10/29/2013 03:32 EDT | Updated 10/29/2013 03:32 EDT

Temporary Foreign Workers Admissions Up 18% In 2 Years


The federal government has boosted the number of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) allowed into Canada, even as the governing Tories promised a crackdown on the contentious program.

According to data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), there were 124,017 admissions to Canada under the TFW program in the first six months of this year. That’s an increase of about five per cent from the same period in 2012, and up nearly 18 per cent since the same period in 2011.

The increase in TFWs took place as the Harper government repeatedly announced it is tightening the program's rules, following an outcry this spring over laid-off workers at RBC being asked to train their replacements, some of whom came to Canada on TFW permits.

However, the new rules came into effect after June, so the numbers for the first half of this year don’t reflect the government’s changes.

Among the changes to the program, the Harper government eliminated the “15-per-cent” rule that allowed employers to pay temporary foreign workers 15 per cent below the prevailing rate for a given job, as long as the employer had paid Canadians that rate as well.

The government also announced it would be charging a $275 fee for companies applying for a TFW permit.

In an email to HuffPost Canada, a CIC spokesperson stressed the program is carrying out an important function in the economy.

“Canada is experiencing significant skills shortages in many sectors and regions, but Canadians must always have first crack at job opportunities when they become available,” CIC said.

Some recent studies have challenged the notion that Canada is experiencing a labour or skills shortage any worse than what is usually the case.

BMO economist Douglas Porter noted earlier this year that one-quarter of Canadian firms are reporting labour shortages — lower than the 15-year average of 35 per cent.

What’s more, for today’s seven per cent unemployment rate, that share of firms reporting shortages is especially low,” Porter wrote.

But many industry groups say businesses rely on the TFW program to fills gaps in employment.

The new restrictions placed on the program “will make it even more difficult for small businesses to fill their labour needs,” the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said.

A recent study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy said the TFW program carries out an important function in the economy, but the number of foreign workers admitted should be capped, as the program could grow too large and threaten Canadians' livelihoods.

Also on HuffPost

Photo gallery The Worst Jobs In Canada See Gallery