Canadian employers denied temporary foreign workers look to new immigration system

But Canada's new Express Entry system is much different from the TFW program and will be far from speedy, immigration lawyers warn

Restaurants in Whistler say they are facing staffing shortages because of restrictions to Canada's temporary foreign worker program

For Amy Huddle, general manager of Sushi Village in Whistler, it was a shock.

“This is the first year in eight years we’ve been denied,” she said.

Like many restaurants in the ski resort, Huddle’s restaurant had come to rely on Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Sushi Village used the program to bring in Japanese sushi chefs.

But after several serious abuses of the program throughout Canada came to light, the government imposed restrictions on the program, especially for restaurants. This year, many Whistler businesses have had to do without temporary foreign workers.

“As of November, there were seven pages of ads in the back of our local newspaper looking for restaurant workers, servers, chefs, dishwashers,” said Huddle, who also sits on the board of the Restaurant Association of Whistler.

Some businesses that had used the TFWP now have their eye on a new system introduced by the federal government January 1: Express Entry. 

Meera Thakrar, a lawyer with Harris and Company, said the program is “being touted as one of the ways to solve skills shortages and [as] the future of immigration.”

Express Entry will be used for four existing immigration streams: the Federal Skilled Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program, Canadian Experience Class and the Provincial Nominee Program. 

Applicants will be able to fill out their information electronically. They’ll then be put into a pool with other applicants, and Thakrar said the government will be able to draw from the pool “at will” to choose which applications to process. 

It’s a further refining of Canada’s point system, which gives applicants a higher score for work experience, education and language skills. One of the ways to get more Express Entry points is to have a job offer from a Canadian employer. 

The employer must also get a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), the same requirement for bringing temporary foreign workers to Canada.

An LMIA shows that there is a need for a foreign worker and that the employer has been unable to find qualified Canadians for the same position. 

TFWP critics said positive LMIAs for that program had been handed out too liberally, allowing large numbers of low-skilled workers to be brought into the country, often to work in fast-food restaurants.

Express Entry is still geared toward skilled professional and trades workers, which have been a focus of the Canadian government for permanent immigration in recent years. That doesn’t sit well with Irene Lanzinger, president of the British Columbia Federation of Labour.

“We’re now moving up over time the level of education, the amount of money you have to have, the skills you have to have to come. It’s not the nature of how our parents [or grandparents] came.”

Lanzinger added that many temporary foreign workers in both the low- and high-skilled categories have been thrown into limbo. Some have been in Canada for nearly five years and want to stay. 

Labour groups have advocated letting temporary foreign workers who are here now stay in Canada and putting them on the path to permanent immigration. But the federal government hasn’t shown any sign of moving in that direction, Lanzinger said.

Employers or applicants who think the Express Entry system will be speedy will have a rude awakening, said Thora Sigurdson, a lawyer with Fasken Martineau.

Sigurdson has worked with employers in the tech sector to bring in highly skilled workers through the TFWP. While many were once able to use their time in Canada to qualify for the Canadian Experience immigration stream, Sigurdson said that’s no longer the case. (That option was never available to low-skilled workers.)

“Nowadays you either have the worker here or you don’t,” she said. “If a worker has enough points in some number of months – and the government isn’t telling us [how long it will take] – they may be invited to apply for permanent residence. You’re looking at pretty close to a year-long process.”

Huddle said she didn’t know much about the Express Entry process, but “it sounds promising.”

However, ski resort work may not attract foreign workers who want to immigrate permanently.

“Most of the people who are doing it are here for the experience of working in Whistler as opposed to getting a job and then moving forward,” she said.