CALGARY - The federal government is no longer allowing employers linked to the sex trade to hire strippers, escorts and massage parlour workers from outside the country.

"Frankly this should have been done a long time ago," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

"Why would we grant visas to girls that we have a strong suspicion are going to end up under the thumb of a criminal gang being exploited and trafficked? We're not going after the women — we're protecting them from what they might not know will happen to them when they get to Canada."

Effective immediately, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada will issue negative labour market opinions for all applications from employers linked to the sex trade, effectively preventing them from hiring temporary foreign workers.

Also, as of July 14th, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will no longer process new work permit applications from temporary foreign workers intending to work for sex-trade-related businesses.

Kenney said those at highest risk of being exploited are young women, with poor language skills, who are likely to come from Asia or Eastern Europe expecting they will make their fortune when they come to Canada. He said Canada issued about 180,000 permits for foreign workers last year and estimates a "very small percentage" of those ended up working in the sex trade.

Kenney said that's a far cry from the hundreds of exotic dancers that were allowed in during the previous Liberal administration — "many of whom ended up in the sex trade being controlled by organized crime. It was known as the Liberal stripper program."

In 2004, then-immigration minister Judy Sgro was criticized for granting a temporary residence permit to an exotic dancer who had volunteered for her election campaign.

Kenney said there will be some exceptions. Properly certified therapeutic masseuses who are working in clinics will not be affected.

The new restrictions will apply to other businesses if there is a heightened risk of abuse or exploitation of workers.

"We know that human trafficking is a growing aspect of organized crime worldwide, including in Canada," Kenney said.

"The victims of human trafficking, who are mostly women and children, are denied a normal life and compelled to provide labour or sexual services through a variety of coercive practices, for the profit of their controllers."

The measure is part of the government's plan to combat human trafficking.

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  • New York City

    New York City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito places a child's shoes onto a stack children's shoes, used as a symbol for child sex trafficking, during a protest rally outside the Village Voice on Thursday, March 29, 2012 in New York. A coalition of religious and civic leaders demanded that the Village Voice stop running their adult classified section. The protesters say the section is being used by sex traffickers peddling underage prostitutes. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

  • New Mexico

    This undated photo provided by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King

  • Kinshasa, Congo

    A 12-year-old prostitute cries in a medical center in Kinshasa, Congo, on Nov. 7, 2010, after she was stoned by another child prostitute. More than 20,000 children live in the streets of Kinshasa, a city of about 10 million. About one-third have been accused of witchcraft and rejected by their families -- a recent development in a society being undermined by poverty. (Photo credit: Gwenn Dubourthoumieu/AFP/Getty Images)

  • England

    A newspaper advertising board outside a corner shop in the Lancashire town of Rochdale, England, after nine men were arrested for child sexual exploitation on Jan. 11, 2011. Greater Manchester Police arrested nine men as part of an investigation into sexual exploitation and questioned them on suspicion of rape, inciting child prostitution, allowing premises to be used for prostitution and sexual activity with a child. (Photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

  • Guatemala City

    Firefighters help rescue a prostitute after she became trapped in a tunnel from an offensive against human trafficking at the Super Frontera bar late on April 21, 2012, in Guatemala City. (Photo credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images)

  • United Kingdom

    Undated handout composite image issued Tuesday May 8, 2012, by Greater Manchester Police showing eight of the nine men who have been convicted for luring girls as young as 13-years old into sexual encounters using alcohol and drugs, top row left to right, Abdul Rauf, Hamid Safi, Mohammed Sajid and Abdul Aziz, and with Bottom row left to right, Abdul Qayyum, Adil Khan, Mohammed Amin and Kabeer Hassan. The nine men aged between 22 and 59 are convicted of charges including rape, assault, sex trafficking and conspiracy and will be sentenced Wednesday May 9, 2012 at court in Liverpool, England. The ninth man in the group, a 59-year-old man cannot be named for legal reasons. (AP Photo / Greater Manchester Police)

  • Thailand

    On Aug. 18, 2009, a bar girl waits for customers outside a bar in Sungai Kolok in Thailand's southern province of Narathiwat. The sun hasn't set, but already the music is pumping and the disco ball is rolling in the Sumtime Bar, where Malaysian men are enjoying the drinks and women available on this side of the Thai border. (Photo credit: Madaree Tohlala/AFP/Getty Images)

  • China

    Chinese police watch over a group of massage girls suspected of prostitution during a June 21, 2011, raid in Beijing, part of a vice crackdown ahead of celebrations for the founding of the Chinese Communist Party 90 years ago. Rapid social and economic changes have made China "prone to corruption." and the ruling Communist Party faces a major challenge stamping out deep-rooted official graft, an official said on June 22. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Bangladesh

    A Bangladeshi sex worker takes an Oradexon tablet in a government-registered brothel in Faridpur, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) outside Dhaka on June 20, 2010. Whenever Bangladeshi brothel owner Rokeya, 50, signs up a new sex worker, she gives her a course of steroid drugs often used to fatten cattle. For older sex workers, tablets work well, said Rokeya, but for younger girls of 12 to 14 -- who are normally sold to the brothel by their families -- injections are more effective. (Photo credit: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Paris

    A man demonstrates with prostitutes and members of the Union of Sex Workers on June 2, 2012, at Paris' Pigalle square, asserting their rights to work with dignity and respect. (Photo credit: Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nicaragua

    Wendy, a Nicaraguan sex worker and member of NGO Girasoles Nicaragua (Nicaragua Sunflowers), waits for clients on a street in Managua on April 18, 2012. (Photo credit: Elmer Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Virginia

    In this Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011 photo, Holly Smith, 33, looks out form her porch after talking about her experiences when she was caught up in a child sex trafficking ring during an interview in her home in Richmond, Va. A new report says 41 states have failed to adopt strong penalties against human trafficking, and advocates say a patchwork of differing state laws makes it difficult for authorities to target the crime. Smith said a man at a mall promised her a job after she ran away from home at age 14. She said she was swiftly brought to a motel where two adults gave her a dress, put makeup on her face and dyed her hair.