OTTAWA — A House of Commons committee is calling for sweeping changes to the controversial temporary foreign workers program, including a faster path for citizenship for those with long-term work permits.
The report from the Liberal-dominated committee says existing rules force foreign workers who have already integrated into Canadian society and established personal and professional roots to leave Canada because they can't secure permanent residency status.
The committee's report calls for the end of the so-called cumulative duration rule, which forces workers to wait four years before receiving a new work permit if they have been in Canada for a total of four years.
Temporary foreign workers sort and grade cherries at the Jealous Fruits plant near Kelowna, B.C. on Aug. 19, 2014. (Photo: John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail via CP)
Employers complain that, during the wait, experienced employees they have trained take their skills to other countries and don't return to Canada.
The committee's report says migrant workers should have greater pathways to permanent residency.
The government has already hinted that is interested in finding a way to do this and the committee calls on federal officials to speed the processing of residency applications and change rules within the program to make it easier for international students or those on fixed contracts to qualify for residency.
Conservatives on the committee raised concerns in their dissenting report that this proposed new pathway would be abused, because migrant workers would have a faster path to citizenship than if they applied through the traditional route.
The NDP said it is concerned that the committee didn't recommend that the pathway be available to all migrant workers, instead of only those filling a permanent labour shortage: ``All workers who come here and support our economy with their labour deserve the opportunity to stay.''
The opposition parties say the committee's study was rushed and that many witnesses never had the chance to speak. Their dissenting comments attached to the main report make it clear that they believed the government didn't do a thorough job of reviewing the program and that it was a public relations move to make the Liberals look like they were taking action on the beleaguered program.
The previous Conservative government introduced controversial changes to the program in 2014 with an eye towards lowering the number of temporary foreign workers being brought in and reducing abuse within the program.
The changes have continued to be the subject of complaints, including about a seeming lack of enforcement that the committee wants the government to correct. The report calls for a review of enforcement and monitoring to close loopholes in employer compliance.
The Alberta Federation of Labour expressed disappointment with the report, saying the recommendations failed to live up to the Liberals' campaign promises to fix what was wrong and rein in the program.
Federation president Gil McGowan said the report shows the government is intent on making it easier for employers to bring in migrant workers.
"This is the worst kind of political bait and switch,'' McGowan said. "They promised Canadians one thing and they're giving them the exact opposite,''