This week, two waitresses in Weyburn, Sask., went public with allegations that they were fired from their jobs only to be replaced by temporary foreign workers. This latest revelation comes on the heels of the federal government publishing the names of three other employers who allegedly broke rules regarding the hiring of temporary foreign workers.
The companies that break the rules will no longer be allowed to bring in foreign workers to work in Canada, but the big question is what will happen to the foreign workers who are already employed by these companies? Will they be sent home?
Canada's temporary foreign worker program is designed to allow Canadian businesses to hire foreign nationals to work in Canada when no Canadian or Canadian permanent resident is willing or able to take on the job. Under this program's rules, employers must advertise for these vacant positions and must offer a wage that is at or above the median wage for the occupation where the job will be located. If, after doing this, no qualified applicant in Canada can be found, permission can be obtained to hire foreigners for the job.
While there is nothing wrong with the principles of this program, the only way it will be supported is if Canadians can be confident foreigners are not being brought here to take away Canadian jobs. Ensuring Canadian workers are given priority is important for both individuals looking for jobs and employers who play by the rules. Canadian employees and employers should not be disadvantaged by companies that break the rules. Canadians should not be fired for the sole purpose of being replaced by temporary foreign workers.
Ottawa's swift response to the allegations is welcome. In addition to prohibiting employers who break the law from bringing in more foreign workers, the federal employment minister, Jason Kenney, has signalled the government will prosecute any employers who have made misrepresentations on these immigration applications. Guilty employers could face fines of up to $100,000 or jail terms of up to five years.
While offending businesses will face penalties, what will happen to foreign workers working at those establishments? Under the law, the federal government can start a process to revoke their work permits and require them to go home.
If this occurs, can it be said that these foreign workers are victims? Some of these individuals may have quit jobs in their home country and came here in good faith to start a new life. Should they be sent home? Regardless of what one may feel for these workers, the answer must be yes.
Foreign workers come here to fill temporary job vacancies and are only here for a finite period of time. While many foreign workers are able to apply for and eventually obtain Canadian citizenship, not all foreign workers qualify. A separate process must be undertaken to get this type of approval.
While sending the foreign workers home may be unfortunate, there is no other real solution. If there are Canadian residents available for the job, Canadian residents must be considered first. If there is a cost to sending these foreign workers back home and if these foreign workers suffer any losses, these costs should not be borne by taxpayers, but by the companies who are found to be in violation of the law.
Should the temporary foreign worker program be ended? The short answer to this is no. Canada faces shortages of workers in certain locations and in certain occupations. There are often shortages in various professions and trades and in certain rural and urban areas of the country. Instead of cancelling the temporary foreign worker program, the federal government is correct to ensure employers follow the rules. However, it should do more.
One of the things government has not done well is developing an easy system by which unemployed Canadians can be matched with employers seeking workers. Earlier this month, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced it would be moving forward with an "express entry" system for qualified immigrants. This system would allow foreigners to post the equivalent of resumés on a government system, which could be then accessed by Canadian employers.
If the federal government wants to ensure there are no Canadians missing job opportunities in Canada, this system should allow unemployed Canadians to do the same. The best solution would be a system where employers could access information of prospective immigrants and unemployed Canadian on one database. A system that would allow Canadians to voluntarily be put on such a list would make it easier for employers to give priority to Canadians looking for jobs.
R. Reis Pagtakhan is a Winnipeg immigration lawyer.