CIMM - Temporary Foreign Workers: Permits, Processing, Facilitation
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- Temporary foreign workers play an important role in critical sectors Canadians during this unprecedented public health crisis, including in agriculture, food processing and health care industries.
- Temporary foreign workers, as with most others entering Canada, are subject to mandatory quarantine for 14 days from the day they enter Canada.
- My Department has a number of measures in place to facilitate the arrival and continued ability to work of temporary foreign workers in Canada.
- As of May 12, 2020, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada established a process to allow temporary foreign workers with an employer-specific work permit to quickly continue to contribute in a new job while their new permit is being processed.
- 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 play a vital role in our economy by helping employers fill jobs when no Canadians or permanent residents are available, and by bringing ready skills and expertise to companies seeking a competitive advantage.
- 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.
- The ‘supply meets demand’ nature of Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs ensures employers have access to the labour they require to sustain and grow their businesses.
Facilitative Measures for Temporary Workers in Canada
- For temporary foreign workers already in Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has introduced several measures to help clients affected by the disruption in services and travel due to the coronavirus outbreak.
- For example, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada 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 or to complete biometrics.
- Many workers who seek to extend their work permit are authorized to continue to work while their application for renewal is processed, provided they continue to comply with the conditions of their expired work permit.
- A public policy has also been put in place that will allow temporary foreign workers in Canada who have lost their job or are switching jobs, with a new job offer and accompanying Labour Market Impact Assessment (where required), to start work right away while their work permit application is processed.
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 occupations are being prioritized.
- We have also made the collection of biometrics simpler for agricultural work permit applicants where enrolment is not possible due to travel restrictions or visa application center closures, by allowing for port of entry enrollment in some cases.
- 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 centre closures.
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is working closely with Global Affairs Canada to coordinate with foreign government authorities, including in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Jamaica and Mexico, to ensure that flights to bring temporary foreign workers to Canada are able to take place and workers can reach the airport despite local travel restrictions.
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada continues to work closely with key stakeholders in Canada and overseas to identify barriers to processing work permit applications and implement mitigation strategies where feasible. There are sometimes delays that are outside of Canada’s control. The foreign governments that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada works with are also operating under difficult circumstances due to the pandemic.
Work Permit Processing Times
- Processing times for work permit applications finalized from January 1 to June 7, 2020, at 37 days, are lower than in previous years for the same period (compared to 45 days in 2019 and 40 days in 2018). The service standard is 60 days.
- Processing times for work permit renewal applications finalized in Canada from January 1 to June 7, 2020, at 93 days, is slightly lower than in 2019 (at 108 days) and higher than 2018 (at 82 days) for the same period. The service standard is 120 days.
- Since special measures were introduced on March 18, 2020, work permits for essential occupations, such as agricultural workers, have been prioritized for processing.
- Ministerial Instructions are in effect, from June 10 to June 30, 2020, (and may be extended), to temporarily suspend the processing of visitor visas and electronic travel authorizations that could not be automatically approved, unless the clients applying were not prohibited from traveling to Canada by the travel restrictions. Only applicants who meet one of the exemption criteria and who are travelling for a non-discretionary/non-optional purpose will be processed; this includes both new applications and those whose applications are currently pending.
- Given limited processing capacity, these instructions were put in place to allow IRCC focus its resources on serving those clients who were still eligible to travel to Canada.
- The requirement for temporary residents applicants from outside Canada to apply online continues to be in place in this set of Ministerial Instructions, to support the most efficient use of departmental processing capacity, which is likely to remain constrained in the near to medium term.
Processing times - specifically which lines of business are being processed in one week
- Due to the extraordinary situation, only certain applications continue to be processed. Among applications being processed overseas, we are prioritizing those coming to work in key sectors, such as agriculture. Applications from agricultural workers from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean who meet all requirements have been processed in one to two weeks thanks to the dedicated processing team working on these files. [Note: The new process for Mexico seasonal agricultural workers via the visa application centre has added a few days to processing times. This accounts for the change in processing times, from “one week” to “one to two weeks”].
- In Canada, we continue to process extension applications and restoration applications. Despite reduced operational capacity, the Department has been able to maintain service levels. The service standard for extension applications and restoration applications is 120 days.
- The Department recognizes that persons who fall out of status may find themselves in a precarious position due to their lack of status.
- We have encouraged applicants to maintain their status and instituted flexible processing procedures to facilitate applicants remaining in status (e.g., allowing extra time to submit documents). Immigration legislation provides that if a foreign national has fallen out of status, they may apply to restore their status within 90 days of having lost status.
Impact of temporary workers on Canadian economy
- While IRCC does not have data on the economic impact of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in each province as it relates to changes in Gross Domestic Product, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of temporary workers to provincial economies, particularly in fields related to agriculture and health.
Inconsistencies in numbers of workers who have arrived
- In reporting on the number of agricultural workers who have arrived in Canada, there have been different methodologies used that may have produced different numbers. Some stakeholders have been reporting on “planned” arrival numbers which may fluctuate based on developments in sending countries.
- We are pleased that in April and May approximately 85% of agricultural foreign workers arrived this year, compared to the same time period last year. We know, however, that arrivals have been and continue to be challenging and that some workers have not travelled, leaving some individual employers in challenging situations. We also know that foreign nationals of certain countries have had more challenges than others; this means that employers who rely on foreign workers from only one country may be worse off than other employers who hire from different countries, or who hire a workers from a number of countries. While the global picture is positive, this may not always be the case for every employer in every region of the country.
Pathways to Permanent Residence for Temporary Foreign Workers
- There are a range of economic immigration programs through which foreign nationals, including temporary workers, can immigrate to Canada.
- Temporary foreign workers are a promising pool of talent to transition to permanent residence, as Canadian work experience, labour market attachment, language skills and social and cultural integration are known to lead to positive, long-term outcomes.
- Canada’s economic immigration pathways primarily focus on year-round occupations and work, to ensure that future permanent residents are able to successfully establish themselves economically.
- While the Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program and low-wage agriculture stream are not premised on a transition to permanent residence model, some workers may transition to permanent residence through various programs.
- The recently-launched Agri-food Immigration Pilot helps address the labour needs of the Canadian agri-food sector and provides a pathway to permanent residence for experienced, non-seasonal workers in specific industries and occupations, including mushroom growing, greenhouses and meat processing.
- The problematique of unauthorized workers in Canada is a long-standing issue – CIMM and HUMA have studied this issue, acknowledging vulnerability of the population and complexity of the problem. Stakeholders have called for regularization.
- Limited data suggest that there are from 20,000 to 500,000 undocumented workers in Canada with half living in the Greater Toronto Area.
- There is demand for workers in the construction industry – 40% of Ontario’s construction jobs in 2017 were in the Greater Toronto Area and 22% of workforce expected to retire by 2026.
- The Temporary Public Policy for Out-of-Status Construction Workers in the Greater Toronto Area recognizes the economic contributions of these workers and aims to address their vulnerability due to their lack of immigration status.
- This public policy is an opportunity to: support Canada’s economy in an in-demand sector; regularize a vulnerable group who has been working and contributing; ensure immigration status and workplace protections; and gather additional information about this population.
- The public policy is a small, one-time initiative that provides an opportunity for up to 500 construction workers without status to qualify for permanent residence.
Supporting facts and figures
- In 2019, IRCC issued work permits to approximately 405,000 foreign nationals.
- 75% of these work permit holders were authorized to work in Canada without the need for a labour market test under the International Mobility Program.
- 25% 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.
- Work permits issued grew by 20% from 2018 to 2019. Growth in the number of work permits issued each year is primarily the result of an increasing number of open work permits issued under the International Mobility Program (e.g., for post-graduate students, youth exchanges under International Experience Canada, and spouses of skilled workers or students).
- As of December 31, 2019, there were approximately 848,000 valid work permits in circulation. It is not known how many of these individuals were actually in Canada at the time international travel restrictions were put in place.
- 78% of all work permits in circulation as of December 31, 2019, were open work permits, meaning that the work permit holder could work for any employer in Canada. Open work permit holders can change jobs at any time without the requirement for a new work permit.
- The volume of work permit extensions processed in the past three months (March thru May) is higher than the same periods in 2018 and 2019. This is the result of prioritizing work permit extensions to facilitate labour mobility.
Canada’s two temporary foreign worker programs:
- The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (administered by Employment and Social Development Canada) helps employers who are unable to fill labour market needs where Canadians or permanent residents are not available. This program includes agricultural workers and other workers who require a Labour Market Impact Assessment. Approximately 95,700 foreign nationals (out of 405,000) were issued a work permit in 2019 under this program. Over 56,000, or 59%, 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 307,000 foreign nationals (out of 405,000) were issued a work permit in 2019 under this program. 32% or 98,000, of these permits were issued under the post-graduate work permit program. Other populations who receive work permits under the International Mobility Program include 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:
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada assess 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. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is responsible for monitoring employer compliance where no Labour Market Impact Assessment is required.
- 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 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 worker programs are largely administered by the federal government, Quebec has a distinct role in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Under the 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is jointly managed by Employment and Social Development Canada and Québec’s Ministère de l'Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration (MIFI) 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 Ministère de l'Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration before Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada can issue a work permit.
- Employers hiring temporary foreign workers to work in agriculture and other low wage jobs under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are required to provide workers who are not eligible for provincial or territorial health coverage with equivalent private health insurance.
- In addition to provincial coverage, under the primary agriculture stream, key countries such as Mexico, Caribbean countries, Guatemala and Honduras 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.
Work Permit Extensions:
- A number of temporary residents in Canada with valid work authorization, including international students and spouses of students and skilled workers, already hold work permits that allow them to change employers quickly and easily, without having to inform the Department. In 2019, close to 70% of all work permits issued were open work permits that allow a foreign worker to change employers at any time.
- Moreover, all foreign workers in Canada have legal options to apply to extend their stay in Canada should their employer choose to extend their employment, or if they find a new job. Through mid-April, approximately 91,000 such applications had been received this year— a 7% increase over 2019 intake. The majority of these workers are allowed to continue to work while their application is processed, provided they continue to comply with the conditions of their expired work permit. However, work permit holders are not allowed to start working in a different job or for a new employer until they both apply for and receive a new work permit.
- Prior to the pandemic, the process of issuing a work permit for foreign workers changing jobs or work permit conditions took between 90 (for e-applications) and 140 days (for paper-based applications) for most occupations, although the Department strives for 30 day expedited processing for workers in agriculture and seafood processing. While the Department continues to prioritize the processing of work permit requests, an accurate estimate for processing times for these files at present is not available due to fluctuating processing resources during the pandemic period.
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