Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Government imposes $275 fee on temporary foreign worker applications

The Centre Block on Parliament Hill, containin...
The Centre Block on Parliament Hill, containing the houses of the Canadian parliament (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
BY DON BUTLER, OTTAWA CITIZEN JULY 31, 2013

The federal government expects Canadian employers to request 30 per cent fewer temporary foreign worker positions this year as a result of a new $275 user fee that came into effect Wednesday. However, it’s not clear the fee will do anything to stem the rising tide of foreign workers entering Canada.The federal government expects Canadian employers to request 30 per cent fewer temporary foreign worker positions this year as a result of a new $275 user fee that came into effect Wednesday.
However, since employers applied for 60 per cent more positions in 2012-13 than they actually required, it’s not clear the fee will do anything to stem the rising tide of foreign workers entering Canada.
The new fee, which employers have to pay for every temporary foreign worker they apply to hire, is among a number of amendments and regulatory changes announced earlier this year in response to concerns that temporary foreign workers are taking jobs from Canadians.
Until now, employers have paid nothing when they asked Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) to evaluate whether temporary foreign workers they wished to hire were likely to have a positive, neutral or negative impact on the Canadian labour market.
That means taxpayers are footing the bill for the cost of processing those HRSDC labour market opinions, the government says in a regulatory impact analysis statement published Wednesday in the Canada Gazette.
Those costs should instead be borne by employers, the government says, since they benefit directly from the service provided. The $275 fee represents full cost recovery, based on anticipated costs and volumes of application.
Employers who want to hire temporary foreign workers in the primary agriculture sector or through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program are exempt from the new fee. “There are proven acute labour shortages in this sector and the jobs are truly temporary,” the government’s analysis statement says.
Christopher Warswick, an economics professor at Carleton University, said introducing a fee makes sense. “There’s not too many things a government does that it doesn’t charge some sort of fee for,” he said in an interview.
Warswick said the fee should not deter employers who would benefit from the temporary workers program, but could give some employers an incentive to hire Canadians or landed immigrants instead.
The number of temporary foreign workers in Canada has exploded in recent years and reached almost 340,000 in December 2012. Excluding the primary agriculture sector, the number of temporary foreign worker positions requested through HRSDC more than doubled between 2006 and 2012.
In a recent report, the Conference Board of Canada asked why Canada is still bringing in so many temporary foreign workers when unemployment, especially among young Canadians, remains relatively high.
In the analysis published in the Canada Gazette, the government says HRSDC processed 182,714 requested temporary foreign worker positions in 2012-13, excluding occupations in primary agriculture.
It expects that to fall to 127,900 in 2013-14 because the new fee. “Employers are expected to minimize costs by only applying for the (temporary foreign worker) positions that they intend to fill,” the government document says.
The new fee is significantly lower than some other countries charge employers who apply to hire temporary foreign workers. Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, for example, charge fees ranging from $508 to $853.
HRSDC estimates the fee will generate $231 million in new revenue from employers over the next decade. There will be a one-time cost of $890,000 to build a system to accept the fees plus ongoing annual administrative costs of about $1 million.
Jenna Hennebry, director of the International Migration Research Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the new fee is unlikely to reduce the number of temporary foreign workers Canadian employers hire, in part because the agricultural sector is exempt.
“Agriculture is the largest area, and one of the biggest growth areas,” she said, arguing that the fee should apply to those employers as well.
Hennebry said money raised by the new fee, which will go into general government revenues, should be used to improve regulations, compliance evaluation and monitoring of the temporary foreign workers program.
“If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right and use the money to improve conditions (for workers) and make sure that rights are protected.”
New regulations also came into force Wednesday restricting the ability of employers to require foreign workers to speak languages other than English or French.
The regulations aim to reduce the risk that Canadians and permanent residents might be excluded from job opportunities, the government says in an impact analysis statement.
The new provision says the employment of a foreign national “is unlikely to have a positive or neutral effect” on Canada’s labour market if the job offer requires the ability to communicate in a language other than English or French.
The regulations allow exceptions for employers seeking to hire temporary foreign workers in the agricultural sector in order to “protect Canada’s food security,” as there are proven labour shortages and unfilled jobs are seasonal in nature, the government statement says.
As well, employers who can clearly demonstrate that the ability to speak a language other than English or French is essential for the job will still get approval from HRSDC.
Until now, employers who applied to HRSDC for a labour market opinion on the hire of temporary foreign workers have not been required to provide a rationale as to why a job may require proficiency in a language other than English or French.
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