Some Canadian businesses rely heavily on (permanent) temporary foreign workers

By Peter O’Neil and Tara Carman
News that a consortium of mostly Chinese companies will seek permission to use exclusively Chinese labour for underground work in four proposed B.C. coal mines has blown the lid off a simmering debate over the dramatic increase in the use of Canada’s temporary foreign worker program.
The Harper government, which only last spring announced measures to boost the already record-high use of TFWs, has announced a program review in light of the public backlash and court challenges over the Chinese mine plan.
The controversy has put a spotlight on a program which employs workers in occupations ranging from the skilled trades and domestic and farm workers to nursing, the fast-food industry and the ski business.
Proponents argue the program, which is hugely popular with many Canadian and particularly B.C. employers, helps Canada fill a critical labour shortage. They say the program doesn’t hurt Canadian workers because employers are supposed to prove the workers can’t be found in Canada and that newcomers are paid a competitive wage.
But critics say TFWs are vulnerable to exploitation, have little to no recourse if they are mistreated by their employers and, according to economists on both sides of the political spectrum, their presence depresses wages and job opportunities for Canadians.
And while Canada hasn’t yet experienced the critical problem facing the U.S. and Europe — of “temporary” workers who go underground rather than return when their permits expire — some experts warn of a ticking time bomb in April of 2015.
That’s when a four-year maximum imposed last year on permit extensions expires. Given the current pace, there will be well over a half-million foreigners in Canada on TFW permits that year.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney dismisses much of the criticism that TFWs suppress wages and job opportunities for Canadians, suggesting that the program’s detractors — especially the NDP and unions — are engaged in “demagoguery.”
But he acknowledged some concern about some TFWs potentially overstaying their welcome when a huge number of permits expire for good in 2015.
“Look, I can’t say I’m not without concern about this issue, but so far we have not seen signs of problems in terms of overstays in the program,” he told The Vancouver Sun Friday.
He expressed confidence that the recently beefed-up Canada Border Services Agency, and new entry-exit border controls brought in under the Canada-U.S. perimeter security agreement struck earlier this year, will help track down migrants who go underground rather than leave.
The TFW program began in 1966 when the seasonal agricultural worker program was established, and expanded in 1981 with the live-in caregiver program. Special streams for low- and high-skilled workers were also added to the program.
Over time, the TFW program has become the federal government’s main tool to help businesses find workers, overtaking the traditional immigration program.
While the number of permanent economic immigrants has remained relatively constant since 2005, the number of TFWs has soared 56 per cent to 190,842 last year from just over 122,000 seven years ago.
In B.C. the number of TFW permits grew by 66 per cent over the same time period. B.C. also receives a disproportionate share of TFWs, accounting for almost a quarter of the national total (24.3 per cent) despite having 13 per cent of Canada’s population.
The B.C. government argues that the province has a “population gap” rather than a skills gap, and standard sources of labour — from local training to interprovincial migration to traditional immigration from overseas — can’t fill it.
“Our expectation, based on a retiring workforce and the creation of new jobs, is that one million jobs will open up over the next decade,” according to Jobs Minister Pat Bell. “We expect around 650,000 people to enter the workforce from B.C. schools in the same time period. Even after we’re 100-per-cent successful in training people, we still have a population gap.”
Fast-food chains such as Wendy’s and McDonald’s are some of the biggest employers of temporary foreign workers in the country. In the case of McDonald’s, many are hired to work in remote areas and resource-industry towns in northern parts of the country, company spokesman John Gibson said.
The top three source countries for TFWs in this province between 2008 and 2010, including both newcomers and those with ongoing permits, were the U.S., Australia, and Mexico, according to the B.C. government. China was a distant 15th in 2010, with just 538 TFW permits issued.
In B.C., temporary foreign workers are most likely to be employed in agriculture, fast food or construction, but are by no means limited to those industries. Blueprint Events, which brings in DJs, artists and their crews to play in local nightclubs, was one of the province’s biggest users of the temporary foreign worker program last year.
The artists and crews mostly come from the U.S., said owner Alvaro Prol, but also from Europe and elsewhere.
Whistler Blackcomb, which employs many youth from Australia on temporary work permits, and film production companies were also frequent users of the program.
One of the big B.C. users is Chilliwack-based bedding plant supplier DeVry Greenhouses. In the spring, the busiest time of year, the greenhouse employs about 100 workers from Mexico who make up roughly half its workforce, said owner Pete DeVry.
Without the “amigos,” he is quick to add, his business could not function.
DeVry, like all employers, is required to post positions locally before offering them to foreigners.
When DeVry’s operations manager Henk-Jan Roos did so a couple of months ago, he interviewed about 60 per cent of the applicants and hired six. Only one is still with the company, he said.
“They need work and as soon as they see something that looks … a little better, boom, they’re gone,” Roos said, adding that local workers sometimes only give a few days’ notice when they leave. “Those things make it impossible for me to plan for — never mind next month – the next day.”
“Consistent, reliable work is what we receive from this program,” added Pauline McLaren, DeVry’s temporary foreign worker program liaison.
Jesus Bernardino, 38, has been working at DeVry’s greenhouse for six years. The father of two from Mexico spends eight months a year working in Chilliwack and returns to his home in Queretaro, near Mexico City, each Christmas.
Bernardino is in charge of making sure the poinsettias get the right amount of water. Too much or too little can be fatal for the delicate plants, which are finicky to grow in the Fraser Valley’s cool, wet climate, and different varieties require different treatment. Bernardino is aware of all these things as he moves carefully throughout the seemingly endless rows of red, white and pink flowers that fill the greenhouse.
His day starts at about 5:30 a.m. He lives at a nearby motel, which is paid for by DeVry, and takes a company bus to the greenhouse, where he starts work at 7 a.m.
These days, he finishes around 3 p.m., but in the busier spring season 55- or 60-hour weeks are not uncommon.
For this, he is paid the minimum wage of $10.25 an hour and is not paid extra for overtime (which is legal for farm workers). Seasonal agricultural workers pay CPP, EI and income tax, leaving Bernardino with about $1,000 every two weeks, out of which he pays for his groceries and personal items. The rest he sends home to Mexico to support his wife, eight-year-old son and four-year-old daughter. His earnings are the main source of income for the family and he will return to Mexico to join them on Dec. 15, on a flight that is paid for by the company.
Being separated for eight months of the year takes its toll on his family, Bernardino said.
“It’s really hard, but this is the only way to make something for them,” he said. “They always ask me, can they come with me?” He has to tell them no.
He said he would love to settle in Canada permanently and bring his family here, but the laws make it difficult.
Lucy Luna, the Abbotsford coordinator for the Agriculture Workers’ Alliance, said one of the program’s major flaws is that it gives employers far too much power. The workers’ residency in Canada is contingent upon working for one employer, and not all are as responsible as DeVry.
Farm workers contact Luna when they need help understanding Canadian laws or tax requirements, but also when they run into problems with their employers.
This year alone, Luna has heard workers complain of not having access to running water in their homes, being beaten by their supervisor with a stick when they don’t work fast enough, and living 27 to a house.
“When they come to me, they come desperate,” she said.
They can complain — to police, the municipal government or the federal human resources department, depending on the situation — but doing so often means the employer will not ask them to come back the following year, Luna said.
The same applies for workers who get sick or injured and claim benefits through workers’ compensation, she added. Once she explains the consequences of making such a complaint, very few choose to pursue them.
Kenney argued that Canadians have a distorted view of TFWs due to union criticism. He said by far the largest single component is the youth exchange program, which brought in 55,000 last year, mostly from advanced economies like Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand.
“These are the Kiwi and Aussie lift operators at Whistler,” Kenney said.
The next largest is the seasonal agriculture program, with 24,134 permits in 2011, while 18,530 are professionals, managers, investors and other business visitors came in last year. That compares with 15,538 in the low-skilled category.
“I think there’s a widespread misconception, created by labour unions, that the bulk of TFWs are low-skilled people who are in dangerous or in bottom-end jobs who are easily exploited.”
Leading the charge for more temporary workers are business lobby groups such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which argues the Canadian economy is being held back by a “skills crisis” caused partly by the retirement of baby boomers.
The B.C. Business Council issued a report last year saying the province will experience a continuing shortage of engineers, tradespeople and health care workers, including nurses.
An increased use of TFWs “will be one element, and perhaps an increasingly important one, of a broader strategy to address future labour and skill shortages,” the Business Council concluded.
The acceleration of the TFW program has created an odd-couple pairing of prominent economists normally at opposite extremes in public policy debates — Jim Stanford of the Canadian Auto Workers and Simon Fraser University professor emeritus Herb Grubel, who writes frequently for the conservative Fraser Institute.
“The aggressive expansion of the TFW program is part of a deliberate effort to undermine the bargaining power of Canadian workers, whether they’re in a union or not,” Stanford said in an email.
“It is part of a broader strategy to suppress wage growth and widen profit margins — not just in northern Alberta, but in any province and any sector. The workers who come in under the program are exploited, and treated as second-class citizens.
“Canada needs more immigration, that is clear. But immigrants have to come in with full rights and freedoms, not as quasi-indentured migrants.”
Grubel describes the TFW program as effectively a business subsidy that lets frequent users avoid increasing wages to attract workers, invest in training, or automate production to boost productivity.
Canadians shouldn’t “swallow this argument made by employers who would rather hire immigrants than pay higher wages,” Grubel argued in an email interview.
In recent years some TFWs have started to challenge their employers through the courts and the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal over issues such as discrimination, payment and working conditions. In a precedent-setting case before the B.C. Supreme Court, a group of former Denny’s Restaurants workers from the Philippines is suing the company, alleging reaches of their employment contract.
Immigration economist Arthur Sweetman has argued that there is evidence the TFW program improves Canadian economic efficiency by bringing in foreigners with needed skills.
But he’s among several in the field who say the TFW program’s intake of low-skilled workers is particularly problematic for low-skilled Canadian workers, and especially new immigrants, who are squeezed out by the TFWs.
He argued the program is effectively a government subsidy for employers, who he says face an excessively low “hurdle” in terms of proving they sought domestic workers before searching overseas.
“More transparency on this program is needed, and that would improve the program’s value for all of society – and not just for employers,” he said in an email.
Twitter.Com/Canadacomnews© COPYRIGHT - POSTMEDIA NEWS

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Five myths about Canada’s immigration system

Immigrants selon le pays de naissance, Québec,...
Immigrants selon le pays de naissance, Québec, 2001-2005 / Immigrants by country of origin, Québec, 2001-2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maytree Opinion, November 2012
Recent media reports have characterized Canada’s immigration system as “broken,” and so ridden with problems that the only solution is a set of heroic measures, such as the current federal government changes, to set it on the right path. Even well-regarded columnists like John Ibbitson have swallowed the current government’s line that their renovation of the system is finally ending years of failure, abuse, and misdirection.
This view is largely false, and is only held up by the constant perpetration of a set of myths. Here are five of them.
Myth 1: The system is “broken,” not just in need of re-tuning, but not working.
In fact, for decades, Canada has had one of the most successful immigration systems in the world, attracting the best and brightest and accepting them as citizens at a high rate of conversion, and having them succeed in the labour market, community, and culture. We have not done this as perfectly as we should, and as we would like, but compared to other countries we have done this well. Those other countries regularly tell us that they envy our success. We could improve, and we do incrementally, but our system is far from broken.
Myth 2: We must adopt a new goal of fitting immigrants to labour market needs.
In fact, we’ve been doing this for over a century by policy and practice. In the first decade of the 20th century, the federal government populated the prairies by targeting and attracting cold weather farmers from the northern US and northern Europe. It was a deliberate project of nation building, and the government did what it took to make these immigrants succeed: land grants and cheap land; credit for farm equipment and livestock purchase; storage for crops awaiting shipment; rail lines for transport; and research into cold weather strains of grain crops. In the 1960’s the federal government deliberately aligned immigration with the needs of the new knowledge economy by the invention of the “points” system (from the fertile policy mind of the great Tom Kent), aligning immigrants directly with the education, language, and work experience needs of the information and design age.
Myth 3: The high-end needs of the labour market outrank other immigration perspectives.
In fact, successful immigrants in our history have come from family reunification and other streams. The labour market needs workers at all levels, including people who work at entry level jobs such as home care and personal care, manual labour, and service jobs. And it is clear that reunited family members settle more quickly and successfully than those arriving alone, and that they either find work or they support other family members in being able to work.
Myth 4: Backlogs are a legacy of past failures being rectified by the present government.
Only half a myth, because backlogs are the result of years of government starving the system of the resources necessary to process immigration in a timely way, leading to unnecessary hardship for applicants. The government continues this under-resourcing. Merely tearing up the existing lists, as the government is doing, is a false solution, much like tearing up the grocery list instead of going to the market. In the latter case, your family goes hungry. In the former, the country gets starved of the people needed to build Canada.
Myth 5: Polls are a good way to develop policy.
We are told that Canadians’ support of immigration is dropping, and so we should have tougher policy about who gets in and how they’re treated when they get here. It is little wonder support would drop, given the government and press stories of fraud, abuse, and scandal. It sounds like a real problem. But the fact remains that these problems exist at the very margins, at such a small scale that designing the system to catch them rather than to elevate the vast majority of immigrants is silly. Viewing immigration through a security lens paints a darker picture than our traditional lens of nation building. It surely has political benefits to some politicians wishing to appear as Horatius at the Bridge, but it is not in the national interest.
By all means let us work together, governments, employers, and communities, to improve our ability to attract the next generations of Canadians to carry on the task of building a great country. And by all means let us eliminate those practices which don’t work, and implement ones that will work better. But let us not be misled by myths which divert us from the real tasks at hand.

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Exclusive: Canada should boost immigration levels starting 2014, says internal report

Canada (Photo credit: Rhubarble)

OTTAWA — After seven years of stagnating numbers, Canada should start boosting immigration levels starting in 2014, according to an internal government review obtained by Postmedia News.
The study, dubbed a “Literature review and expert advice to inform Canada’s immigration levels planning,” suggests immigration levels should begin increasing six per cent a year to approximately 337,000 in 2018, after which levels should plateau until 2021, the end of the review period.
Since 2007, annual intake targets have been frozen at about 253,000.
The report also seems to kibosh hopes the provinces have for growing the provincial nominee program. The program allows provinces and territories to choose immigrants to fill short and medium-term, local labour market needs and most often attracts skilled tradespeople and college graduates.
Each province is allotted a certain number of spaces under the program, however, Canadian premiers last week called on the federal government to hand over more control over immigration while regional immigration ministers have been pleading for an increase in their allotment. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has yet to release his provincial targets for next year, but has suggested they’re unlikely to change.
Noting the provincial nominee program has grown at the expense of the federal skilled worker program and now accounts for about a quarter of all economic immigrants admitted into Canada, the report suggests “it is not immediately apparent that a further shift is needed.
“A guiding principle should be that immigration is essentially a means for addressing long-term human resources needs rather than short or medium-term needs,” the report says.
“Consequently, meeting longer-term human resources requirements should be given significantly grater weight than responding to short-to-medium term needs.”
As such, the report recommends “no further reductions” to the federal skilled worker program which it says has become more “responsive” to both Canada’s medium and long-term economic needs.
The report also recommends the share of economic immigrants remain stable at about 63 per cent of all immigrants, which includes those who come to Canada as refugees and through the family stream.
While the government has announced plans to allow employers to cherrypick from the immigrant pool, the report suggests a review of Australia’s immigration system, which Canadian authorities often look to, does not necessarily support “arguments for greater reliance on employment offers” as a means of guaranteeing immigrant success.
The report also highlights a number of “research gaps” that “should be of concern to policy-makers.”
Noting the number of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Canada has tripled to more than 300,000 in the last decade, the report raises questions about whether some more educated temporary workers may be usurping jobs that could be had by recent immigrants, thereby stunting their economic integration.
Or, the report suggests, recent immigrants may not have the necessary skills or the desire to move to a particular geographic area, leaving employers no choice but to hire temporary foreign workers.
“The increase in the number of TFWs could also indicate that immigration levels are insufficient to meet the economy’s human resources needs,” says the report.
“In any event, more should be known about the factors that lead employers to hire TFWs and the subsequent employment patterns of TFWs once they are in Canada.”
The report also highlights the need for Canada to get a better handle on the number of illegal immigrants who may be living in the country, noting it’s a phenomenon that’s “been studied primarily in the U.S. context.”
It presumes the sharp rise in the number of temporary foreign workers has “increased Canada’s vulnerability to persons who over stay the period allowed by their temporary work permit.”
The report also recommends further research into what factors might impede economic and social integration as well as a comparison of the economic performance and contributions made by immigrants who come to Canada under the federal skilled worker program versus those who come through the provincial nominee program.
The report was prepared for the federal, provincial and territorial assistant deputy ministers responsible for immigration in August. The details of the report were shared during a recent closed-door meeting between Kenney and his provincial and territorial counterparts in Toronto.
The report is likely to influence future federal and provincial immigration policy.

Read more:

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Shipping to Canada becoming increasingly difficult for immigrants

Picture by Danny Cornelissen from the portpict...
Picture by Danny Cornelissen from the Website. See this authorisation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While expatriates have long – and rightfully – bemoaned the lengthy process and seemingly endless government bureaucracy associated with immigrating to Canada, a recent spate of complaints has brought credence to another well-known complaint coming from immigrants. Namely, the process of shipping all of their belongings to Canada.
In fact, a recent study revealed that, after administrative issues, shipping was named as the most difficult part of the moving process by a group of recent Canadian immigrants. Problems cited ranged from unethical shipping companies, to the difficulty of understanding the laws and regulations to the flat out loss of possessions by immigrants that was never recovered.
One victim of some of the above circumstances was willing to share her story with us on condition of anonymity for her and the shipping company involved as her case against the company is still ongoing and yet to be resolved. While she did not want to give names for fear of reprisal by the company (which would possibly result in her not ever receiving her things), she was willing to describe the nightmare she has gone through in detail.
“My family and I were emigrating from the USA to Toronto, Canada this past summer. After a lengthy process of researching various shipping companies to use, we finally settled on one whom, while not the cheapest, seemed to be the most reliable. They came to our home to pack and load our things and were far from the most courteous people. ‘No big deal,’ we thought. However, at the end of the packing, it was discovered that there was not enough room on the vehicle and they would return later for the rest. ‘No problem,’ they said.”
Needless to say, they never returned. However, as she continued, that was only the start.
“After moving to Canada, we contacted the company about claiming our things and were shocked when we were told that the move was actually a bigger job than they had originally thought. They demanded a fee that was almost 25% higher than what was originally quoted with the threat that, if we don’t pay, we will not see our stuff. This is where we currently stand with them.”
While the unfortunate case of this immigrant is indeed extreme, it should not be looked at as rare by any sense of the imagination. The shipping process has gotten more and more difficult to navigate and companies have gotten more and more ruthless with the morally questionable ethics they are willing to use.
The question is what can potential immigrants do to ensure that scenarios such as the above do not happen to them? While there are no clear cut answers to this question there are a number of precautions that can be taken to avoid a similar fate. Among them:
·         Do your due diligence when deciding to immigrate and search for a shipping company
·         Make sure the company you choose to work with is fully bonded and accredited
·         Be sure to check references from people who have used the company and were happy with the experience
·         Make sure to get EVERTHING agreed upon with the company in writing
·         Speak with a qualified immigration lawyer or consultant to double check all of your decisions
While following these steps cannot fully guarantee a trouble free experience, it will definitely go a long way towards achieving that goal while giving you the peace of mind to know that you did all you could to make your immigration and move as smooth as possible.
Ari Strauch is the President and CEO of which works to promote people immigrating to Canada and to ensure that the shipping process is carried out as painlessly as possible.

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Mayor welcomes immigrants to Chatham-Kent

A map of Ontario showing the location of Chath...
A map of Ontario showing the location of Chatham-Kent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Bob Boughner

Chatham-Kent is faced with a population crisis - declining numbers saddled with the same municipal financial burden, Mayor Randy Hope said Tuesday.
The mayor emphasized, however, that Chatham-Kent is not the only rural municipality in southwestern Ontario being challenged to cope with its finances with fewer people to help pay the bills.
Hope made the comments Monday morning at a conference at John D. Bradley Convention Centre in Chatham attended by more than 50 municipal workers from across southwestern Ontario. The conference will focus on newcomer portals over two days. Those in attendance will compare notes on ways to attract and retain newcomers.
Hope said immigration is one way of helping to increase the local population. He said adding at least 100 new immigrants a year to the local population would go a long way toward helping the crisis situation.
"When most new immigrants think of Canada, they think of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver,'' he told the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration municipal immigration information online conference.

Hope was critical of recent cutbacks in the federal Immigration department claiming it makes it more difficult and time-consuming for newcomers wanting to come to Canada and to Chatham-Kent.
According to census figures, 10.1% of Chatham-Kent's population was immigrants in 2006. The latest figures will be released in the spring of 2013.
The mayor stressed the importance of selling Chatham-Kent and other southwestern Ontario communities to immigrants and newcomers.
He said among Chatham-Kent's assets is a four-year supply of housing.
"We could drop 50,000 people into Chatham-Kent today and not have to spend a dime on infrastructure,'' he said. "Our job is to sell ourselves.''
"We live in the banana belt of Canada, grow food for the world and have a safe community,'' he said. "Chatham-Kent is often dubbed a little Venice. We have a lot to offer immigrants.''
The mayor noted that 76,000 Chinese students study abroad each year.
Hope said the conference provides a great opportunity to showcase Chatham-Kent and show how proactively the community is working to attract and retain newcomers.
Don Shropshire, the municipality's CAO, said Chatham-Kent's population situation is not unique.

"But we do have to find ways to make Chatham-Kent the economic powerhouse it once was,'' he said.
Audrey Ansell, the municipality's coordinator of youth retention and immigration, said two-way learning and knowledge-sharing is a key component of the conference.
"Youth retention and immigration will then bring that learning to Chatham-Kent to enhance what the community does to attract and retain newcomers,'' she said.
Ansell, a native of Ireland, said she came to Chatham-Kent knowing it was a safe community and a great place to raise a family. She said she also had family members living in the area.

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CELPIP-General Test is Approved for CEC

Paragon Testing Enterprises is pleased to announce that the CELPIP-General Test is now designated by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) as proof of English language proficiency for those applying to immigrate to Canada under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).
The new designation information will be made available on the CIC website during the first week of January 2013. However, for those applying under CEC, CIC will accept CELPIP-General Test results that were written on or after November 23, 2012.
The CELPIP-General Test is now designated under the following classes of immigration to Canada:
  • Federal Skilled Workers and Professionals Class
  • Canadian Experience Class
  • under various Provincial Nominee Programs
The CELPIP-General Test is a complete English language testing program that assesses general levels of functional competency. The test is completely computer-delivered and consists of following components:
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • General Reading and Writing

 The Canadian Test

The CELPIP-General Test uses the English variety spoken in Canada. Individuals wishing to immigrate to and adapt to life in Canada relate more to understanding and using Canadian English than other varieties of English used in other comparable testing systems.
Interested to hear what Canadian accents sound like? Check out our CELPIP-General Listening Sample Test.

 Benefits of the Computer-Delivered CELPIP-General Test

1. Allows test candidates to complete all components of the test in just one three-hour sitting. The Speaking component requires no additional appointments with an examiner. This allows test candidates to demonstrate their English proficiency without the confounding effects associated with human interaction as used in other testing systems.
2. Completing the test with a keyboard and mouse rather than paper and pen can provide a considerable advantage to the test candidate, especially in the Writing component.
3. The use of a headset for the Listening component allows test candidates to adjust the volume to suit their own needs.
4. The Writing component includes an automatic “word count” function.
5. Each component of the test includes a timer, which allows test candidates to keep track of their own time.

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