Canada Approved Record Number of Foreign Worker Permits in 2021, Feds Say

Canada Approved Record Number of Foreign Worker Permits in 2021, Feds Say
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough at a news conference in Ottawa on Aug. 20, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press).
Peter Wilson
The Department of Employment said in a briefing note that it distributed a record-high number of foreign worker permits in 2021 despite auditors warning that increasing immigration in the workforce would displace Canadian jobs.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and department staff said in the note titled “Labour Market Impact Assessment Processing” that Canadian employers had a greater need for migrant workers during the pandemic than ever before, according to the documents obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter.

“The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has processed a record high number of files,” read the note. “Employer demand for the program has significantly increased given the impact of the pandemic on the labour market.”

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program allows Canadian employers to fill job vacancies with foreign nationals. The program saw its biggest hike prior to the pandemic in 2018, when over 17,000 applications were processed—representing a 36 percent increase from the previous year.

From March 2021 to March 2022, the number of foreign worker permits processed in a single year increased by another 22 percent, according to the briefing note.

Some provinces saw larger migrant labour hikes than others. In Quebec, the number of applicants to the foreign worker program increased by 55 percent in 2021.

The number of unprocessed applications was almost equally large, said the Employment Department, with over 11,700 Canadian employers who applied for foreign labour permits still awaiting a reply.

“The program has seen a significant increase in demand,” read the briefing note.

Qualtrough’s department maintained that the program still gives precedent to hiring Canadians over foreign workers.

“The program is designed to be responsive to the Canadian labour market by ensuring Canadians and permanent residents are first considered for available jobs,” read the briefing note. “The program aims to strike a balance between protecting the Canadian labour market, informing employers of their obligations and protecting workers once they arrive.”

Lower Wages for Canadians

A report by Qualtrough’s department last year suggested that an increase of migrant workers could lead to Canadians earning lower wages and possibly losing their jobs in certain sectors

“Some key informants pointed out that the program demonstrates some risk for wage suppression in specific sectors, occupations and regions,” read the 2021 report entitled “Evaluation Of The Temporary Foreign Worker Program.”

“An expert panel discussion related to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the labour market noted that the temporary foreign workers concentrate in specific regions and occupations. The impact of the program may be significant in those sub-labour markets,” it read.

The report said that “low-wage or low-skilled occupations” are most at risk because migrant workers could be “willing to work for lower wages than what a Canadian or permanent resident would consider acceptable.”

Agriculture, trucking, the food industry, and seasonal work—like construction and landscaping—were listed as examples of sectors most at risk of foreign workers displacing Canadian jobs.

The report also noted that migrants were willing to work for lower wages than Canadians in certain industries.

Surveying Atlantic fish and seafood processing plants, the report said that employers who hired temporary foreign workers paid a lower average hourly starting wage than those who did not. For instance, Atlantic shellfish processing plants that hired foreign nationals paid their employees an average of $1.82 less than plants with only Canadian workers.

The report also surveyed a number of Canadian employers who consistently hire temporary foreign workers and discovered that a majority of these employers “have developed a preference” for migrant employees in general.

Over 70 percent of the surveyed employers said that foreign workers are “more reliable,” “more likely to stay with the organization after being hired,” and “more hard-working.”