07/16/2014 11:09 EDT | Updated 09/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Temporary foreign worker reforms raise ire of film, TV industry

Representatives of Canada's film and TV industry met with Immigration Minister Chris Alexander in Vancouver Wednesday to discuss recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The Canadian Media Production Association​ and the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of British Columbia representatives say the reforms have lumped them into the same category as employers who hire foreign low-skilled workers in the fast-food industry.

Foreign actors and directors who want to film in Canada are also being subject to a $1,000 fee per worker and a 15-day waiting period to obtain a work permit, under new rules unveiled by the federal government at the end of June.

Shawn Williamson, the president of Brightlight Pictures in Vancouver, which produces such shows such as Fox's Witches of East End, told CBC News if U.S. movie stars and their directors can't come to Canada quickly enough, then they risk losing their business to other countries.

"We only have so many days to prep and so many days to shoot. And if we can't facilitate permits within that period of time, it will make it very challenging for them to greenlight shows coming to Canada."

Williamson said while the $1,000 fee required to hire a foreign worker is perceived as "a cash grab," the primary concern is the delay in having a work permit issued for foreign workers who in turn hire hundreds of Canadian crew to work on their sets.

"What we're looking for is some sort of a fix that will allow us to go back to a two- to three-day turnaround...I'm confident that the government will see the financial benefit," Williamson said.

But speaking in Vancouver to gathered journalists, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said the reforms should actually make the process of acquiring a work permit for foreign workers quicker.

"In those cases where there is a real need that Canadians can't be found to fill, the service will actually be faster than ever," said the minister.

"Our reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program have been broadly well-received. People want us to ensure that Canadians across the country have first crack at available jobs and that wasn't happening before the reforms."

Alexander emphasized that this was the first wide-ranging, deep reform of these programs in a long time.

"So there are some issues of adjustment and people need to understand what the new rules are, what the new service standards are.

"We're listening to stakeholders across the country to make sure the system works and these reforms work as intended," he said.

Musicians exempt

The federal government recently allowed foreign musicians who want to perform in Canada for a limited time to come here without the need for Canadian employers to pass a Labour Market Impact Assessment to prove the need to hire a foreign worker over a Canadian one, saving them time and money.

The change means "that musicians performing at restaurants and bars will be treated no differently than ones performing at arenas and stadiums," according to Alexis Pavlich, spokeswoman for Alexander. She added that the goal was to make sure the regulations didn't negatively impact Canadian performers.

Christian Allen, the chair of the Commercial Production Association of Western Canada, told CBC News he would try to convince Alexander the new rules are hurting the film industry.

"The film industry needs full exemption just like the bands," said Allen, who is also the owner of The Capital Media Company, a production service company based in Vancouver.

Peter Leitch, the chair of B.C.'s Motion Picture Production Industry Association, told CBC News the exemption for musicians shows the government is willing to accommodate "the uniqueness" of certain industries.

"I think they recognized that one size doesn't fit all."

Leitch doesn't think the government intentionally set out to target Canada's TV and film industry when it overhauled the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

"We understand why they wanted to implement a program like this but I think we're one of the unintended consequences."

Leitch said he hoped the problem would get resolved when he met with Alexander and Employment Minister Jason Kenney.

"We've written to both of them and we're meeting with both of them. We've got upcoming meetings and we're looking forward to that dialogue and discussion... We believe that we'll find a solution together," Leitch said.

Toronto, Montreal will also feel impact

Both Williamson and Leitch said it's a national problem and that the TV and film industry in Toronto and Montreal is also feeling the pinch.

BillSkolnik, the CEO of the Directors Guild of Canada in Ontario, told CBC News they too are worried the new restrictions will turn away foreign actors and directors.

"We're concerned that since it's highly competitive as to where locations shoot, where motion pictures come and where TV shows shoot, that it'll be another added issue and they'll say we're not going to go there."

Skolnick said he is aware of two shows that may be impacted by the new rules.

A petition posted on, a web site that provides a platform for people to start campaigns, is also calling on the federal government to make an exemption for foreign workers in the film production industry.

As of Wednesday evening, 2,728 people had signed the petition that says: "We collectively ask that you drop the $1,000 permit fee and 15-day wait period required by actors and directors to come and work in Canada."