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Jason Kenney speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa September 18, 2012.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

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Jason Kenney may have left the immigration department, but he now has an even greater say over reforms to the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker program.

While the TFW program is widely viewed as immigration policy, it is in fact overseen by two departments: Immigration and Human Resources Development Canada, which Mr. Kenney now leads with a new title as Minister of Employment and Social Development.

It is the Human Resources department that arguably has greater responsibility over the program, which brings in foreign workers to fill short-term job needs.

Employers who use the program say it is desperately needed to fill both high- and low-skilled jobs. Critics see it as a government policy that suppresses wages and allows employers to avoid spending money on training for Canadians.

Before an employer can even approach the immigration department to bring in a foreign worker, it must convince officials at Human Resources that it can't find any Canadians to do the job. This process, in which Human Resources issues a Labour Market Opinion, is where the real policy questions are addressed.

Asking employers to do a more thorough hunt for Canadian workers, for instance, would fall under Mr. Kenney's new portfolio.

Given that Mr. Kenney has also retained responsibility for federal multicultural policy, the senior Conservative minister will still be front and centre on immigration issues – even though the immigration department is now the responsibility of rookie minister Chris Alexander.

That suits Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, just fine.

Mr. Kelly said the current tightening of the foreign worker program is largely a political response to controversy earlier this year over the Royal Bank of Canada's use of the program as part of an outsourcing effort. But Mr. Kelly said the public was largely reacting negatively to outsourcing and not necessarily to the foreign worker program.

The CFIB is planning to release a booklet later this month with individual stories of Canadian employers who rely on the program because they can't find Canadian workers.

The government is in the midst of reviewing the TFW program. It recently attracted controversy in June with proposed regulations that would allow Immigration and Human Resources officials to search workplaces without a warrant to ensure foreign workers are being treated fairly. More reforms are coming this year that will impose user fees on businesses and ensure that a language other than English or French cannot be used as a job requirement.

Mr. Kelly hopes that in time, further reforms will loosen the restrictions on the program once the controversy dies down.

"The history of changes to the program is there's a crackdown and then a loosening of the rules," he said. "It is very helpful to have Minister Kenney coming from Alberta... Employers in his own riding are desperate for workers so he must hear an earful."

In spite of the appeals from employer groups, the merits of the program remain hotly debated.

Earlier this month, a report by the University of Alberta's Institute for Public Economics questioned why the province is bringing in low skilled workers who have little chance of becoming citizens.

"The most serious question surrounding the use of temporary workers is whether their very availability has the effect of impeding appropriate action to deal with the domestic causes of skill shortage. As we move down the ladder to semi-skilled and unskilled labour it is increasingly difficult to muster compelling arguments to justify the use of TFWs," said the report, which calls on the province to phase out the use of low-skilled temporary foreign workers within five years.

Bill Curry covers finance in the Ottawa bureau.