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Politics Ottawa's measures to restrict hiring of temporary foreign workers come into force

Temporary foreign worker David Beattie, left, from Scotland, and Thomas Sutton from England take a break from construction work in Edmonton in April 2012.

Jason Franson/The Globe and Mail

New measures to promote the hiring of Canadians over temporary foreign workers are now in force, including a $275 user fee for each application to recruit from overseas.

Reforms introduced by the Harper government will also restrict the languages that can be listed as job requirements in hiring foreign workers to English and French.

The new rules, including an obligation to more widely advertise jobs for Canadians first, took effect July 31.

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The government first announced the changes in the 2013 budget. The impetus for the government's changes to the program was the fall, 2012, revelation that a company planned to import as many as 200 Chinese miners to work a proposed project in northeastern British Columbia.

These reforms "help ensure that Canadians are first in line for available jobs," Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney said. "These improvements help ensure the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is only used as intended – to fill acute skills shortages on a temporary basis."

The $275 user fee for Canadian employers wishing to hire a temporary foreign worker is expected to cut the number of applications to import employees by about 30 per cent. The charge covers the cost to the Canadian government of processing applications to import workers.

Employers habitually apply to bring in many more foreign staff than they actually hire, Ottawa says, and so federal funds were being used to scrutinize applications that never resulted in overseas hires coming to Canada. In 2012, for instance, 60 per cent of approved applications to bring in temporary foreign workers were never used.

This charge will "ensure that taxpayers no longer pay the cost of processing employer applications for temporary foreign workers," Mr. Kenney said.

Foreign seasonal agricultural workers, however, are exempt from this fee.

The restriction on language requirements – English and French – can be eased in rare circumstances where employers can demonstrate that workers need to speak third languages for positions such as tour guide or translator, the government said.

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New advertising requirements basically double the amount of time employers must advertise jobs to Canadians first and expand the area over which they must broadcast availability of these jobs.

Revised applications to hire foreign workers now ask employers questions that are geared to determine if the overseas hires are facilitating the "outsourcing of Canadian jobs."

The reforms come after the government made it easier for employers to recruit temporary foreign workers in recent years. A total of 446,847 foreign workers came to Canada in 2011, including agricultural workers, more than double the levels of a decade ago. The program is now heavily used across all sectors of the economy, from fast-food restaurants and hotels to oil-patch firms that say they can't find enough Canadians to fill vacant positions.

The expanded use of the program has courted controversy. Many businesses say they rely on temporary foreign workers to fill positions that Canadians won't, while economists have cautioned that the program's growth dampens wages and acts as a disincentive for both on-the-job training and labour mobility.

The federal government sees the reforms as rebalancing competing imperatives: labour shortages and the need to give Canadians the first crack at jobs.

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