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Canada Universities say foreign worker crackdown makes recruitment difficult

The Soldier's Tower stands over the University of Toronto campus in Toronto on Thursday, November 6, 2014. About 12 per cent of all University of Toronto faculty are from outside North America.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

Recent changes to the temporary foreign workers program aimed at slowing down the tide of low-skilled workers have made it more difficult for some Canadian universities to recruit international faculty.

And there is concern the impact could be more severe as the hiring season ramps up in the coming months.

Most of the changes the federal government made in June targeted low-skilled workers. They also capped the percentage of TFWs a business can employ. However, the changes also affected the recruitment of highly skilled workers. Universities now have to submit a transition plan with details of how they will reduce their reliance on temporary workers, and must explain why they did not hire the top Canadian candidates.

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(What is the temporary foreign worker program?Read The Globe's easy explanation)

Two applications from the University of Waterloo were rejected because the transition plans were deemed incomplete. Most universities are posting faculty vacancies now, and rejections could increase in the winter and early spring when job offers are made and applications for work permits submitted.

"If we are not able to come to a resolution on how the applications are being processed, this will continue to be a challenge for universities. We don't have an easy way to continue to bring in faculty who have been offered positions," said Rob Esselment, senior director of government relations at the University of Waterloo.

For years, universities have brought in highly qualified professors and researchers from abroad using the temporary foreign worker stream rather than the much slower process for permanent workers. As a result, academic institutions went through a labour market opinion process similar to that for hiring low-skilled workers, such as restaurant employees.

Once foreign faculty arrive, universities help them apply for permanent residence, meaning they use the temporary stream as a proxy for permanent entry.

Academics who were U.S. or Mexican citizens, held a major award – such as a Canada Excellence Research Chair – or were postdoctoral fellows did not need work permits. Now, even they face increased scrutiny. Under the relaunched International Mobility Programs, institutions hiring citizens of other North American countries will have to notify Citizenship and Immigration and pay a $230 fee.

"When the government introduced these changes, I think they had not intended to capture university faculty in the way it is being implemented right now," Mr. Esselment said. "The government has supported universities in attracting the best and brightest through several programs, they know we are in a global competition for talent and this is the unintended consequence of implementing the temporary foreign workers program."

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Universities are talking to the government and their MPs to find a resolution. In the meantime, they are trying to meet the requirements. About 12 per cent of all University of Toronto faculty are from outside North America.

"We need to ensure that we are doing our due diligence as we go along because we don't know as we go through hiring at the beginning if we are going to need to rely on the [labour market impact assessment]," said Sara-Jane Finlay, director of U of T faculty and academic life.

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