We are constantly hearing that Canada is facing a shortage of workers and that we need to turn to immigration to satisfy the labour market needs of Canadian employers.
Two controversial cases this past winter concerning Chinese mine workers in Northern British Columbia and the Royal Bank's termination of domestic employees while outsourcing work offshore, garnered considerable media attention.
The government reacted by dramatically modifying its foreign worker program and making it tougher for employers to bring in foreign workers to Canada.
The standard way of bringing foreign workers to Canada requires an employer to make an application to Service Canada and to demonstrate that there are no suitably trained Canadians available to perform the work.
In assessing the application, a Service Canada officer must determine whether the foreign worker will have a neutral or positive impact on the Canadian labour market. If approved, the employer is issued a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) which is then used to apply for an individual work permit.
The LMO process is not a speedy one, taking generally two to three months or more. Largely as a result of the complaints from Canada's business community about lengthy processing times, last year the government introduced the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) which offered speedier 10 day processing standards for qualifying employers along with reduced wage rate provisions that permitted employers to pay wages for high skilled positions at up to a 15% reduction from average national wage rates so long as Canadian employees were also being paid wages for the same positions at the same reduced wage rate.
Another change is the new processing fee for LMO applicants. Employers now pay $275 per worker for an LMO application whether or not it is ultimately issued.
This provision was introduced not to generate revenue to process applications more expeditiously, but rather as a deterrent to employers seeking LMOs to bring in temporary foreign workers and to encourage employers to make greater efforts to both recruit and train Canadians in lieu of applying for temporary foreign workers.
At the same time, restrictions on language requirements were implemented. Previous regulations were silent on the subject of language. LMOs are assessed on the basis of whether bringing in the proposed worker is likely to have a positive or neutral effect on the labour market in Canada.
Job advertising requirements have also become more stringent and the necessary time period for advertising has doubled from two to four weeks.
Processing times for the LMO vary across the country but generally take between two to three and a half months. For employers this means they need to be forward-looking, budgeting for their work force on an ongoing basis and at least six months in advance of their anticipated needs.