**Note - the following was published as a 'guest column' on page 15 of the Calgary Sun on December 22, 2006 **
The shortage of workers in Alberta is recognized and indisputable. The Alberta government predicts a shortfall of 100,000 workers over the next decade – a situation that could threaten over $100 billion of expected capital projects. The situation is not lost on our new premier who recognizes the shortage as a major threat to the booming Alberta economy.
Are temporary foreign workers a panacea to Alberta’s labour woes? There are about 100,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada today (and about 10,000+ in Alberta), and it’s likely that that number will rise as increasing numbers of Canadian employers look outside our borders for staff. However, there are serious deficiencies with current government policy dealing with foreign workers.
Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada deal with most situations involving foreign workers. Many foreign workers fall under the “low skill” category. These temporary workers are authorized to live and work in Canada for only 12 months. After the worker has adjusted to life in Canada, improving his or her English and is fully trained, Immigration Canada expects them to return to their country for a period of 4 months after which they can return for another 12 month term.
This is not only an inordinate and unjustifiable burden on the employer (who has already gone to great lengths to obtain these workers) – it is an extremely short sighted policy – Immigration Canada must value and reward individuals who have already significantly integrated into the Canadian community and economy.
Immigration Canada already allows a live in caregiver (aka “a nanny”) to apply for permanent residency from within Canada (provided she has worked in Canada as a nanny for 2 of the past 3 years). This policy should be extended to temporary foreign workers (skilled or unskilled) that have worked in Canada for 2 years.
Allowing temporary foreign workers to apply from within Canada will address the issues with the traditional route for immigrants seeking to come to Canada. That traditional route is skilled worker or ‘points’ based immigration. It’s essentially broken. It would currently take a software engineer/PhD/Masters or other highly skilled individual from India or China about 65 months to immigrate to Canada. For a UK national, processing times are approximately 39 months [which is astounding – given the shared language and history, and comparable security overview, processing for immigrants from the UK should take at most 12 months].
Given these timeframes, it’s likely that immigration to Canada will be increasingly employer driven. This is where the temporary foreign worker program comes in. There’s also another option for employers - Alberta (and other provinces) has Provincial Nominee Programs, that (in the case of Alberta) allow an employer to offer employment to a foreign national and substantially decrease processing times. Again, however, there are serious deficiencies. Alberta’s PNP currently allows for a very limited number of skilled workers per year. This number is a drop in the bucket given the current labour shortage facing this province.
The Alberta Provincial Nominee Program must be expanded – in terms of numbers as well as expanding the definition of ‘skilled’ to include more trades people, and other individuals in occupations facing a critical shortage.
The temporary foreign worker program and the Provincial Nominee Program can assist Alberta’s red-hot economy. However, current immigration policy is deficient and does not provide a coherent solution to Canada’s labour or skilled worker shortage.