Canada modifies its Temporary Foreign Worker Program to address labour shortages


This article was authored by Bill MacGregor, Canadian Immigration Lawyer, GowlingWLG (Canada) LLP.

On April 4, Canada introduced the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) Workforce Solutions Road Map, to help address labour shortages.  The changes to the TFWP will help Canadian employers meet human resources needs, will provide more flexibility to employers in accessing the TFWP, and may alleviate some of the administrative pressure of the TFWP on ESDC by decreasing the frequency of some applications.

Changes to the TFWP include:

  • The validity period of a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) will be temporarily increased from 9 to 18 months.

To use the TFWP, an employer must first obtain an LMIA from ESDC after testing the labour market by trying to find a Canadian or Permanent Resident (PR) candidate. If ESDC issues the LMIA, it must be used to apply for a work permit within its validity period.

This change provides employers with more flexibility and a longer time period to tap into foreign worker talent. It will be especially useful where employers may need to bring in a lot of foreign workers to address labour shortages, or where the company can anticipate a large scale need (perhaps for a project) and opts to obtain unnamed LMIAs in order to be able to then recruit foreign workers over an 18 month period of time.

  • Global Talent Stream (GTS) LMIAs and High-Wage Stream LMIAs will now lead to 3 year work permits, up from 2 years.

This change recognizes the fact that due to increasing delays by IRCC in inviting Express Entry candidates to apply for PR status, and in processing PR applications, many temporary workers under those streams can no longer transition to PR status before their 2 year work permit will expire.

A 3 year work permit will allow more do so, without having to tie up ESDC and IRCC resources by having to apply for a new LMIA/work permit before getting PR status.

  • Rules around Low-Wage stream LMIAs have been relaxed in a number of ways. This will help sectors such as agriculture, food production, tourism, food services, retail and manufacturing address labour shortages.

The 10% cap on the proportion of low-wage foreign workers that can be hired at a location has been increased to 20%.  And for one year, to 30% for employers in Food Manufacturing, Wood Product Manufacturing, Furniture and Related Product Manufacturing, Accommodation and Food Services, Construction, Hospitals and Nursing and Residential Care Facilities.

The Seasonal Industry Cap Exemption will be made permanent and will allow seasonal employers to hire Low-Wage stream foreign workers for up to 270 days without needing to consider the cap.

As of April 30, ESDC will no longer refuse to process Low-Wage stream LMIAs for Accommodation and Food Service or Retail Trade employers located in a region with an unemployment rate of 6% or higher.

The announcement also referred to future strengthening of statutory protections for temporary foreign workers and of employer compliance requirements.

Overall, the changes are beneficial to employers and to temporary foreign workers.

However, it remains to be seen what the effect will be on processing times and on the administrative burden of the TFWP. On the one hand, increasing LMIA validity time and the length of work permits under the GTS and High-Wages streams should mean fewer applications as repeat ones for the same foreign worker may no longer be needed if they can transition to PR status. On the other hand, there will be an uptick in Low-Wage stream LMIA applications to ESDC, and work permits for Low Wage stream workers to IRCC.

In addition, given the very lengthy work permit processing times at many visa offices, obtaining a Low-Wage LMIA may not help employers get candidates working on the ground in Canada in a timely manner, as the work permit process may take a long time depending on the country of residence of the foreign worker.

Details of the announcement are available here:  Backgrounder on TFWP Changes.

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