Let’s Get To The Point About Foreign Workers


It should be self-evident that Canada's federal government keep in mind the following points on the issue of foreign workers: (1) If employers want to bring in foreign workers, the employers have to prove that a thorough effort has been made to find Canadians to do the jobs in question and that no such Canadians exist. (2) Employers should have to show that, where possible, efforts have been made to train or upgrade Canadians to do the jobs. (3) With foreign worker levels at between 90,000 to 100,000 per year, users of the programme should also have to demonstrate to Canadians that the Foreign Temporary Worker programme is not being used as a backdoor method of assisting people to get permanent status in Canada and that it is not just an employer's way of getting cheap labour.

For many years, the hiring of foreign workers in Europe and the U.S. has been a controversial issue. In summing up the danger of bringing in temporary foreign workers to domestic workers, the U.S. Center for Immigration Studies has warned repeatedly: “There is nothing more permanent than temporary (foreign)workers.”

The warning should be heard in Canada. The temporary foreign worker programme has caused controversy in two areas of British Columbia in the past week. In the Greater Vancouver area, a German-based company, Bilfinger Berger Canada, has revealed it has applied to Human Resources and Development Canada to bring in up to 345 skilled ironworkers. It is building a bridge across the Fraser River between Fort Langley and Maple Ridge. A union spokesman, Perley Holmes, has said that “there are lots of unemployed ironworkers in Eastern Canada. I've repeatedly told this contractor that if he wants to sit down and sign an agreement with me, he could have any number of ironworkers.” The company claims that it has submitted its application only as a safety measure in case it cannot find suitable workers in Canada.

In another incident, Advocare Health Services Ltd. has taken over the running of a Seniors' home in Kelowna, B.C. Special legislation allows the company to offer a reduced wage and benefits package to employees. The company says it has done this with 45 of the 70 workers and is looking for foreign worker replacements. The company has said it made its application for 25 foreign workers over a year ago. A union spokesman has said the company is seeking to hire nurses from the Philippines, Colombia and India as replacement employees. Advocare also operates Seniors' facilities in two other B.C. cities: Kamloops and Nelson. Union officials fear that the company may try to reduce costs in those locations by using the threat of foreign replacement workers.

These workers are a small part of a total of the 90,000 to 100,000 workers who enter Canada every year as temporary foreign workers. The number seems very high, especially when Canadians consider that one of the supposed purposes of Canada's immigration programme is to look after the country's worker needs.

As a number of Canadians know, Canada already brings in around 250,000 immigrants every year. Added together, the foreign worker and immigration programmes total close to 350,000 annually. It is extremely difficult to believe that Canada needs this many people every year. As critics have repeatedly pointed out, our federal government has never provided satisfactory reasons for bringing in 250,000 immigrants.

So where are the reasons for all the temporary foreign workers? Even the Canadian Labour and Business Council does not support bringing in foreign workers to address skills shortages. A 2002 survey of managers and unions in both public and private sectors by this group showed that “upgrading skills of current employees, improving succession planning, specific measures to retain current employees, mentoring of young workers by older workers, and hiring young labour market entrants” should be the “very important” actions used to address skills requirements. Bringing in foreign workers placed a distant twelfth on the list of options. (See the table below.) It is true that some foreign workers are entering as unskilled, but in the case of the skilled, we repeat: if business and labour in both private and public sectors say foreign workers are not a good solution, why is Canada bringing in close to 100,000 of them every year?

The issue of “temporary” foreign workers staying here should be a concern—especially because of the plight of genuine immigrants. Many Canadians are unaware that about 50% of immigrants who have entered in the past 15 years are living below the poverty level, 2 1/2 times the level of Canadian born. There is little doubt that Canada's mass immigration policy and the inability of the economy to absorb these people is the cause of this widespread poverty. Canada's immigration industry and past immigration ministers like to claim that the poverty levels are attributable to slow-moving certification agencies, but the fact is that only a small number of recent immigrants are involved in the certification issue.

Although some temporary workers leave Canada when their Worker Permits expire, how many remain and become a part of the illegal worker pool? If, as critics have demonstrated, Canada does not need 250,000 immigrants a year, it clearly does not need up to 350,000 (regular immigrants + foreign workers who remain illegally + other illegals). But that may be what Canada is getting.

In reacting to the foreign worker issue recently, some union leaders and B.C. MP's have put their focus on the plight of foreign workers. These workers, we are told, deserve our sympathy because they are being exploited.

That is not the point. The point is that Canada and its citizens are being exploited. The good of Canada and its citizens has to be the primary intent of all foreign worker policy and general immigration policy. What could be more self-evident or easier to understand?


Canadian Labour and Business Council (2002). Viewpoints 2002: The Perspective of Business, Labour and Public Sector Leaders Skills and Skill Shortages.

Available on the Internet at: http://www.clbc.ca/Research_and_Reports/Archive/archive08010201.asp