Temporary foreign workers in low-skilled jobs must start leaving Canada today

Temporary foreign workers in low-skilled jobs must start leaving Canada today
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander courtesy of michael_swan via Flickr

Thousands of temporary foreign workers are required to leave Canada today, as work permits expire for those who have been in the country for more than four years.

In 2011, the Conservative government set April 1, 2015 as the deadline for temporary foreign workers in low-skilled jobs to either become permanent residents or return home.

In Alberta alone, 10,000 temporary foreign workers have applied to stay in Canada.

Immigration Canada hasn't divulged the total number of workers who must leave today, but immigration and labour market experts have estimated tens of thousands are affected.

Richard Kurland, a Vancouver immigration lawyer, says temporary workers with legal representation have found ways to stay past the deadline with so-called bridging options that could lead to permanent residence.

But many workers can't use that approach, he says.

"The sad thing is that the victims are people unable to access bridging provisions that would have given them more time in Canada ... because a large number can't access immigration lawyers; they can't afford it," he said.

Vanessa Routley, a Toronto immigration lawyer, was critical of the deadline.

"The four-year limit deliberately and unfairly targets the lowest-paid and lowest-skilled temporary workers ... executives and engineers will not be affected," she said.

"Rather than offering these hard workers a pathway to permanent residence where they could continue the low-skilled jobs nobody else wants, the Canadian public has been sold a line that exchanging one legion of temporary workers for another every four years is a solution."

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Tuesday that the temporary foreign worker program "is putting Canadians first."

He added that "permanent residents have never been more numerous."

NDP MP Jinny Sims, however, says the deadline could force many workers underground.

She also called the federal government inhumane for failing to allow workers to stay in Canada while they're waiting to hear if they've been granted permanent residence.

"The Conservatives ignored all the warnings that their deadline was going to have unintended consequences and now some consultants have taken advantage of desperate temporary foreign workers, bilking them of their life savings while making false promises," she said in the House of Commons.

Several organizations, including the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, have called for an easier path to permanent residence and eventually citizenship for temporary foreign workers, especially those employed in provinces with labour shortages.

They warn that hotel rooms won't be cleaned and the lineups at fast-food restaurants will move a lot more slowly with fewer foreign workers.

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