ARCHIVED – Backgrounders – Improvements to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Temporary Foreign Worker Program – Federal Roles

The Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program is jointly administered by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), under the authority of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and its regulations.

Under the program, Service Canada (under HRSDC) is responsible for authorizing employers to hire a temporary foreign worker. This authorization is known as a Labour Market Opinion (LMO). It ensures that hiring a temporary foreign worker for the job is not likely to have a negative impact on the Canadian labour market. Certain types of workers are exempt from this requirement, which means that workers may apply for a work permit without an LMO.

CIC is responsible for authorizing work permits to temporary foreign workers. The LMO is one factor taken into consideration when authorizing a work permit. Other factors include an assessment of health and security criteria, among others, and whether the worker is qualified to do the job.

In recent years, both the federal and provincial governments have undertaken numerous initiatives to improve the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and to enhance protections offered to temporary foreign workers. Examples include the following:

February 2007

CIC increased the maximum period of validity of work permits issued to lower-skilled workers. Work permits issued to these workers can now be issued for up to two years whereas lower-skilled workers were previously required to reapply after one year. The change acknowledged that employers often needed such workers for longer than one year and provided greater stability for them as well as the workers themselves.

September 2007

HRSDC introduced the Expedited Labour Market Opinion (E-LMO) Pilot Project in Alberta and B.C. to provide expedited LMO processing to employers seeking to hire temporary foreign workers in 12 (later, 33) high-demand occupations. Participating employers agreed to a review of their compliance with the rules of the pilot at a later date. HRSDC completed approximately 250 compliance reviews under the pilot. While most employers were ultimately found to be compliant, approximately 30 of them were denied service as a result of non-compliance with the program’s rules.

HRSDC ended the E-LMO pilot project on April 15, 2010. It eliminated LMO processing backlogs in Alberta and British Columbia and effectively tested new approaches to assessing employer compliance.

February 2008

CIC established Temporary Foreign Worker Units in Toronto and Moncton to serve as main points of contact for companies wishing to hire foreign workers in the two regions. These were in addition to units already established in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal, so that employers across Canada now have a dedicated point of service where they can get help in finding the workers they need. The units help make the process easier for employers, and help strengthen local and regional economies. Specifically, the units:

  • provide advice to employers who plan to hire temporary foreign workers by identifying applications where exemptions from labour market opinions can be applied;
  • pre-screen supporting documents from employers to streamline the application process for such workers; and
  • provide outreach information and support to employers seeking to use the TFW program.

In 2008, the federal government also produced a pamphlet for foreign workers to inform them of their rights in Canada. It was published in English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Tagalog and Hindi.

January 2009

HRSDC introduced new national advertising requirements for all occupations in all regions, simplifying the steps to navigate before employers can apply to hire a temporary foreign worker.

In addition, an online LMO application system was introduced to reduce the processing time and to facilitate communications among the federal partners involved.

April 2009

Building on the E-LMO pilot project, HRSDC launched the monitoring initiative to encourage employers to demonstrate compliance, on a voluntary basis, with the terms of their offers of employment to TFWs.

May 2009

HRSDC limited the period in which the authorization to hire a foreign worker (an LMO) remained valid. Employers now had to use the LMO within six months of the date it was issued or apply for a new LMO. This ensured that when employers were authorized to hire a foreign worker, the LMO was based on analysis of current labour market conditions so that hiring a foreign worker does not have a negative impact on the Canadian labour market.

Highlights of the most recent changes

The following changes come into effect on April 1, 2011:

  • a more rigorous assessment of the genuineness of the job offer;
  • a two-year prohibition from hiring temporary foreign workers for employers who fail to meet their commitments to workers with respect to wages, working conditions and occupation; and
  • a limit on the length of time a temporary foreign worker may work in Canada before returning home.

Employers seeking to hire temporary foreign workers, including live-in caregivers, will now be assessed against past compliance with program requirements before authorization can be granted. Employers found to have violated worker rights may be refused authorization to hire a foreign worker.

In cases where employers have not met their previous commitments to workers, they may be denied access to the temporary foreign worker program for two years. Offending employers’ names would also be published on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website to inform other temporary foreign workers already in Canada. Employers will be given the opportunity to explain their side of the story before any such action is taken against them.

A four-year cumulative limit is also being imposed on many temporary foreign workers’ employment in Canada. After a four-year work term, they will now have to wait four years before becoming eligible to again work temporarily in Canada. The limit does not affect eligibility for permanent residence; they may still apply, at any time, while they are legally in Canada or after they leave, if they qualify.

Provincial Initiatives

Generally speaking, the federal government is working more closely with the provinces to address regional needs. Formal working groups have been established in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan that deal specifically with the role of temporary foreign workers in Canada’s economy and society.

Several agreements governing temporary foreign workers have been concluded between the federal government and interested provinces and territories, including agreements with British Columbia (2010), Alberta (2009) and Ontario (2008).

HRSDC and Service Canada are negotiating agreements with the provinces and territories so that they may share information with the federal government on the enforcement of their labour standards. This will assist Service Canada in determining whether an employer may hire a temporary foreign worker. It’s important to know whether they’ve complied with labour standards before an employer can be authorized to hire temporary foreign workers.

Such information-sharing agreements have been signed with Alberta (2008), Manitoba (2008), British Columbia (2010) and Saskatchewan (2010), and are in the process of being implemented.

The provinces are also becoming more involved in managing the entry of foreign workers into their jurisdiction. They are taking a more active role in protecting foreign workers, which is appropriate given that the provinces are largely responsible for the enforcement of employment standards and the regulation of businesses, such as the registration of third-party recruiters. Ontario and the four western provinces impose restrictions on the right of recruiters to charge fees to workers under provincial legislation. Prince Edward Island was the first Atlantic province to enact similar legislation.

Examples of provincial initiatives to strengthen protections for temporary foreign workers include the following.


December 2007

Alberta increased the protection available for temporary foreign workers in the province by opening two advisory offices in Edmonton and Calgary. The province also established a team of inspectors to ensure that workers were being treated fairly in their workplaces.

October 2008

Alberta and the Philippines signed a labour agreement designed to ease labour shortages in the province and improve the flow of Filipino workers into the province.

April 2009

A record 53 charges were laid against three companies following an investigation into the deaths of two temporary foreign workers in an oilsands accident nearly two years before. The charges were laid under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. The arraignment sent a strong signal that foreign workers had the same rights as Canadians on the job and that the provincial government took that very seriously.

May 2009

The Alberta government repealed a decades-old exemption that allowed employment agencies to charge extra fees to nannies, live-in caregivers, cooks and other people wanting to work in private homes.


April 2009

Manitoba’s first-of-its-kind Worker Recruitment and Protection Act and its regulations came into force on April 1, 2009, to protect children from dishonest talent and modelling agencies and improve protections for foreign workers wanting to live and work there.


March 2010

The Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act came into force. Under this legislation, employers and recruiters were prohibited from passing recruitment fees along to live-in caregivers.


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