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The recommendation in a report produced by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (SCSAST) is that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) cease the issuance of closed work permits.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which was established in 1973 to assist Canadian employers in filling urgent, unfilled positions when no Canadians or permanent residents were qualified or applied, was the subject of the report’s examination of its administration.

The TFWP was intended to be a “last resort” for Canadian businesses, but it has evolved into a “central component of the Canadian labour market,” claims the research.

Standing committees like the SCSAST study and investigate matters that affect Canada and provide their findings to the government for review and possible action. The Senate serves as both the legislative and investigative branch of the Canadian government.

How is the TFWP operated?

For many newcomers, programs like the TFWP have become a common route to permanent residency. They travel to Canada in order to gain job experience while they are there, which might be useful when applying for permanent residency programs like the Canadian Experience Class offered by Express Entry.

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) must provide a positive or neutral Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to employers who want to hire under the TFWP. This document serves as evidence to the Canadian government that employing a foreign national won’t have a detrimental effect on the country’s labor market or economy.

Before filing an LMIA, employers must fulfill a number of conditions, such as posting job advertisements for a predetermined amount of time and supplying proof that no Canadian or permanent resident is eligible for the role or has applied.

An employer can give a candidate they want to hire a legitimate LMIA so they can include it in their work visa application to the IRCC.

Once an employee is hired, the employer is required to pay them a set wage, provide them with housing and healthcare, and provide a safe, harassment-free work environment.

The TFWP grants closed work permits, which limit an employee’s employment options to one during their stay in Canada. They can lose their immigration status if they quit their work. Instances of employer abuse are an exception to this rule.

Enhancements for both employers and employees


There has been criticism of the TFWP over the years, much of which is detailed in the SCSAST study. The TFWP “not working well for employers or workers” is one of the recurring themes. The employer-specific work permit creates structural impediments to obtaining rights and protections and, by its very nature, leaves migrant workers more open to abuse by unscrupulous individuals.

Work permits obtained through the TFWP are closed, meaning that the employee may only work for one employer while they are in Canada. If they leave the job, they may no longer be eligible to remain in the country. There are exceptions to this in cases of employer abuse.

Improvements for employers and employees


The TFWP has not evolved without criticism, much of which is outlined in the SCSAST report. One of the prevailing themes is that the TFWP is “not working well for employers or workers. The employer-specific work permit inherently makes migrant workers more vulnerable to abuse at the hands of bad actors as well as imposing structural barriers to accessing rights and protections.”

Employers’ concerns about the program are also highlighted in a recent analysis by the Cooper Institute, particularly with relation to seasonal workers. According to the report, employers were frustrated that they couldn’t adequately train new hires or plan their year’s worth of work with a labor force that is constantly changing. They also discussed the pressures associated with the nearly “paternalistic” relationship that arises when employees depend on their employers for basic needs like housing and healthcare.

The SCSAST research also points out that complying, well-meaning businesses are unable to promote competent workers for long service or good performance, or to shift staff to different locations as needed.

Removing closed work permits gradually


Within the next three years, the SCSAST wants the government to phase out employer-specific work permits in order to lessen the vulnerability of temporary foreign workers. The Cooper Institute agrees, urging the IRCC to award permanent resident status to all migrant workers in lieu of employer-specific work permits.

According to the Cooper Institute, it would be advantageous because foreign workers “live and work under drastically different circumstances than their Canadian counterparts without full, permanent residency status.” They face major obstacles to the protection of their labor rights because of their temporary immigrant status, which puts them in a different class of workers.

It points out that a lot of IRCC-funded settlement services are inaccessible to TFWs, which puts them at a disadvantage in terms of acclimating to life in Canada and being aware of their legal rights.

As an alternative to the present TFWP, the SCSAST report suggests that the Government look into sector-and/or region-specific work permits.

It implies that companies may benefit from this since they usually shoulder a large portion of the cost of providing housing, transportation, and healthcare for their employees.

According to the paper, firms might help workers with work permits tailored to a sector or region by paying a regional authority that would handle part of the administrative burden.

Increasing Interaction

The Senate was informed by the SCSAST that one of the program’s main flaws has been inadequate communication. The TFWP is now being handled by several departments, and there hasn’t been constant communication between them.

For instance, some employers are subject to duplicate workplace inspections (which are typically announced in advance, making it easier for non-compliant employers to temporarily improve work conditions), employees are not always informed of their rights, and there is a lack of data organization that makes it challenging to measure program outcomes.

In response, the SCSAST report says that is critical that Canada’s government establish a Migrant Work Commission. This commission would include a Commissioner for Migrant Workers, a Commissioner for Employers and representation from the Government of Canada, through Employment and Social Development Canada and IRCC.

The Commission would serve as a single point of contact for reports of abuse and mistreatment for TFWs and advocate for their rights. It would also hold annual consultations with relevant stakeholders and work to “establish a research agenda to collect, analyze and disseminate data about the experiences of migrant workers in Canada and their role in the labour market.”

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