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a beautiful photo of banff in what looks like fall with the mountain the background and buildings in the foreground

Foreign Workers to the Rescue: Rocky Mountain Businesses Seek International Talent

Businesses in popular tourist spots are hiring more temporary foreign workers to fill open jobs

Facing a shortage of workers caused by the pandemic, businesses in popular tourist spots in the Rocky Mountains have been given permission to hire more temporary foreign workers for low-wage jobs. That’s good news for businesses in Jasper and Banff.

A low-wage position is below Alberta’s provincial or territorial median hourly wage of $28.85.

Last year, Canadian employers were cleared to hire foreign workers under the federal Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program when qualified Canadians were unavailable.ers (TFW) program.

ince then, the number of approved positions for temporary foreign workers in these communities has jumped from previous years.

Last year, Canmore had 237 approved positions, which more than doubled the number in 2019. In the same year, the number tripled to 454 jobs from 141 in Banff.

“(It’s) kind of jaw-dropping…These numbers parallel some of the numbers we saw in the early 2000s, which is when the big temporary foreign worker boom was in Alberta and Canada,” Jason Foster, an Athabasca University professor, told CBC News.

a purple graph chart showing a sharp increase of tfw application approvals in 2022
Robson Fletcher | CBC News

The increase in approvals is significant, and some experts compare it to the boom of temporary foreign workers in the early 2000s. This trend is not limited to these communities or Alberta but is seen across Canada. Why?

In April 2022, the federal government raised the cap on hiring temporary foreign workers for low-wage positions.

The increased cap allowed businesses to hire up to 20% of their workforce from this program. However, sectors with labour shortages could hire up to 30% of their staff through the TFW program. 

The result was a 70% increase in the number of temporary foreign worker approvals in 2022 compared to 2019. 

The most common positions approved for temporary foreign workers in the Bow Valley, driven by tourism, include cooks, light-duty cleaners, and food-service supervisors.

This change is seen by some as necessary to address post-pandemic labour shortages, while others view it as a negative development for Canada’s economy.

Not Without Its Shortcomings

Businesses find the program appealing because it provides both labour and job security. Temporary foreign workers have work permits tied to specific employers, offering stability to companies.

For workers, the program offers an opportunity to gain experience in Canada and eventually apply for permanent residency. But some worry that tying residency prospects to low-wage service jobs puts workers in vulnerable positions.

For example, the prospect of permanent residency may prevent a foreign worker from disputing low wages or poor working conditions, according to Foster.

jun cacayuran with his arms crossed wearing a hat posing for a photo with shrubs and a tree in the background
Jun Cacayuran, the president of the Filipino-Canadian Community Association, who arrived in Alberta from the Philippines in 2013 as a temporary foreign worker | Paula Duhatschek | CBC News

What would you do to get permanent residency status if you came to Canada with your family for better opportunities? What would you endure to ensure a future for them?

“Workers are willing to put up with a lot in the hopes that they can land permanent residency…It’s just too easy for an unscrupulous employer to take advantage of this system without consequence,” commented Foster.

But the government claims to have strengthened protections for temporary foreign workers. Protections include open work permits for those experiencing abuse. 

Economist Mikal Skuterud argues against the TFW program and suggests that labour shortages encourage businesses to raise wages, offer benefits, and make jobs more appealing. 

Businesses are also more likely to hire people who have historically had a difficult time finding employment in the labour market, such as new immigrants and people with disabilities. 

Skuterud also suggests that labour shortages push businesses to invest in their current employees and employee training. 

The 30% hiring cap has been extended until October. It remains to be seen whether the temporary changes introduced during the pandemic will become a permanent feature of the TFW program.

Despite the uncertainty, there is cautious optimism among employers in the Bow Valley as temporary foreign workers and other employees have started arriving ahead of the high season.

The future of the TFW program is uncertain, but it is expected to continue playing a role in tourism-driven economies like Banff.

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