Last week’s announcement by Canada’s Immigration Minister that he will speed up the application process for foreign workers lacks adequate thought and indicates that the minister has been stampeded into the process.
The credibility of the list is a major issue.
Mr. Solberg’s announcement applies only to British Columbia and Alberta, two provinces which claim to have labour shortages. He has identified 170 occupations which he describes as “under pressure” in those provinces. By that term, he means that employers are having difficulty finding enough Canadian applicants. He has said he is reducing the time that employers must advertise these jobs in Canada from four weeks to one week. After that week, employers will be free to look for applicants outside of the country.
Real estate agents are one of the 170 occupations. Most Canadians will find the inclusion of this occupation on the list to be very strange. Of all the occupations in Canada, it seems there is no shortage of people willing to sell real estate. Even if there were a shortage, it would take only about five to six months (sometimes less) to train a Canadian to do this job. At least 50 of the 170 occupations raise similar suspicions that the list has been put together carelessly and that the need for these foreign workers may not exist.
For example, in adition to real estate agents, why are B.C. employers looking for biologists, farmers, lawyers, and school counsellors outside of Canada? Biology graduates are numerous and usually working in some unrelated occupation. Farmers, other than those who have the protection of marketing boards, are usually working at other jobs in order to make ends meet; many would gladly go back to farming full time if they received a better return for their crops. In other words, the problem is not a lack of farmers. Bringing in lawyers from outside the country would probably lead to many of the certification problems that foreign doctors are experiencing. As far as school counsellors are concerned, teachers within the educational system can easily upgrade their qualifications within a year to do counselling.
Siimilar things can be said about other claims. For example, B.C. Arts employers are said to be having difficulty finding Editors, Music Conductors/Composers/Arrangers, Musicians/Singers, Actors/Comedians, Painters/Sculptors, Photographers, Film/Video Camera Operators, and Announcers/Broadcasters. For years, Canada’s Arts Industry has had large numbers of very qualified graduates working in unrelated occupations. It seems hard to believe that these jobs cannot be filled by Canadians. One of the more peculiar occupations B.C. employers are said to have had no success in finding candidates at home is Athletes!! Considering that B.C. produces more than its share of Canada’s Olympians, Canadians have to ask: What is going on here?
Suspicions about the B.C. categories will undoubtedly make Canadians believe that claims about vacancies in the remaining 120 occupations may not be accurate either. Mr. Solberg has to take some time to explain the two lists he has presented. In an obvious number of cases, he has to correct mistakes.
A number of the occupations Mr. Solberg has identifed are probably correct. For example, he has identified approximately 50 occupations in construction in both Alberta and B.C. A boom has been occurring in both areas, but a slowdown in the construction industry is already occurring in B.C. Does it make sense to send foreign workers there while that is happening?
A few of the Alberta cageories are unique to that province. Alberta is looking for Ministers of Religion, Early Childhood Educators, Teachers of Persons with Disabilities. The latter two are peculiar because a number of school districts in Canada’s West have an overflow of teacher applicants, so it sounds very strange that qualified Canadians cannot be found to fill these positions. Alberta is also looking for managers and operators in Aquaculture as well as supervisors in Motor Vehicle Assembling—-two fields that most Canadians do not associate with that province. The logical question most Canadians would ask is this: Do jobs such as these really exist in Alberta?
One of the larger groups of occupations Alberta is seeking to fill openings in is Sales and Service. Among the jobs advertised are Hair Stylists/Barbers, Airline Sales and Service Agents, Hotel Front Desk Clerks, Food and Beverage Servers, Cashiers, Food Counter Attendants, Light Duty Cleaners, and Janitor/Caretakers/Building Superintendents.
The big problem with a number of these occupations is that the wages are low. Recipients of the low wages soon see that it is difficult to survive in these occupations and often leave as soon as a better opportunity arrives. In the case of foreign workers, who among them, when presented with the truth, would want one of these jobs? Why should the Canadian public, through money spent by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, be initially subsidizing employers to bring in these workers? In the case of B.C., which recently announced special assistance for the province’s working poor, why should the Canadian public be later indirectly subsidizing employers who cannot afford to pay living wages to their workers? The Immingration Minister has to ask an important question: Should these employers even be in business?
Besides the major problem of the credibility of Mr. Solberg’s lists, a few additional issues have to be considered.
In the case of low-paying occupations, if Canadian workers see a flood of temporary foreign workers brought in, will that inflow perpetuate low wages in those occupations and a never-ending need for cheap foreign labour?
In the case of occupations which do pay well, will a flood of foreign workers discourage Canadians from taking the training necessary to get those jobs?
And what about fraud? Countries such as the U.S. have had human traffickers masquerading as employers. The traffickers advertised jobs which did not exist. Their primary intent was to get the applicants into the U.S. for a fee. The problem here is the public expense of not only going after the fraudulent “employers”, but of apprehending these “workers” and removing them.
Finally, there is the issue of ensuring that temporary workers leave. This can turn into a major expense for the public who have to pay the costs of apprehending and removing the over-stayers.
As critics have pointed out, importing foreign labour, whether it is cheap or well-paid, may produce benefits for some employers but can be very costly for the host population. Developing a solution in Canada is preferable to relying on large numbers of foreign workers.
Canada’s Immigration Minister has to stand up to the country’s immigration industry. Unfortunately, his precedessors have established a tradition of allowing themselves to be stampeded into doing whatever the immigration industry wants. It is time for him to break with that unsavoury tradition and to assert that his Department’s job is to serve Canada and its own citizens first.
END OF PRESS RELEASE
NOTE: The “Regional Occupations Under Pressure List” for Alberta and B.C. can be found at www.hrdc.gc.ca