The path forward plan for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program

April 10, 2017

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Introduction

Temporary foreign workers can enter Canada through two distinct programs, the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program and the International Mobility (IM) Program. The TFW Program is jointly managed by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), and Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) under the authority of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR). The TFW Program assists employers in filling their labour requirements when qualified Canadians and permanent residents are not available. The IM Program’s primary objective is to advance Canada’s broad economic, social and cultural national interests.

On September 19, 2016, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) tabled its report on the TFW Program which outlined 21 recommendations, with implications for ESDC, IRCC and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The Government Response to HUMA was tabled in the House of Commons on January 30, 2017. The Response pointed to early actions already taken by the Government and indicated the Government’s plans to announce further details on changes to the TFW Program in Budget 2017.

After reflecting further on the Committee’s recommendations, ESDC and IRCC have set a path forward for the TFW Program with new activities, which taken together with the Government’s previously announced changes, will help ensure that Canadians have the first opportunity at available jobs, that the Program is responsive to Canadian labour market needs, that it while facilitating employer innovation and growth, and that the rights of foreign workers are protected.

Promoting jobs for Canadians and permanent residents

The Committee’s report underscores the importance of ensuring that Canadians and permanent residents have the first opportunity at available jobs, while balancing the labour needs of employers. The Government agrees with the Committee in this regard and remains committed to maintaining the Program’s broad focus on promoting labour market opportunities for Canadians and ensuring that employers make efforts to recruit and train Canadians and permanent residents first.

The Committee’s recommendation to support the domestic workforce and address ongoing skill shortages in certain regions and sectors is aligned with the Government’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the use of labour market information (LMI) to inform a more comprehensive assessment of the labour market and labour shortage claims by employers. For example, going forward, the Government will continue to administer the Job Vacancy and Wage Survey, which was launched in 2015 to provide better information on job vacancies and wages in Canada; continue efforts to leverage administrative internal-to-ESDC program data, including information data on Employment Insurance claimants, in order to add to the suite of LMI currently used underby the TFW Program; as well as work with LMI experts at ESDC to integrate more local level LMI, to allow the TFW Program to undertake more rigorous and accurate assessments of labour shortage claims by employers.

At the same time, the Government will foster more employment opportunities for Canadians and underrepresented groups into the labour market by introducing more focused recruitment requirements to encourage employers to recruit Canadians. For example, low-wage employers will be required, where appropriate, to focus more effort on recruiting from the four underrepresented groups that face barriers to employment. In addition, the Government agrees with the Committee that investments in skills, training and education resources can be better leveraged to identify fields with likely labour and skills shortages. To that end, the Government will work with sectors that are heavy users of the Program to create Canadian workforce development strategies in partnership with employers, organized labour, and other stakeholders. This will include more outreach to underrepresented groups as well as use of existing federal and provincial programming in skills and training for Canadians. This sectoral work will inform any future decisions with respect to the cap on the proportion of low-wage TFWs that a business can employ at a given time. In the interim, the Government will maintain the current 20% cap for employers that were Program users prior to the introduction of the cap (June 2014) and the 10% cap for more recent Program users. In addition, recognizing the unique labour market needs of some employers, the Government has extended the exemption for employers seeking TFWs for up to 180 days for the 2017 calendar year.

The Government recognizes the importance of addressing concerns regarding the labour market impact assessment (LMIA) fee and agrees with the Committee’s concerns that the increase in LMIA fees has created unintended consequences for some businesses and families, particularly with respect to caregivers. To reduce the financial burden on Canadian households who require care for their families, Budget 2017 proposed to eliminate the Labour Market Impact Assessment processing fee for families seeking to hire foreign caregivers to provide care for persons with high medical needs, and for middle class families with less than $150,000 in annual income seeking child care. Waiving the fee for these families will ensure that support is targeted at those most in need of assistance to meet their family caregiving responsibilities. The Government will also launch a review of the current LMIA fee structure to ensure it adequately reflects the costs of providing this service to TFW employers.

The Government supports the Committee’s recommendation to review the definition of Primary Agriculture and the administration of this Program stream. As such, the Government will undertake a multi-stakeholder review to modernize the administration of the Program’s primary agriculture streams. This review will explore issues, such as the root cause of the current labour shortage, the use of the National Commodities List and the related wage methodology, current deductions related to the provision of housing, and the question of inconsistent housing standards across the country.

Strengthening worker protections and compliance activities

The TFW Program and IM Program have a comprehensive employer compliance framework in place to protect foreign workers and the Canadian labour market. This employer compliance framework includes inspections, Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs) and bans, and publication of the names of employers found to be non-compliant. In addition, integrity tools such as an on-line reporting tool and a confidential tip line encourage disclosure of possible wrong-doing. When warranted, ESDC refers matters to CBSA or the RCMP for further investigationfor appropriate action. Nonetheless, the Government strongly agrees with the Committee’s recommendation that further measures can be taken so that foreign workers, particularly vulnerable workers, do not experience mistreatment, abuse or unsafe working conditions during their time working on a temporary basis in Canada.

Looking ahead, the Government is committed to undertaking a number of initiatives that align with the Committee’s recommendations to enhance the protection of foreign workers and strengthen compliance activities. The TFW Program will move toward a more strategic, compliance approach by increasing the number of on-site inspections to determine whether employers are in compliance with Program requirements and by prioritizing efforts on sectors that rely on the most vulnerable workers, such as Primary Agriculture and caregivers.

With respect to the Committee’s recommendation to establish measures to inform workers of their rights and responsibilities under the TFW Program, the Government agrees with the Committee and will undertake measures to provide information to TFWs regarding their rights and recourses, and to clarify employer obligations and responsibilities for those who wish to hire TFWs. For example, the Government will provide information to foreign workers about their rights when they first arrive in Canada. In addition, the Government will also work with community organizations devoted to the protection of vulnerable foreign workers, to ensure workers are informed of their rights and protections when they are in Canada.

Consistent with the Committee’s recommendation to increase resource and information sharing with provinces and territories (P/Ts), the Government will collaborate with P/Ts to enhance information sharing agreements and support the formalization of support services to resolve employer/employee disputes to better prevent abuse and support TFWs who need assistance. In addition, with respect to HUMA’s recommendation regarding “creating an accreditation system for recruiters, which requires compliance with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program rules and from which employers could exclusively select,” the Program will continue to collaborate with P/Ts, foreign governments and international organizations to address labour exploitation associated with the activities of recruiters in Canada and abroad.

The Committee recommended the elimination of employer-specific work permits in the TFW Program. It should be noted however, that the LMIA is by design linked to an employer who has demonstrated that efforts to hire Canadians have failed and that specific work in a specific economic region would not have a negative impact on the labour market; eliminating the employer-specific work permit could undermine this basic program premise. Also, the bulk of the program’s worker protection activities are employer-based. The TFW Program’s inspection powers are linked to the employer who applied for the LMIA, so if the work permit is not linked to the employer through the LMIA, the Program could lose its ability to hold employers accountable for non-compliance. Nonetheless, the Government takes worker protection seriously and will continue to examine the best ways to protect foreign workers, especially in low-wage and low-skill sectors.

The Government will review the Committee’s recommendation with respect to multiple entry visas for seasonal temporary foreign workers, taking into account the mobility of foreign workers during their employment in Canada.

Fostering innovation and growth by facilitating the entry of global talent

The Government recognizes that innovative industries need global talent to grow and that the Canadian labour market broadly would benefit from an infusion of uniquely talented and globally recognized individuals. The Government agrees with the Committee’s recommendations regarding the importance of ensuring Canada’s access to individuals with unique international skills and talent to support economic growth and prosperity. It is for this reason that the Government first announced the Global Skills Strategy as part of the

November 1, 2016, Fall Economic Statement to support growth and innovation and create more opportunities for Canadians by providing timely and predictable access to global talent.

Canadian workers are among the most highly educated and highly skilled workers in the world. The goods they produce and the services they provide are respected the world over. That said, Canada needs to be able to access the skills and expertise of talented workers from around the world to enable Canadian firms to succeed in the global marketplace. To grow Canadian business, create more Canadian jobs and compete among the best in the world, we must also attract the best minds in the world. Perhaps more than any other country, Canada has drawn strengths from its diversity and openness to change. Canada’s Global Skills Strategy will make it easier for Canadian business to attract the talent they need to succeed while demonstrating their commitment to creating new jobs for Canadians, transferring knowledge to Canadian workers and investing in skills development and training for Canadians. Whether they need to bring in professionals to train Canadian workers, or to hire global talent with highly specialized, in-demand skills, a facilitated process will be tested to support the entry of these individuals, while ensuring the benefit for Canadians and the protection of the Canadian labour market. To this end, the Government recently announced that on June 12, 2017, ESDC will pilot a Global Talent Stream under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. This new Stream will service high-growth Canadian companies that need to access unique global talent and companies that need to hire highly-skilled foreign nationals for in-demand occupations that are on a national global talent shortage list. Companies that use this Stream will need to demonstrate that there will be positive, lasting benefits for Canadians resulting from hiring global talent, such as increasing skills and training investments, knowledge transfer and job creation in Canada.

By better supporting access to highly-skilled temporary foreign workers, the Government is addressing the Committee’s recommendation to restructure the TFW Program to achieve better overall economic and social benefit for Canadians and reflect the realities of labour market needs in Canada. This approach aligns well with the recommendations of the Government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth and the Innovation Agenda being led by the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.

The Government accepts the Committee’s recommendation to review program policies for foreign faculty members with recognized Canadian academic institutions and will conduct a review of current program requirements for these workers.

Pathways to permanent residence

The Government acknowledges the Committee’s findings that all foreign workers, in particular those filling long-term labour needs and who have integrated into Canadian society, should have pathways to permanent residency. To respond to these concerns, the Government will undertake a number of measures.

The Government accepts the Committee’s recommendation to remove the relevant provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) with respect to the four-year cumulative duration rule which has negatively impacted foreign workers primarily in seasonal industries (agriculture, food processing, hospitality and tourism). In Fall 2016, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced the Government would take steps to repeal the relevant regulatory provisions and directed that cumulative duration no longer be considered prior to work permit issuance. As foreign workers successfully transition to permanent residency, this change will further facilitate avenues for those with strong motivation to stay in Canada and in status.

The Government also accepts the Committee’s recommendation to review the current pathways to permanent residence for all temporary workers. The Government is committed to further developing pathways to permanent residency so that eligible applicants are able to more fully contribute to Canadian society. In addition to undertaking the review, the Government will continue its efforts to facilitate the permanent residency of temporary foreign workers through current and newly launched initiatives.  For example, many foreign workers are already successful in meeting the necessary criteria for permanent immigration to Canada through well used channels such as the Canadian Experience Class and the Provincial Nominee Program. The review will also take into account the annual immigration levels plan, which is tabled in Parliament annually and allocates admissions to all of the permanent resident classes and categories to meet a range of immigration objectives. The levels plan for 2017 has a target of 51,000 admissions for the Provincial Nominee Program, the highest ever, and ensures that this program continues to help provinces and territories meet local market needs and support regional economic priorities. There are also other initiatives underway such as the Atlantic Immigration Pilot which will provide an expedited pathway to permanent residence in the Atlantic Provinces, including for workers in intermediate skilled occupations, as well as permanent residence options for individuals with experience in a range of caregiving occupations through the Caring for Children Class and the Caring for People with High Medical Needs Class.  In that context, the Government expects the review to identify options that complement the existing suite of pathways to permanent residence.

The Government agrees with the Committee’s recommendation to reform the Express Entry system – the system that manages Canada’s economic permanent residence programs – and in Fall 2016 announced a set of measures to smooth pathways to permanent residency for top talent, such as international students and senior executives. The reforms have reduced the job duration requirement from ‘indeterminate’ to ‘at least one year’ and facilitated offers for arranged employment to candidates in contract-based positions which benefit some occupations in high-tech and tenure-track academic positions. Reforms have simplified permanent residency eligibility requirements for candidates who have an offer of employment and who are exempt from needing to obtain an LMIA for temporary purposes. Furthermore, consistent with the Committee’s recommendation to create more harmonization with immigration and nominee programs so as to function in collaboration with one another, the Government is working closely with provinces and territories to improve the Express Entry system, including increasing information sharing and improving the functionality of the Express Entry Provincial/Territorial Portal.

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