6. The role of temporary foreign nationals working in Canada
In addition to permanent residents who arrive in Canada, there are foreign nationals present on a temporary basis who are issued work permits and are legally able to participate in the Canadian labour market. The primary source of these temporary foreign nationals is the temporary foreign worker program; however, other temporaries (mainly foreign students and refugee claimants) may also apply for and receive a work permit while in Canada. Figure 9 shows the number of temporary foreign nationals in Canada with work permits on an annual basis.Footnote 27
Figure 9: Number of foreign nationals (present on December 1st) with Canadian work permits, 1980-2011
6.1. Temporary foreign workers
Various initiatives have been introduced in order to respond to the challenges of globalization, the increased mobility of the labour force and the needs of employers. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) are continually working on refinements to the Foreign Work Program in order to accommodate the changing needs of workers and employers. This plan includes a commitment to providing service at a speed that will support Canadian employer’s efforts to operate effectively in a competitive global environment.
The current temporary foreign worker program can be broken down into two broad segments. The first and most commonly recognized segment of the program deals with those who respond directly to employer needs including those with a validated labour-market opinion (LMO) from HRSDC and other foreign nationals in Canada tied specifically to the labour market (including workers under Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP), international agreements, etc.). The second segment of the Foreign Work Program can be described as “facilitative” in nature and is not associated with a specific job or employer (including reciprocal youth exchange programs, spouses with open work permits, etc.). Foreign nationals who enter Canada under the “facilitative” segment do not require a LMO from HRSDC and are not tied to a specific segment of the labour market.
Estimates of the number of people entering Canada on a temporary basis are usually inferred from counting the number of documents issued. However, certain practices result in significant and sometimes substantial double counting. As a result, there is a need to perform calculations based not solely on the number of permits, but, more importantly, on the number of people in order to achieve an annual count of foreign workers (number of unique foreign workers present at some time during the year) and the length of authorization for each work permit.
Looking at calculations of the number of foreign workers present on December 1st, we can determine that foreign workers have historically made up a small proportion of the total labour force in Canada.Footnote 28 In 1980, foreign workers represented 0.2% of the total labour force and by 1990 the share had climbed to 0.8%. By 1993 the share had fallen to 0.5% where it remained stable through 1999. However since that time, the size of the TFW population has grown rapidly and now stands at over 300,000 or 1.6% of total labour force in Canada.
Figure 10: Foreign workers (present on December 1st) by skill level, 1980-2011
Text version: Foreign workers by skill level, 1980-2011
The recent rapid increase in the TFW population since the beginning of the 2000s has been well documented but what may not be as well known is the origin of the increase in the number of TFWs. A significant part of the recorded increases have come from the “facilitative” side of the Foreign Worker program. For instance, foreign nationals present in Canada under the youth exchange program have increased from roughly 10,700 in 2000 to 61,000 in 2011. Important increases have also been noted for the spouses and common law partners of temporaries and other similar entrants who have “open” work permits (not linked to a specific job or employer) upon arrival.
Other programs which are geared to the labour market have also noted solid increases since 2000 including: the Live-in-Caregiver Program (LCP), Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, Low Skilled and Software programs. Of particular interest in this discussion is the Live-in-Caregiver Program which is more long-term in nature and specifically allows for a transition to permanent resident status.
The LCP brings workers to Canada for live-in care giving when there are not enough Canadians to fill the available positions. Workers hired under this program care for children, seniors or people with disabilities, without supervision, in private households. Foreign nationals admitted under this program may apply for permanent residence in Canada after completing two years of live-in care giving employment within three years of arrival in Canada. The growth of the LCP has been significant since 2000 rising from 7,450 in 2000 to 39,000 by 2009. However since peaking in 2009, the number of LCPs present in Canada declined to roughly 25,000 in 2011.
6.2. Other temporaries
As mentioned above, foreign students, refugee claimants and other temporaries may also apply for work permits while in Canada. While the primary reason for these people being in Canada is not to work, they may nevertheless enter into the labour market. Administrative records show that roughly 135,000 foreign nationals in Canada (in addition to 300,000 temporary foreign workers) could have participated in the Canadian labour market in 2011, a notable increase from the 52,000 other temporaries with work permits in 2000. The increases in numbers over the past decade have come mainly from foreign students and refugee claimants. For foreign students, special programs (such as the Off-campus Work Permit Program, Co-op Work Program and Post-Graduation Work Employment Program) have resulted in increases in the numbers with work permits. While for refugee claimants, the increases have been driven by higher numbers of foreign nationals filing a refugee claim and a higher percentage applying for work permits.
6.3. Transitions from temporary to permanent status
Foreign nationals who enter Canada under temporary work permits can become permanent residents after their initial entry. In 2000, there were roughly 47,000 transitions from temporary to permanent status, representing almost 21% of new permanent residents in that year. By 2010, this number grew to almost 72,000 – accounting for almost 25% of all landings.Footnote 29 Temporary foreign workers accounted for roughly 30% of all of the transitions with much of that attributable to Filipina LCPs choosing to remain in Canada and entering through the economic class. Many students from China and Hong Kong also opted to stay in Canada having acquired enough human capital to succeed through economic selection criteria or transitioning through the family class.
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