, as did the late Bernard Ostry, while economists and professors emeritus such as Alan Green (Queen's University) and Herbert Grubel (Simon Fraser) are backing them up with far-reaching data and analysis.
Citizen groups, too, like Canada Immigration Watch are organizing to counter the vast stakeholder industry of immigration lawyers, consultants and advocacy groups that has so far monopolized Canada's immigration file. Out west, the Alberta Federation of Labour is squaring the debate with today's labour market realities.
A paper by Herbert Grubel, for instance, blames Canada's poor selection criteria and high rates of immigration for the failure of recent immigrants to achieve incomes comparable to resident Canadians, even though previous immigrants did so within 10 years of arrival. Accordingly, Immigration and the Welfare State in Canada, published by the Fraser Institute, estimates a cost to Canadian taxpayers of more than $18 billion for immigrants who arrived between 1990 and 2002.
To understand Canada's selection criteria, it's helpful to see how the numbers align under Canada's two largest classes of immigrants to Canada: economic and family.
In 2002, 23.3 per cent of all Canadian immigrants were principal applicants, that is skilled workers who acquired sufficient points for language, skills, etc., under Canada's selection criteria to gain admission to Canada while their spouses and dependents, who are allowed automatic entry, comprised a further 30.5 per cent. Together, at 53.5 per cent of total immigrants, they made up the bulk of Canada's Economic Immigrants.
Family-class immigrants, at 28.5 per cent of the total in 2002, are the other dominant set. Consisting of parents and grandparents (9.8 per cent) and "immediate" family members (18.7 per cent), these immigrants must be sponsored. Like parents and grandparents, the myriad cousins, uncles, in-laws, sisters and fiancés are then able to sponsor other "immediate" family members, leading to a phenomenon known as "chain" migration.
In other words, family-class immigrants meet no selection criteria. This means they often arrive with no language or job skills and a commensurately diminished capacity for paying taxes and social integration.
The economic success of immigrants is also affected by the rate at which they arrive. Having levelled out at 0.5 per cent of the population or less after the Second World War, it skyrocketed in the 1990s to today's one per cent - the highest in the world. These high rates, combined with slow economic growth in the 1990s, says Grubel, affected the income of new immigrants and those arriving in the previous decade who now had new competition for jobs. It was in this period, too, that the number of ethnic enclaves - defined as "census" regions where at least 30 per cent of the population is of a particular ethnic background - rose to 254 by 2001, from six in 1981.
Despite similar economic conditions during the same period, Australian immigrants fared better than Canada's. Migrants there must meet more stringent requirements for skills, credentials and language. Australia also denies entrants social benefits for two years and admits a higher proportion of work-age immigrants. Parents of principal applicants, for instance, may enter only if the majority of their independently qualified children already reside in Australia.
If economic realities matter, the new thinking on immigration may find its ultimate home among the stewards of today's labour market. After appearing before a Commons standing committee where he opposed employer exploitation of temporary workers, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour told me how, even in booming Alberta, there is no blanket shortage of labour.
"Overall, the market is tight but absolute shortages exist only in certain sectors. In others, like natural gas, forestry and agriculture, workers are being laid off," Gil McGowan said
So why aren't we employing the people who are here, aboriginals for instance? Provincial training programs are what need fixing, he suggests. "Politicians have a cartoon understanding of what is happening in the labour market."
Montreal Gazette, Mon Apr 21 2008
Byline: Margret Kopla