03/12/2015 11:54 EDT | Updated 05/12/2015 05:59 EDT

Temporary foreign workers forced out by 'four in and four out' rule: advocate

A change to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that comes into effect on April 1 should be scrapped because it would force an exodus of migrant workers in B.C., says an advocate.

In 2011, the federal government introduced legislation known as the "four in and four out" rule. Previously, temporary foreign workers who came to Canada under the low-skilled stream could reapply to continue working for their Canadian employer.

When the new rules come into effect in a few weeks, migrant workers will only be allowed to work for a maximum of four years in Canada, after which they will be forced to leave the country. They must then wait another four years before they can apply for another work permit.

Elise Hjalmarson, with Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture, is petitioning against the regulation. Hjalmarson calls the new rule "legislated unemployment" for foreign workers in Canada.

"I think if you're good enough to work here, you're good enough to stay," she told Radio West.

"Ultimately, we want to live in a society where everyone has equal access to rights, where we don't have an underclass of workers that are constantly looking over their shoulder, that they're worried that they're going to be legislated out of a job."

While migrant farm workers who come to B.C.'s Okanagan region under the seasonal agricultural program won't be affected by the change, others who come under the low-skilled stream will, Hjalmarson said.

She said approximately 80,000 temporary foreign workers work in B.C., and she believes thousands of them will be impacted by the new rule.

The federal government has granted a one-time exemption to temporary foreign workers in Alberta who are already waiting for their permanent residence applications to be processed. Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney has said Ottawa is willing to extend similar measures to other provinces.

To hear the full interview with Elise Hjalmarson, click on the audio labelled: Migrant advocate says temporary foreign workers being legislated out of a job.