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Local employers face crunch

David Gutierrez came to Canada from the Philippines to work. And now he’s not allowed to do that.

Gutierrez is the manager of the Subway restaurant in Pictou, and arrived here six years ago under the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

But changes to the program made by the Canadian government are forcing him to sit idle while he waits to see if he can stay in the country.

“Right now he’s in limbo,” said Greg Burrows, the general manager of the four Pictou County Subway locations. “But there’s a little glimmer of hope.”

Under the changes, the workers are allowed to stay in Canada for no more than four years, and because Gutierrez has been here for longer than that, as of Wednesday, he’s no longer able to work here.  

April 1, 2015, was the deadline set by the Conservative government for temporary foreign workers in low-skilled jobs to either become permanent residents or leave the country.

The rules governing temporary workers are complicated, but essentially, to stay in the country Gutierrez needs a nomination from the province to allow him to get an extension on his work permit. In order to get that, he needs a Grade 12 diploma or equivalent. He currently has been assessed as having a Grade 11 and partial Grade 12.

Gutierrez has applied for a student visa so he can stay in Nova Scotia, obtain his Grade 12 education and then hopefully receive the provincial nomination.

Burrows said they’re hoping Gutierrez will find out within a week or two whether his student visa has been approved.

If his application is approved, he will be able to work part-time, and full-time in the summer only, until he receives his Grade 12.

Burrows began using the temporary foreign worker program six years ago to fill a void he found when trying to hire people to work at his restaurants.

“We had a shortage of people skilled to work in the food industry,” he said. “They’re doing jobs Canadians don’t want to do and helping us out.”

He hired many workers under the program, with the rest meeting the requirements to stay and work at Subway.

Burrows believes the program worked well before the changes were made. “It lessens the turnover and has created a positive atmosphere.”

Like Burrows, Stirling MacLean of WearWell Garments was having difficulty finding workers. He used the temporary foreign worker program at his Stellarton clothing manufacturing company because he also had difficulty finding local workers.

He’s hired 16 people from the Philippines to work at WearWell over the past four years. Some of them have gone through the provincial nominee program, but he has one worker who will have to leave by the middle of April because she’s been in Canada for four years.

“The program is still there – it’s just been restructured. But they make it very difficult for people who were using it.”

What bothers MacLean the most about the whole situation is that the program was changed because of some abuse that occurred. He said rules were in place to follow and any abusers should have faced consequences instead of reorganizing the program. “Why didn’t they just fix the problem instead of painting the whole country with one paint brush? It was a good program.”

He believes this will be even more difficult under the changed rules because now any temporary foreign workers who come to Canada are only allowed to stay for one year.

“It doesn’t give them enough time to get settled here or get into Canada through the provincial nominee program. They’re just getting settled and they have to leave. It’s going to affect how things go in the future.”

MacLean explains the workers he hired under the program helped solidify his workforce. “It worked out great. They bring in speed, efficiency and work ethic. Really the whole plant has seen quite a transformation by bringing them in. We’re very happy to have them.”

The province has a shrinking, aging population and a lot of outmigration to the west, so MacLean believes bringing people here who want to work is a good thing.

“They shop, spend money and pay taxes. What’s wrong with that?”

Burrows said Nova Scotia needs immigrants and this was a good way to bring them here, and he hopes to see the program restored. “Hopefully the government changes it back and realizes there can’t be one blanket for everybody. This person is an asset to Canadian business.”




Facts about the Temporary Foreign Worker Program:

The program was created in 1973 to allow employers to hire specific, highly skilled foreign nationals, such as academics, business executives and engineers, to fill gaps in their workforces on a temporary basis. 

In 2002, the low-skill pilot project was put in place to enable employers to hire temporary foreign workers in low-skilled occupations such as food counter attendants.

On June 20, 2014, the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development, and the Honourable Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, announced a comprehensive overhaul of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

The reforms cover three key areas: reorganizing the TFWP to offer greater clarity and transparency; restricting access to the TFWP to ensure Canadians are first in line for available jobs; and stronger enforcement and tougher penalties.

The Conservative government set April 1, 2015 as the deadline for temporary foreign workers in low-skilled jobs to either become permanent residents or leave the country after changing the rules in 2011.

Source: Government of Canada

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