Thousands of temporary foreign workers lose chance to stay in Alberta

BY SHEILA PRATT,

EDMONTON JOURNAL

EDMONTON – Thousands of  temporary foreign workers hoping to stay permanently under Alberta’s special nominee program lost their chance this fall.

The province announced last month wait times of more than two years in some categories to process applications for the 5,500 spots — and by that time any two-year work permits will have expired, making those workers’ applications invalid. “People are shocked because many were told about the provincial nominee program when they were deciding whether to come to Alberta,” said Marco Luciano of Migrante, a TFW advocacy group.

“Thousands have already lost their chance, and (other) people are in a very precarious situation because of the delay in processing applications.” Jobs Minister Ric McIver acknowledged the “tremendous interest” in the nominee program, where employers put forward workers for permanent residency. More than 10,000 applications are in the queue.

“We’re advocating for more spaces because we need them,” McIver said Monday, adding he’d like the federal government to double Alberta’s yearly quota under the program. “We’ve got temporary workers filling permanent jobs.”

McIver noted there is “time sensitivity” to the issue because by next spring, thousands of TFWs who arrived in 2011 will be scheduled to return home when their four-year contracts expire.

McIver said he will be discussing with federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney “a number of different scenarios” to meet the spring crunch, with the goal of turning many more TFWs into permanent Alberta residents. “Why not? Like good Canadians, these people are working hard, paying taxes, contributing to society and staying out of trouble,” McIver said.

“That’s going to require some cooperation” on the part of both levels of government, he added.

The spike in applications for the nominee program started in 2013, said Oghio Ikhalo, a spokesperson in Alberta’s Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Department.

For workers who arrive after Sept. 1, 2014, the wait time to hear if an application is approved is 25 months in the skilled and semi-skilled categories, the latter including the food industry. The wait is 18 months in manufacturing, 15 months in trucking and 14 months for postgraduate workers, many of whom are on 12-month work permits. The department also announced it will no longer consider applications on a first-come, first-served basis, said

Ikhalo. Instead, the department wants to spread the applicants “fairly” across all sectors of the economy, he said.