Feds crack down on foreign worker program

A person holds a small flag during a community event put on by Migrante Alberta to talk to workers...

A person holds a small flag during a community event put on by Migrante Alberta to talk to workers about the impact of the moratorium on temporary foreign workers at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Education in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday, May 17, 2014. Codie McLachlan/QMI Agency

Mark Dunn, Senior National Reporter

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

OTTAWA — Canadians will be given priority over foreigners under changes to the temporary foreign workers program (TFWP) announced Friday that also calls for fines of up to $100,000 for employers who abuse the system.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney said the sweeping overhaul will ensure the program is used only as a last resort to fill labour shortages when Canadians aren't available.

"These comprehensive and balanced reforms restore the temporary foreign worker program to its original purpose — as a last and limited resource for employers when there are no qualified Canadians to fill available jobs," he said.

The changes follow months of criticism after some employers were caught hiring cheap foreign help over Canadian applicants, investigations that suggested widespread fraud, and accusations of little oversight and that it was driving down wages.

Under the changes, employers will be charged higher cost-recovery fees, be limited to the number of foreign workers on the payroll and won't qualify for the program at all if unemployment in any given area is above 6%.

Most of the changes were directed at low-wage, low-skilled sectors that include food services such as fast-food outlets, construction, security, cleaning and others.

The onus will be on employers to prove they exhausted efforts trying to hire Canadians, with onsite investigators asking who was interviewed and how the job was advertised.

The entire program is being divided into sections to better reflect the needs of the provinces and territories, and new criteria will be used to determine the needs of specific sectors, with employers limited to the number of foreign workers they hire.

Employers with 10 or more employees have until July 2016 to whittle down the number of foreign employees to 10% of their workforce. This measure would force employers to hire locally and that could mean higher wages to attract them.

Kenney said employers will have to make greater efforts to recruit and train Canadians and said the changes would cut in half the number of low-skilled, low-wage temporary workers entering Canada to about 16,300 by July 2016.

The government is also raising the $275 fee employers pay for the cost of implementing the program to $1,000 per worker. The new rules also reduce from four years to two years the amount of time a foreigner would be permitted to work in Canada.

That would force employers to reapply to prove qualified Canadians are unavailable. Another $100 fee will offset the costs of federal skills and training programs.

The feds hope the fees will discourage employers from seeking workers abroad and look in their own backyards for help.

Seasonal agriculture workers and live-in caregivers are mostly exempt under the rules.

The NDP and Liberals vilified the changes, saying the program is still open to abuse, fraud and the exploitation of foreign workers.

The government also lifted a moratorium it imposed in April on the fast-food services industry. That sector was banned from using the program after widespread reports many restaurants abused it.


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