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Immigration consultants offer to pair firms with temporary foreign workers

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OTTAWA - Immigration consultants, many of them in Western Canada, are apparently now specializing in pairing up employers and temporary foreign workers.

One online advertisement placed in several provinces even pledges to help temporary foreign workers find employers, instead of the other way around.

"Are you looking for an LMO (labour market opinion) employer?" asks the ad placed by Edmonton-based Global Hire on Kijiji, the online classified advertising service.

"I have access to 800 LMO jobs right now. Also, I have the complete list of ALL companies with LMOs in Canada. Over 50,000 employers. Do you have friends and family who want to come to Canada to work? I can help."

The owner of Global Hire — which bills itself as "foreign worker specialists" — did not respond to requests for an interview.

But the company's sales pitch turns on its head the standard procedure in place for companies to obtain temporary foreign workers under Ottawa's embattled program.

Employers must first make an attempt to find qualified Canadian workers before applying for a labour market opinion — called an LMO — in order to hire someone from abroad, not turn to a bank of temporary foreign workers.

Companies are required to place ads on the federal government's online job bank and prove they've made other attempts to find Canadian employees.

Critics of the procedure, however, charge that it's easy for a company to include bogus requirements in their job ads.

"They just make up any type of stupid requirement with the goal of just being able to exclude Canadians," said Gilles Hudicourt, an Air Transat pilot who's become a vocal critic of the temporary foreign worker program.

"The government has no way of verifying whether any Canadians applied. They have to take the company's word for it."

If the company reports that no one applied, it can then apply for a temporary foreign worker.

Alexis Pavlich, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, said the government takes immigration fraud "very seriously."

"That is why we passed a law to crack down on crooked immigration consultants," Pavlich said.

"We have also proposed reforms to the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, which will crack down on crooked citizenship consultants. We hope the Liberals will support these reforms."

Employment Minister Jason Kenney, who took aim against immigration consultants when he helmed the immigration department, is vowing to crack down on abusers of the temporary foreign workers program.

A new slate of rule changes is expected to be announced soon, including greater auditing powers for federal inspectors as they hunt down abusers of the program.

Other immigration consultants in the West are advertising similar services regarding temporary foreign workers on Kijiji and other job sites. Most didn't return calls from the media, or hung up when asked about the nature of their business.

The temporary foreign workers program has ballooned from about 100,000 people in 2002 to as many as 338,000 now working across the country, undoubtedly making it an attractive business opportunity for immigration consultants.

"We can help your company with all the necessary paperwork and also the foreign worker recruitment process," reads one ad placed by a company in Red Deer, Alta.

"We can help you find, qualified, hardworking individuals to fill your labour shortages."

In 2013 alone, Ottawa approved approximately 240,000 temporary foreign workers.

Hundreds of Canadian companies and governmental bodies employ temporary foreign workers, according to data compiled by Kenney's department. The program was originally designed to address shortages of skilled workers, not to recruit low-skilled help.

The issue was in the spotlight again Friday as the NDP told the House of Commons that the number of temporary foreign workers in the manufacturing sector doubled from 8,600 in 2006, when the Tories took office, to almost 17,000 in 2012.

"Why has there been such a staggering increase? Why is the government showing such clear incompetence?" asked NDP House leader Peter Julian.

The government answered with what has become its standard reply.

"Our government sent a strong message to employers that they must always give Canadians first crack at any available job," said Scott Armstrong, Kenney's parliamentary secretary, of Kenney's recent crackdown on the food services sector.

Follow Lee-Anne Goodman on Twitter at @leeanne25

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