CIMM - Temporary Foreign Workers: Permits, Processing, Facilitation - June 2, 2021
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- Temporary foreign workers play a vital role in critical sectors of the Canadian economy and society, including in agriculture, agri-food processing and healthcare. Their contributions have become even more important as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
- Ensuring the protection of temporary foreign workers in Canada is a top priority. This government is working with a number of partners to ensure the safety of temporary foreign workers in Canada during this global pandemic.
- Temporary foreign workers, as with most others entering Canada, are subject to mandatory quarantine for 14 days from the day they enter Canada and COVID testing – both prior to and on arrival. There are limited exemptions to the quarantine and travel requirements.
- My Department has a number of measures in place to facilitate the arrival for temporary foreign workers in Canada and ensure they are able to continue to work.
- We are supporting temporary foreign workers already in Canada through measures such as allowing them to change employers quickly once they’ve found a new job, providing more flexibility for temporary workers to renew their status if it expired, and allowing visitors to apply for a work permit without having to leave the country.
- Temporary foreign workers play a vital role in our economy by helping employers fill jobs when no Canadians or permanent residents are available, and by bringing skills and expertise to companies seeking a competitive advantage.
- The Government of Canada continues to work alongside provinces, territories and industries to ensure that proper protocols are in place to keep all workers safe.
- Work permits are a demand-driven area; there are no set levels or limits on the number of temporary foreign workers admitted to Canada in a given year.
Temporary Foreign Worker Program and labour market impact assessment process
- The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) enables employers to fill labour and skills shortages on a temporary basis when Canadians and permanent residents are not available, while ensuring that foreign workers are protected.
- Employers under the TFWP need a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) before they can hire a temporary foreign worker. An LMIA confirms:
- there is a need for a temporary foreign worker, and
- no Canadians or permanent residents are available to do the job.
- Employers who did not hire a temporary foreign worker in a low-wage position prior to June 20, 2014 are limited to a 10% cap on the number of temporary foreign workers in low-wage positions. Exemptions include, but are not limited to, those in on-farm primary agriculture positions, caregiving positions, or seasonal (180 days or less) positions.
- The LMIA process is administered by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is responsible for the assessment of work permit applications made abroad and in Canada under the TFWP. This includes an assessment of whether the foreign national meets the requirements for the intended employment position.
Facilitative measures for temporary workers in Canada
- For temporary foreign workers already in Canada, IRCC has introduced several measures to help clients affected by the disruption in services and travel due to source country restrictions.
- For example, IRCC has taken steps to encourage and support temporary foreign workers to apply for work permit extensions and is providing more time to submit additional documentation.
- A public policy was also put in place on May 12, 2020, that allows temporary foreign workers in Canada who have lost their job or are changing jobs to start work right away while their work permit application is processed.
- As the in-Canada service collection network was not collecting biometrics, a public policy came into effect on July 15, 2020 that continues to exempt foreign nationals in Canada from the requirement to provide biometrics. This measure applies to all pending and new applications or requests for a temporary resident visa or status, work permit, study permit or temporary resident permit from foreign nationals in Canada.
- To help foreign nationals still in Canada and unable to return home to restore their immigration status, in July 2020, the Department implemented a public policy extending the time a temporary resident has to restore their status after it expires and allows them to work while they wait for their restoration application to be finalized. This public policy was renewed in December 2020.
- Finally, in August 2020, the Department implemented a policy allowing those with visitor status in Canada to apply for and receive a work permit without having to leave Canada, including a process to allow former work permit holders to begin working before their application is fully processed. This public policy was renewed in March 2021.
Facilitative measures for overseas work permit applicants
- Additional special measures have been introduced to facilitate work permit issuance to those overseas applying to work in the agriculture sector.
- Work permit applications for agricultural, agri-food, truck driving and health care occupations are being prioritized. Temporary resident visas for workers who are exempt from the requirement to obtain a work permit and are coming to work in essential occupations are also being prioritized.
- Although measures are in place to facilitate the entry of temporary workers in sports and film industries, our processing priority remains focused on occupations supporting essential services, including those working in agricultural, agri-food, truck driving and health care occupations.
- We have also provided an exemption from the requirement to provide biometrics for work permit applicants in the agriculture, agri-food, health care and trucking sectors where enrolment is not possible due to travel restrictions or visa application center closures. An officer retains the discretion to collect biometrics at the port of entry on a case-by-case basis.
- Foil-less visas are being used in exceptional cases where a visa counterfoil cannot be affixed into a passport due to, for example, visa application center closures.
Work permit processing times
- Processing times for work permit renewal applications finalized in Canada, in 2020, were at 104 days, slightly lower than in 2019 (108 days). Recent data shows that the processing time for work permit extensions has decreased to 39 days (based on data for the 8 weeks ending on the last completed week of April 2021). The service standard is 120 days.
- Processing times for work permit applications finalized, in 2020 were at 72 days, higher than both in 2018 and 2019. Recent data shows that the processing time for work permit applications has decreased to 63 days (based on data for the 8 weeks ending on the last completed week of April 2021). The service standard is 60 days.
- Ministerial Instructions are currently in effect until September 30, 2021, that require that applications for a temporary resident visa (including a transit visa), a work permit or a study permit submitted by foreign nationals who are outside Canada at the time of the application be submitted electronically (in other words, applicants must apply online).
- There are exceptions for foreign nationals who are unable, by reason of disability, to apply electronically. In addition, there are two groups of temporary residence applicants that are exempt from the requirement to submit an application online:
- Applicants holding an identity or travel document that is of the type issued by a country to non-national residents, refugees or stateless persons who are unable to obtain a passport or other travel documents from their country of citizenship
- Applicants under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program
Impact of temporary workers on Canadian economy
- While IRCC does not have data on the economic impact of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of temporary workers to provincial economies, particularly in fields such as agriculture and health.
Pathways to permanent residence
- Temporary workers in Canada have made significant contributions to keep our economy running throughout the pandemic, and have multiple pathways to permanent residence, including under the new measures that came into effect on May 6, 2021. These measures provide a pathway to permanent residence for over 90,000 essential temporary workers and international graduates. Applications are being accepted under the following three streams:
- 20,000 applications for temporary workers in health care;
- 30,000 applications for temporary workers in other selected essential occupations;
- 40,000 applications for international students who graduated from a Canadian institution (this stream is now full).
- These spaces complement existing pathways, including those available through our federal economic immigration programs, the Provincial Nominee Program and sectoral and regional pilot programs.
- The Agri-Food Pilot, launched on May 15, 2020, is testing an industry-specific approach that complements Canada’s existing suite of economic immigrations programs, offering a new pathway for year-round workers in meat processing, mushroom and greenhouse crop production, and livestock-raising industries.
- The three-year pilot aims to attract and retain experienced workers in these industries by providing them with an opportunity to become permanent residents. It will process a maximum of 2,750 applications annually, with an estimated 16,500 new permanent residents landing throughout the pilot.
- Between May 15, 2020 and April 30, 2021, IRCC received 274 applications ready for processing, adding up to a total of 636 persons. No final decisions have been made on these applications.
Worker safety and rights (protection of vulnerable workers, agricultural)
- In April 2020, changes were made to the employer compliance regime due to Covid-19 to better protect vulnerable workers.
- Employers are now required to not prevent foreign workers from meeting the requirements under the 67aq or any provincial legislation that governs public health in response to Covid-19. Employers are also required to pay wages to foreign workers who must quarantine upon arrival in Canada in order for the workers to not be left destitute. Additionally, penalties have increased for employers who do not cooperate with inspections.
- Other changes were included in the April 2020 amendments that are relevant to this group, including:
- Employers who provide accommodations must, during the quarantine period, provide accommodations that are separate from those not in quarantine and must provide cleaning products for the purpose of cleaning/disinfecting the accommodations regularly.
- If a foreign national becomes infected or develops symptoms of COVID-19, employers who provides accommodations must provide a separate bedroom and bathroom for that foreign national while they isolate.
- Temporary foreign workers on employer-specific work permits who are experiencing or at risk of abuse in their jobs can apply to the Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Workers, introduced in 2019, which helps workers to quickly exit situations of workplace abuse and find a new job without compromising their authorization to work in Canada. An open work permit allows its holder to work for almost any employer across Canada.
- Through investments to ESDC and IRCC (totaling $110.7 million over three years, starting in 2021-2022, $8.5 million of which is for IRCC), Budget 2021 will enhance the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. A portion of the funds – $54.9 million – have been allocated to ESDC and IRCC to increase inspections of employers and ensure that temporary foreign workers have appropriate working conditions and wages. Budget 2021 also provided $6.3 million to IRCC to increase processing speeds and improve the service delivery of open worker permits for vulnerable workers, helping those in situations of abuse find a new job. ESDC also received $49.5 million to support community-based organizations in the provision of migrant worker-centric programs and services through the Migrant Worker Support Program.
- Approximately 56,000 workers enter Canada each year to support crop planting and harvesting. Key source countries include Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica and a number of Caribbean countries. An additional 4,000 workers support food processing. Workers largely come from China (fish and seafood) and the Philippines (meat).
- While travel restrictions are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, there are exemptions for temporary workers coming for a non-optional purpose. This includes those coming to work in critical industries, including agriculture, food processing and health.
- Temporary foreign workers traveling to Canada by air are subject to the pre-departure and post-arrival testing and enhanced quarantine requirements, with limited exceptions. Asymptomatic temporary foreign workers in agriculture, agri-food processing and fish and seafood processing who have suitable quarantine plans can travel directly to their place of quarantine after getting a COVID-19 test at the airport, provided they travel by private transportation and are accompanied only by others who travelled with them to Canada.
- While agriculture represents a small share of all work permits issued, a lack of workers in this sector severely affects businesses and Canada’s food security. As a result, both Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada are prioritizing work permit applications for the agriculture sector.
Agriculture committee report recommendations
- On May 4, 2021, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food tabled its report on measures that could be implemented to increase Canada’s capacity to process more of the food it produces domestically and to strengthen local food supply chains.
- The report recommends that the Government of Canada:
- raise the cap on the proportion of low-wage positions under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for food processing industries from the current rate of 10%;
- expand eligibility for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program to include food processors; and
- consider increasing access to the Agri-Food Pilot to address labour shortages in the agri-food sector.
- The Government of Canada welcomes the Committee’s study and final report and is reviewing the recommendations that have been put forward. The Government will table a formal response following its review.
Vaccinations for Temporary Foreign Workers
- In many provinces, vaccination of temporary foreign workers has begun or is in the planning stages. For example, in Ontario, most individuals arriving under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program are being offered vaccination when they arrive at Pearson Airport. In British Columbia, temporary foreign workers are offered the vaccine on the day they leave their two-week quarantine. And Alberta is offering vaccines to workers at meat-packing plants across the province.
- To encourage vaccine take-up among arriving agricultural temporary foreign workers, ESDC with Global Affairs Canada, IRCC and Agriculture Canada are working with implicated stakeholders, including with source countries to help address vaccine hesitancy among these vulnerable cohorts. This will include targeted outreach to other source countries, including Guatemala and Honduras
Expired work permits and maintained status (formerly “Implied Status”)
- The Department recognizes that workers whose immigration documents expired may find themselves in a precarious position due to their lack of status. During the Covid-19 pandemic, all temporary residents, including workers, students and visitors who remained in Canada have been encouraged to apply to restore their status and renew work or study permits. At the onset of the pandemic the Department also implemented flexible processing procedures such as allowing extra time to submit additional documents to facilitate efforts made by applicants to maintain their status while their application is processed.
- As of October 20, 2020, a temporary worker who applied online to extend their work permit automatically receives an interim ‘Proof of authority to work’ letter from IRCC confirming that they have continued authority to work under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. This letter can be attached to their expired work permit as proof of continued legal status and authority to work while their application is being processed.
- In early 2021, the interim “Proof of authority to work” letter from IRCC was extended to post-graduate work permit applicants as well.
- [see additional background in note 25 – TR to PR Pathways]
Quebec [Quebec has requested greater control (i.e., devolution) over the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.]
- Administration of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Quebec is a shared responsibility between the federal government and the provincial government.
- The Government of Canada continues to collaborate with the Government of Quebec to ensure that the admission of temporary foreign workers under this program supports labour market needs.
- Questions specific to the issuance of LMIAs under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program should be directed by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.
Supporting facts and figures
- In 2020, the volume of work permit extensions processed was 19% higher than the same periods in 2019. This is the result of prioritizing work permit extensions to facilitate labour mobility.
- In 2020, while work permit extension numbers grew, initial work permits issued dropped, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the total number of work permits issued drastically decreased, the arrival of agricultural workers remained relatively stable as compared to previous years.
- In 2020, IRCC issued new work permits to approximately 128,893 foreign nationals.
- 51% of these work permit holders were authorized to work in Canada without the need for a labour market test under the International Mobility Program.
- 49% of these work permit holders required a labour market test under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
- This total does not include other sources of temporary labour, such as international students and refugee claimants, who also have certain rights to work.
Canada’s two programs for temporary foreign worker programs
- The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (jointly administered by Employment and Social Development Canada and IRCC) helps employers who are unable to fill labour market needs where Canadians or permanent residents are not available and includes agricultural workers and other workers who require a labour market impact assessment.
- Approximately 62,896 foreign nationals (out of 128,893) were issued a work permit in 2020 under this program. Over 50,500, or 80%, of these permits were issued to agricultural workers. Other occupations under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program include caregivers and some high-skilled foreign nationals (including graphic designers and computer engineers) under the Global Talent Stream.
- The International Mobility Program (administered by IRCC) facilitates the entry of foreign nationals under international agreements (e.g. trade agreements), where their employment is deemed to create significant social, economic, or cultural benefit to Canada, or where the work creates reciprocal opportunities for Canadians and permanent residents to work abroad. This program exempts applicants from a labour market impact assessment. Approximately 65,997 foreign nationals (out of 128,893) were issued a work permit in 2020 under this program. Populations who receive work permits under the International Mobility Program include post-graduate work permit program applicants, International Experience Canada participants, spouses of skilled workers and students, and work permits issued pursuant to trade agreements including the Canada-United States-Mexico Trade Agreement.
Administration of temporary work permit programs at the federal level is divided among three Departments
- IRCC assesses work permit applications made abroad and in Canada as well as renewal requests. Immigration officers ensure that the foreign national meets the requirements for the intended employment position and the relevant category of work permit. IRCC is responsible for monitoring employer compliance where no labour market impact assessment is required. In these instances, compliance inspections are conducted by IRCC with the assistance of Employment and Social Development Canada for field inspections when required. IRCC makes the final decision regarding the employer’s compliance.
- Employment and Social Development Canada reviews applications for labour market impact assessments, considering the terms, conditions and genuineness of the employer’s job offer and the employer’s efforts to recruit Canadians. Employment and Social Development Canada is responsible for employer compliance where a labour market impact assessment is required.
- The Canada Border Services Agency processes work permit applications at a Canadian border or port of entry. Canada Border Services Agency officers have the final say on whether a foreign worker may enter Canada, subject to legal and regulatory authorities.
Provinces and territories
- While the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is largely administered by the federal government, Quebec has a distinct role in this program. Under the 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord, the labour market impact assessment is jointly managed by Employment and Social Development Canada and Quebec’s Ministère de l'Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration for employers seeking authorization to hire temporary foreign workers for jobs in Quebec. Employers seeking to hire temporary foreign workers in Quebec must obtain approval from both Employment and Social Development Canada and the Ministère de l'Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration before IRCC can issue a work permit.
- Temporary foreign workers coming to Quebec, as part of the International Mobility Program, do not need to obtain approval from Quebec before IRCC can issue a work permit.
- Discussions among Quebec, Employment and Social Development Canada and IRCC are ongoing to ensure to ensure the admission of temporary foreign workers to Canada supports our labour market needs in cases where Canadians are not available to do the job in question or otherwise when there is a significant benefit to Canada.
- Employers hiring temporary foreign workers to work in agriculture, with the exception of the Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program, and other low wage jobs under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are required (in policy) to provide workers who are not eligible for provincial or territorial health coverage with equivalent private health insurance.
- In addition to provincial coverage, employers hiring under the Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program from key countries such as Mexico and Caribbean countries, purchase a package of private life, short-term disability, and health insurance for their workers.
- Employers under the International Mobility Program set up medical insurance and workers’ compensation benefits for their workers when they arrive in Canada as required by their province or territory and in line with any commitments listed in the offer of employment. While the eligibility criteria and waiting periods for provincial and territorial health insurance vary by jurisdiction, some provinces are temporarily extending coverage for COVID-19 related medical services to all residents of their province and waiving the waiting period.
Processing times for Work Permits (WP) including Extensions (WP-EXT)
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