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Court backs Husky oil executive's bid to get visas for his Nepalese servants

Since he left his native Nepal 13 years ago, Shyam Thapa Chhetri has spent his entire adult life working with his brother Shalik as domestic servants at the home of a telecom executive in Delhi, for $130 to $186 a month.

Now their employer is trying to get the brothers to come with him as he runs a major oil company in Calgary.

Asim Ghosh, the chief executive at Husky Energy Inc., has successfully gone to court to force diplomats at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi to reconsider their initial decision to refuse the Chhetris temporary work visas.

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The case has shone a light into the world of temporary workers, a category of newcomers whose arrival has now outpaced permanent immigrants in Alberta, raising union fears that Canada is becoming a country of guest workers.

If the Chhetri brothers eventually get their visas, they are to come to Canada to keep Mr. Ghosh's house clean, wash and iron clothes, cut grass and shovel snow, and prepare meals in either of the Bengali, Uttar Pradeshi or southern styles of Indian cuisine.

Visa officers in Delhi were concerned that the brothers wouldn't leave Canada after their work visas expired. But a Federal Court ruling last July ordered the applications to be reviewed again.

In Canada, the Chhetris would earn 13 times more than in Delhi, though accommodation won't be included so they would have to face Calgary's housing market on $28,537 a year. (They are to be paid $13.72 an hour, with 10 weeks of paid vacation and medical and dental benefits. Alberta has an annual minimum wage of $21,492 for domestic employees.)

To justify their hiring, Mr. Ghosh obtained a labour market opinion (LMO), a federal government document certifying that no Canadian was available to fill the Chhetris' jobs.

"These guys will likely do very well for themselves. Typically, a fellow like this is looking for continuity," said Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.

Mr. Kurland, who has advocated for temporary workers, said many others are not so lucky and languish in poorly paid jobs with little oversight or legal recourse.

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The issue is especially topical in Alberta, home to nearly a quarter of Canada's temporary foreign workers. Nearly 43,000 of the 113,000 LMOs issued last year by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada were for Alberta.

Hiring temporary employees is supposed to be a tool of last resort, but looser federal rules have allowed employers to fast-track foreign workers into Canada, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said.

Because Mr. Ghosh has employed the brothers for more than a decade, it is unlikely that their stay in Canada will be temporary, Mr. McGowan argued. "The federal government's Temporary Foreign Worker program has completely gone out of control," he said.

Still, Mr. Ghosh had trouble persuading consular staff to let him bring his servants to Canada.

After successfully managing Vodafone Essar Ltd., India's second-biggest telecom firm, Mr. Ghosh was named Husky chief executive in June of last year, earning an annualized salary of $1.2-million.

By October, he had obtained a favourable LMO for his two domestics. The following month, visa officers rejected the Chhetris' applications. Officers said the brothers had weak ties to Nepal and suspected that the huge salary hike would lead them to stay in Canada.

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The Federal Court, however, ruled in July that the wage gap shouldn't disqualify the two men. Earning more is "the very reason for coming," Mr. Justice Donald Rennie said.

While "a yellow flag was reasonably raised" by the visa officer, the case deserves a second look, the judge ruled.

Mr. Ghosh will not comment on the case, a Husky spokeswoman said.

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About the Authors
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

Carrie Tait joined the Globe in January, 2011, mainly reporting on energy from the Calgary bureau. Previously, she spent six years working for the National Post in both Calgary and Toronto. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Saskatchewan. More

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