The number of temporary foreign worker applications has jumped 25 per cent over the last year leading to processing delays. This is a consequence of Canada’s low unemployment rates.
Employers who want to hire migrant workers in the “low-skill stream” are now waiting more than 100 days to find out if their labour market impact assessments (LMIA) will be approved. These assessments are necessary to prove the employer needs to hire temporary workers and that there are no Canadian workers available for the jobs.
Processing times for the “high-wage stream” are 85 days.
“Unemployment is at a historic low, reaching levels that have not been seen since 1976. While this economic success is good for business, it is also creating challenges for employers who are struggling to find enough workers to meet demand,” said Veronique Simard, a spokeswoman for Labour Minister Patty Hajdu.
“The temporary-foreign-worker program continues to experience an increased volume of labour market impact assessment applications across Canada. Recognizing the urgency of the labour shortage in Quebec and the rest of Canada, our government is taking steps to improve service delivery for the TFW program.”
A recent study, funded in part by the federal government, shows the situation is projected to worsen if nothing is done. In 2017, 1,800 job vacancies went unfilled in the region due to the lack of fish-plant workers and an additional 2,500 workers will be needed over the next five years to replace retirees, according to the report.
One reason why there is a delay could be the recent requirement of migrant workers having to submit to biometric screening. He says the labour and immigration departments don’t communicate with each other on these files, complicating things further.
In 2017, former auditor general Michael Ferguson raised concerns about the management of the foreign-worker program, he had found that a worryingly large number of employers failed to demonstrate that they had made enough of an effort to secure workers domestically.
In response, the government has been stepping up employer inspections and has been publishing the names of those caught breaking the rules. To date, 16 companies have been cited for infractions and given fines or bans on using the program for a set length of time.
Hajdu’s department says it is addressing the processing delays, including spending $3.4 million to hire more employees to process applications.
The problem is not that there aren’t workers in Canada available, but it is the geography. Many of the jobs are in places that are remote and far from where new immigrants tend to settle. If there was a program that made it possible for new immigrants to settle in small towns where their skillset could be better utilized, there would be even less employment among lower-skilled Canadians and those looking for employment.