02/03/2015 12:19 EST | Updated 04/05/2015 05:59 EDT

Some temporary foreign workers in Alberta to get reprieve

Some temporary foreign workers in Alberta are getting more time to become permanent residents as they face a deadline for leaving the country.

The transitional measure will offer a reprieve to some employees in Alberta working in the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program as they wait for their permanent residence applications to be processed, Employment Minister Jason Kenney said in a letter to Conservative MPs obtained by CBC News.

The federal government introduced new rules last June barring employers from hiring low-wage temporary foreign workers in regions where the unemployment rate is above six per cent, and requiring employers to cap the number of foreign workers they hire at 10 per cent by 2016.

April 1 is the deadline for workers under the program who have been in the province since 2011 or earlier to leave the country in accordance with the new Labour Market Impact Assessment criteria.

"Employment and Social Development Canada will now provide a one-time exemption to these workers from being counted under the cap on low-wage workers imposed on employers provided they meet strict criteria," the letter says.

Additionally, Citizenship and Immigration Canada is providing a one-year bridging work permit to temporary foreign workers who are subject to the four-year cumulative duration limit.

"This should provide some relief to employers who have TFWs that have already applied for immigration and are in the queue waiting for for their applications to be assessed," the letter says. 

The reprieve only applies to workers who submitted applications to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program by July 1 last year and who hold a work permit that expires in 2015. 

There are 10,000 workers on the waiting list for residency, but because of the specifics of the Express Entry program, it is unlikely that many of them will meet the criteria for permanent residency​.

Alberta Federation of Labour reacts

"This is yet another example of the Harper government telling Canadians one thing and then turning around and doing something else to employers," Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. 

McGowan said this new plan from the Harper government is particularly "cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited" because they have tried to dress it up as an act of kindness to the thousands of TFWs who face the prospect of deportation as soon as April 1.

"The sad truth is that most of the low-skill TFWs in question will never qualify for permanent residency under the federal government's Express Entry program because it has a point system that gives preference to workers with high skills and high levels of education," McGowan said.

The AFL has repeatedly called for the phasing out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, especially in low-wage sectors, because it is driving down wages and blocking the first rungs on the job ladder which traditionally have been filled by young workers, seniors and new immigrants.

"This isn't an act of kindness towards anxious TFWs; it's all about making it possible for low-wage employers to hold on to more easily exploitable TFWs for another year," said McGowan.

The TFW program came under intense scrutiny following a series of stories last year by CBC Go Public's team that outlined alleged abuses of the program by several employers.

- Below is a letter to Conservative MPs from Kenney outlining the changes for some temporary foreign workers in Alberta. On mobile? Click here.