The Globe and Mail: Canadian universities urge Ottawa to relax foreign worker program rules

Canadian universities urge Ottawa to relax foreign worker program rules

By Simona Chiose

Canadian universities have used the temporary foreign worker program to recruit for approximately a quarter of their new permanent jobs over the last five years, federal government statistics provided to The Globe show – and schools are urging the government to relax new rules they say are hurting their ability to recruit internationally.

An agreement is close, postsecondary sources said.

“Right now we have a government that has made a decision to protect Canadian workers, which is what we all agree is what we want,” said Cathryn Sawicki, a partner at Baker & McKenzie, who advises universities on immigration matters.

“However, when it comes to certain positions in the corporate sector or in the academic world, having international experience and skills can only enhance our competitiveness.”

The changes introduced in June were aimed at responding to criticisms that the temporary foreign worker program allowed employers in low-skilled industries to choose to hire more compliant, foreign labour over local candidates, even in areas of high unemployment. Measures included caps on the number of temporary foreign workers companies could hire.

Yet the government also added regulations for “high-wage” jobs, those paying at or above the median provincial wage. That has affected highly skilled areas such as universities and colleges.

“We are continuing to talk to find solutions that recognize both the federal government’s objectives and the universities’ needs and mandate to recruit top academic talent from around the world,” said Christine Tausig Ford, vice-president and CEO of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

Universities turned to the TFW program because it has provided a faster, more accessible avenue to hiring foreign academics than the federal skilled workers program, which imposed caps by occupation, including in jobs as university professors.

“The issue is that you are trying to bring talented researchers and academics to Canada and government is generally supportive of that. The universities were caught up in changes that I think were unintended consequences,” said Brent Cameron, a managing partner at Vancouver executive recruitment firm Boyden Canada who helps universities recruit senior academics and administrators.

Under changes introduced in June, employers offering high-wage positions must have a transition plan for how to shift jobs to Canadian residents. They can also choose to show that they will help a TFW employee become a permanent resident. Yet some universities have had applications for labour market impact assessments (formerly labour market opinions) rejected when they indicated that temporary faculty would become permanent.

“You are looking at a culture where people feel they are part of an international community. Why shouldn’t they hire internationally? They have trained internationally, they collaborate internationally, they publish internationally,” said Frances Woolley, a professor of economics at Carleton University who has written on academic hiring in her own discipline.

From 2009 to 2013, 471 to 643 positive labour market opinions (LMOs) were awarded annually by Human Resources and Skills Development. Ontario and Quebec institutions accounted for more than half of the LMOs, while Alberta and B.C. together had approximately a fifth each year. Between 271 and 456 college and vocational instructors were also hired each year during that same period. Data were available for only half of 2014.

In 2011, the last year for which the number of new faculty hires is available, approximately 2,000 new full-time professors were appointed across the country, according to the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

It is not entirely clear how many positions are covered by the LMOs granted to postsecondary institutions. Questions have been raised about the accuracy of all TFW data and, according to the government, one application for a labour market opinion can be submitted for any number of positions in the same occupation. In addition, employers can apply to hire foreign temporary workers before extending employment offers. University human resource sites at the major research schools surveyed by The Globe and Mail, however, show that universities generally apply to hire a foreign worker only after an employment offer has been negotiated.

Visiting professors, postdoctoral fellows, recipients of research awards and U.S., Mexican and Chilean residents can work in Canada without applications for labour market impact assessments being submitted.

Published in The Globe and Mail February 6, 2015. Read the original article here.