The immigration bar in Canada is hoping the federal government will provide some clarity on new requirements from Quebec demanding documentation related to the Temporary Foreign Worker program be provided in French.
As of Oct. 11, Le ministére de l’Immigration et des Communautés culturelles announced it will no longer process applications for labour market opinions for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program if they are submitted in English.
The process to bring temporary foreign workers into Canada is subject to getting an LMO. Wording in an announcement from Employment and Social Development Canada posted on its web site Oct. 16 raised more questions than answers for immigration lawyers and employers. ESDC indicated the decision was made by the government of Quebec — not the federal government — but that ESDC would “work with employers to help minimize the impact of the change.”
“The immigration lawyers in Canada are quite interested to see what this means,” says Brian Tsuji, head of the immigration law group at Davis LLP in Vancouver. “Does that mean there will be some additional policies that will come out? We’re all interested to find out what that means.”
It’s yet another change to the TFW program, following the release of other rules announced in August that included a new $275 processing fee for LMOs and new advertising rules.
“It’s just another example of the government making it very hard to do business in Quebec,” says Calgary immigration lawyer Kevin Zemp of Global Immigration Solutions & Legal Services. “For Quebec companies I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an issue because they can do it but the problem is there are a lot of foreign companies that need to file those applications. It’s going to mean increased costs and delays and some companies may say it’s too much of a hassle doing work in Quebec.”
In response to InHouse’s request for comment, the ESDC sent the following statement in an e-mail.
“The Government of Canada is aware of the Quebec government’s decision to no longer process English applications for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which is jointly administered by the federal and provincial government.
“Departmental officials will work with employers to help minimize the impact of this change. The Government of Canada will work with individuals on a case-by-case basis to determine their individual needs and will provide assistance where necessary, such as translation services.”
Zemp isn’t holding out much hope the federal government will step in to help with the change. He says Quebec has negotiated an immigration agreement with the federal government that provides “surprisingly significant control and authority over what is ostensibly a federal power.”
“Anyone who has dealt with Service Canada — even when they are supposed to be handling their own mandate — they are so understaffed,” says Zemp. “To pretend they are going to somehow be of ‘assistance’ because of a change in Quebec is unlikely,” he says.
Tsuji says the new language stipulation means there is now an extra step involved for lawyers in his group who work with head offices applying for temporary foreign worker permits in Quebec.
“We will now need to get our Montreal office involved to get it translated appropriately,” he says. “It’s not just the application that will need to be in French but any request by the Temporary Foreign Worker unit for further documents or information will also probably need to be in French.”
Davis has a Tokyo office that serves Japanese multinationals with operations in Quebec and Tsuji expects they will be asking many questions about this new process for the LMO.
“For the large corporations this will be a challenge; it will be extra work and extra cost. Similarly for small corporations it will be more of a challenge because the extra cost and extra work aspect will be much more of an issue and may cause them to rethink the whole process,” he says.
The other confusing point says Tsuji is that ESDC is directing anyone with questions about the impact on their LMO application to contact Service Canada Employer Services hotline in Quebec.
“What kind of answers can Service Canada on the employer hotline provide about this impact on your application in Quebec?” says Tsuji. “If we can get some sort of policy statement from the federal government that would be helpful.”
Toronto immigration lawyer Peter Rekai of immigration firm Rekai LLP suggests there may be a jurisdictional problem with the new requirement.
“I think they would have to look at federal documents in either English or French,” says Rekai. “They are complicating an already complex system.”
Rekai says he knew the change was coming a few weeks ago and notified a few clients to “hurry up and file” or they would have to revise their documentation.
Earlier this month Rekai was assisting an American company that needed to bring in workers to repair sophisticated medical equipment in a Quebec hospital.
“Luckily they came in under the wire. If that particular U.S. company had to re-do all their paperwork there would have been a delay and the hospital needed them right away,” says Rekai. “What they’re now saying is ‘we want you to submit the documents you submitted to the federal government but we’re only going to look at them if they are in French.’”
Rekai says often temporary foreign workers are individuals who provide high-level technical services for infrastructure projects such as mines, hydro electric projects, and hospitals perhaps for two or three weeks to service a contract. Often the workers are brought in for multiple projects across the country.
Unlike in the past when it was more often a Canadian company applying to bring workers into the country, now it is very often subcontractors who are the employers on the work permit and the LMO.
“Where it might have once been a Canadian oil company that would look after all the work permits now there are multiple subcontractors from all over the world doing their own requests for work permits,” he says.
“These are people businesses in Quebec need. To make it that much more difficult just doesn’t help Quebec very much,” he says. “It’s just not practical. I understand the politics of it and where it’s coming from but it’s not in Quebec’s interest. Employers from other parts of the world access the system and this is one more reason to back out of the process and ask someone else to do it or not do it at all.”