What is a temporary foreign worker? A foreign national in Canada working is a ‘temporary foreign worker’.
A company interested in hiring a foreign worker would apply for a Labour Market Opinion (LMO). The Canadian Government Body Service Canada handles these applications and assesses the impact a foreign national would have on the local labour market. A positive or neutral determination would result in an approval for the company.
Part of this assessment is an examination of wages offered by the company to foreign workers. An approval, at the least, stipulates that the employer pays ‘equal or greater wages’ to what locals would be receiving in the same position and location.
A recent immigrant should not to be confused with a temporary foreign worker. Recent immigrants have the authorisation to remain in Canada permanently and at some point will presumably become a Canadian citizen.
The Social Insurance Number of a temporary foreign worker will always begin with a ‘9’. If companies are unsure about a new hire, this is one indicator that you can leverage to then legally ask “can I see your work permit please?”
How to determine the wage threshold
Approximately one year ago, the wage employers were required to pay foreign workers could be best described as the ‘average wage’, a calculation factoring in market research and based on the arithmetic mean. Recently this has changed – Service Canada is now requiring a company to match the median wage of the position. Some would argue that the median is more accurately indicative of the reality of the test group at hand, while others would point out that the median skews the reality, especially when comparing a workplace of hundreds of unionised workers to a workplace of six non-union workers.
Once that first step of applying through the LMO is approved (processing times vary by region from one month to four months), the selected foreign worker for employment must seek approval from Citizenship & Immigration Canada. This is done at the Canadian Embassy based in the workers’ country of residence. For example, a South African welder living in Hungary would apply through Vienna, Austria, for admission to Canada to work.
Bringing workers in
There is a list of countries whose citizens do not require visas to travel to Canada. Workers from these countries can apply at the port of entry for admission as a worker. While this may pose some risks, it is an option that companies should consider, but not without a good understanding of potential ramifications for the individual and the variations in assessment.
With some exceptions, officers representing Citizenship & Immigration Canada at offices abroad will be assessing the foreign applicant’s medical condition, work experience, criminal past (more appropriately, a lack thereof) and general background. Interviews are often a part of the process. Approval rates to work in Canada vary based on country, from a 10 per cent approval rate in Cambodia (2008 statistics) to a near perfect approval rate in Iceland. Timelines for assessment also vary, from less than one month in Rome to 12 months in the Philippines and 24 months in Singapore (as at the time of writing).
Looking deeper into consultants
Most provinces in Canada prohibit charging a fee for finding employment. Citizenship & Immigration Canada and Service Canada is well aware of this. If approached by a company providing workers for ‘free’, some questions need to be asked. For semi-skilled workers, the minimum responsibilities of the company are to cover airfare and recruitment fees. For skilled workers, airfare is not required, but covering recruitment fees often is.
Balancing provincial with federal law can be confusing in this area, but it is best to err on the side of caution.
The licence required to provide any sort of immigration services is highly regulated. One must hold an immigration consulting licence or be a lawyer in order to provide these services. In fact, the regulations have tightened to the point that Human Resource departments are not allowed to provide any immigration advice or services unless they hold a licence to do so. This law has been in existence for more than one year, but the education of the general public is still in process. A quick ‘Bill C-35’ search online will provide the appropriate information.
It is important for companies that are unsure of the requirements to seek advice. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of Canada, ignorance is no excuse. Foreign worker recruitment is a complicated process that can take several months from start to finish. It can involve as many as three layers of government over two countries, and it is important to remember that the decisions made can deeply affect the lives of the foreign workers to be employed.