Imposing fees on foreign workers as a precaution to safeguard Canadian jobs is a careless endeavour posing more harm than good to Canadian business.
The Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) was designed to help short-handed employers fill specific skilled positions. Last May however the CBC reported the Royal Bank of Canada was using the program to replace dozens of domestic employees with temporary foreign workers to save costs.
The federal government then gave the program a facelift to appease outraged voters. The solution was to impose a non-refundable, $275 application fee on employers who ask to hire an overseas worker. Ottawa claimed the cost would deter employers from abusing the system and filing an excess number of applications at the expense of the taxpayer, who previously covered those costs.
It’s a sound theory in principle. People, and by extension companies, won’t risk losing $275 unless they’re confident they both need that overseas employee, and that employee is the best candidate for the position. Unfortunately, this all started with a national bank who probably doesn’t think much about losing such a pitiful application fee. The revamped program was a knee-jerk, blanket solution to an embarrassing problem. And as we’re seeing in a resort town like Whistler, that blanket is riddled with holes, leaving small business in the cold.
Whistler businesses rely heavily on foreign workers, primarily through the working holiday visa program, although many businesses also use the TFWP to fill labour shortages.
Last May the director of Whistler immigration, Paul Girodo, told The Question he assists around 200 temporary foreign workers fill required positions in the resort each year.
“The (new) fees aren’t going to prevent unbecoming use of the program just because you’re increasing the cost to do this. The Royal Bank doesn’t care about the cost, and it’s really not the small employer with five to 10 employees that are running the scams.”
The Whistler Chamber of Commerce called the costs prohibitive to both small businesses in the resort as well as larger employers like Whistler Blackcomb. (WB was already in compliance with many of the new rules, specifically by paying foreign workers the same wage as Canadians; nonetheless, they will be asked to pay out roughly $30,000 a year in new application fees.)
The impacts these fees will create has upset a lot of Canadian communities, but news they’re targeting the romantic, touring musician has sparked a chorus of outcry. Is there any other vocation so beloved by so many — from the wine bars, to the nightclubs, to the mosh pits? But asking bars to cover a work-permit application for a travelling musician is laughable.
The restaurant and bar owners we spoke with this week are grappling with the implications of the fees, where they apply and how they’ll cope. Indeed, it the federal government must be reminded of what they’re trying to accomplish, and then ask themselves what purpose this will serve.
We do not believe there is a conspiracy against small business (or humble musicians), we just think this government really is that disconnected from the Canadian experience.