While the new federal Liberal government is working to quickly address the Syrian refugee crisis, immigration lawyers hope it will also tackle hurdles around temporary foreign workers, work permits, and the backlog of requests for labour market impact assessments.
Right now, only highly skilled temporary foreign workers can apply for permanent residence in Canada, making it difficult for those without specific skills to gain permanent residency status. And under the Conservative government, the temporary foreign worker program created endless headaches for workers and employers.
“The last government had made a policy choice. It wanted to decrease the number of foreign workers. It was bragging that the number was coming down. That was a goal. It’s not surprising there were hurdles to getting work permits,” says Paul Hesse, an immigration lawyer with Pitblado LLP in Winnipeg.
The former Conservative government’s response to dealing with foreign workers was a reaction to the scandal around mistreatment of temporary foreign workers, but the solution created new problems, some lawyers suggest.
“A lot of businesses found the overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program difficult to work in, so hopefully things will ease up a bit now,” says Stephen Green of immigration law firm Green and Spiegel LLP. “Hopefully, they will review it and we will find it a little more open.”
Hesse says Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship John McCallum has stated that while the government is busy addressing the Syrian refugee crisis, it’s also working on other issues such as processing times in other areas.
“When he was in opposition, McCallum said overreach was a concern and a balance needed to be struck and that some employers do genuinely need foreign workers,” he says.
Hesse says a major issue he sees is getting extensions for work permits for individuals already living in Canada who have jobs and whose employers are desperate to keep them.
“It’s become considerably more difficult in the last year and deliberately so by the federal government,” he says. “I have found they have been extremely nitpicky.”
Hesse is currently representing a manufacturing client in the Federal Court on a file involving a skilled tradesperson whom the company wants to continue working for it.
The employer is in a small town in Manitoba where it’s difficult to find skilled workers. The company ended up in court when the job confirmation letter it issued to the employee was rejected because it didn’t use the word “permanent” and was interpreted as not offering permanent employment.
Hesse is arguing the employer doesn’t need to use the word “permanent” for a job to be considered permanent.
“The key is that it be indefinite, that it not be for a fixed period or occasional,” he says.
In his client’s case, the employee’s permanent residence application was refused and because of that, his work permit extension couldn’t be approved and he’s now without status.
Hesse says the new Liberal government has also stated it will consider providing additional funding to reduce the backlog of labour market impact assessments.
It would also help if the added red tape attached to them by the previous government could be addressed. For workers who don’t need labour market impact assessments, a new form was created and a fee introduced by the Conservative government that created an additional hurdle for work permits to be extended.
“Around here, the most significant number is with provincial nominees,” says Hesse, noting it applies in other provinces as well. “That is someone the province has nominated for permanent residence but the federal government is still processing their permanent residence application.”
It means the province has determined the person is important to the economy — often those like the client Hesse is representing — with a need for workers in rural areas. However, the Conservative federal government issued an additional form and introduced a $230 employer compliance fee.
“Timelines can be tight for work permit extensions and some people can lose their status because they didn’t know about it,” says Hesse.
Green, who says he’s “encouraged” by McCallum’s appointment as immigration minister, hopes the government will bring back programs that encourage those who want to invest in and start businesses.
“The previous government stopped the entrepreneur program. We’re hoping they bring back a business program,” says Green.
He would also like to see the age of dependency raised to 22 years. It was moved to 19, something he says was “seriously preventing” people from coming to Canada because it was splitting up families.