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EDMONTON ALBERTA, APRIL 30, 2012. Temporary foreign worker David Beattie,left, from Scotland and Thomas Sutton from England take a break from working on the construction of a new police station in Edmonton, Monday April 30, 2012. In Alberta's stretched labour market, some employers have had to turn to overseas labour. (Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail.Jason Franson/The Globe and Mail

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The ballooning use of temporary foreign workers in Canada suggests a growing rootless class of employees, but a deeper examination of the data shows increasing numbers of these visitors are ultimately finding a permanent home in this country.

The rate at which temporary foreign workers are earning permanent resident status each year in Canada has close to doubled over the last decade, Citizenship and Immigration department records show. That's the first step to becoming a Canadian citizen.

In 2002, 9,518 temporary foreign workers obtained permanent resident status. That amounts to 8.6 per cent of the total number of temporary foreign workers who entered Canada that year (110,616).

In 2011, 29,908 temporary foreign workers became permanent residents. That amounts to 15.7 per cent of the total number of temporary foreign workers who were admitted to this country that year (190,842).

This, in fact, is the Harper government's preferred way to recruit new Canadians. "It makes sense to select more immigrants from people already here and working in Canada, instead of from overseas," Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland says. Those already working and paying taxes here, with a place to live "have minimal settlement and integration costs."

Where the temporary foreign worker program has failed is when it's being used to bring in low-skilled labour with little to offer Canada except another set of hands. "It all went off the rails when it became acceptable to bring in a lot of people to work in doughnut shops and hamburger joints. That was never the intended design," Mr. Kurland said.

The Conservatives have made it easier for highly skilled temporary foreign workers to cross the bridge into permanent residency. They created a new program in 2008, the Canadian Experience Class, which has taken off. This program intends to accept up to 10,000 permanent residents in 2013 – up from 7,000 in 2011 and 2,500 in 2009.

It's the low-skilled temporary foreign workers – the doughnut shop staff – who have a harder time finding the on-ramp to Canadian citizenship. The Canadian Experience Class program isn't designed for them. Their best hope is to find a provincial nominee program where provinces pick applicants for permanent residency and may be more lenient when screening for skills.

More than half of temporary foreign workers are visitors who have no illusions about the short length of their stay. Mr. Kurland says about 100,000 are "working holiday" visitors who are young people from places such as Western Europe and Australia picking up service jobs at places such as Whistler, B.C. Then there are seasonal agriculture workers, largely from Mexico, who are here to work on farms and pick fruit and vegetables.

Steven Chase is a parliamentary reporter in The Globe's Ottawa bureau.