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Politics Ottawa to relax foreign worker rules at universities

New Employment and Social Development Minister Pierre Poilievre stands in the House of Commons in Ottawa February 4, 2014. An agreement struck this week between postsecondary institutions and the federal government will give schools flexibility in how they meet new rules imposed in June on employers looking to hire high-wage workers

Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

Universities have persuaded the federal government to relax new rules on how they hire temporary foreign workers that they say made it more difficult to recruit global academic talent.

An agreement struck this week between postsecondary institutions and the federal government will give schools flexibility in how they meet new rules imposed in June on employers looking to hire high-wage workers. Schools will no longer have to submit a plan on how they will transition jobs filled by highly paid foreign workers to Canadian citizens. Instead, universities and colleges will report to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), their national organization.

"I think that the government recognized that there are broader public policy objectives here: that universities can continue to meet their teaching and research needs, and to ensure that they can attract new knowledge and expertise from around the world," said Christine Tausig Ford, vice-president and COO of the AUCC.

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Universities are the only sector that will be allowed to be self-governing in meeting some of the requirements of the temporary foreign worker program. In most cases, universities receiving TFW permits to hire foreign academics are actually planning to employ them in permanent jobs – the TFW program is simply a faster way to bring professors or researchers to Canada than the federal skilled workers program.

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

"Academic specialties can be very specific [and] that flexibility of being able to hire from around the world is important, as are the global connections that academics make," Ms. Ford said.

The changes to the temporary foreign worker program introduced in June primarily affected low-wage labour, but the government also added regulations for "high-wage" jobs, those paying at or above the median provincial wage.

Employers offering those positions must now have a transition plan in place if they hope to receive a positive labour market impact assessment. The agreement between the AUCC and the government means that universities and colleges can choose not to file that transition plan with the federal government.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, they will still have to submit information about any Canadians who applied for the positions.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story did not specify that only universities are able to use some self-governing mechanisms to satisfy requirements of the temporary foreign worker program.

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