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Opinion: International workers fight historic low unemployment rate

'North Bay is full of them and they are ready to serve you at our fast-food restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores, retail outlets, seniors’ homes and elsewhere. Without them many local employers would be out of business'
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Talk to a North Bay employer about his business and the conversation will turn very quickly to the major issue: not enough workers to fill the jobs.

One employer I spoke with recently said he has five installation crews, but needs about three more. Another said he can’t get mechanics. Another told me he needs at least five labourers, but can’t find them.  Welders, cooks, food and beverage servers, you name it. All those jobs are in demand locally.

But here’s the thing. The worker shortage is Canada-wide.

The national unemployment rate is now 4.9 per cent, the lowest it has been in more than 40 years.

Employers have no choice but to hire temporary foreign workers to fill the void. But it’s a cumbersome process and some choose to maintain the status quo rather than deal with the bureaucratic red tape involved with hiring.

To prove there are no Canadians or permanent residents ready, willing, and able to do the job, they have to go through the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process, which costs the employer $1,000 per worker in fees paid to Service Canada.

Before applying for an LMIA the employer has to advertise the job for four weeks on at least three different job boards, with the Canada Job Bank being one of the three. Then the employer has to interview those who qualified and document why they were not hired.

The LMIA form is detailed and the employer has to provide copious financial information about her business. Once the form is completed and all the attachments are gathered it can be completed online. Listed processing times are 40 business days for high wage positions (above the provincial median wage) and 58 days for low wage positions. From personal experience, it does not take as long as that, but it’s not fast, either.

Once approved, the employer has to find a qualified temporary foreign worker, if he hasn’t already, and the worker has to apply for a work permit through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Another delay.

That’s likely why some employers don’t bother.

Many do, however. A Globe and Mail story on August 11 reported that in the first three months of 2022 44,200 temporary foreign worker positions were approved by the federal government. That’s the highest number in at least five years.

The article notes that, as usual, farms were the biggest source of labour demand, with nearly half of all approvals in the first quarter, some 20,592 positions.

Cooks were second at 2,100, then greenhouse workers at 1,992, food service supervisors at 1,684, fish plant workers at 1,658, transport truck drivers at 1,473, harvesting labourers at 757, labourers in food and beverages at 753 and construction helpers at 605.

At present there are approximately one million vacant jobs in Canada, so the demand for temporary foreign workers is not going to drop anytime soon.

The TFW program has its share of critics. Unions say it suppresses wages. Others, such as Andrew Griffith, say it does not deal with productivity, loosely defined as economic output per hour worked.

I know Andrew through our collaboration with New Canadian Media, and he has a sharp mind and follows immigration issues very closely. A retired director-general with IRCC, he has a daily blog on immigration that I read religiously.

“How’s this really helping productivity?” he asks in the Globe piece. “The government is making it easier for them to bring in more workers and just keep doing the same thing with more labour, rather than trying to really invest in productivity.”

He has a point. Look at dairy farmers. They struggled for years to find people to milk their cows and then invested in robots to do it.

That certainly helps productivity, but does little to increase employment. I can see both sides of the argument.

Another immigrant cohort employers are relying on more and more is international students. They are legally allowed to work 20 hours per week while in school and full-time during scheduled study breaks. North Bay is full of them and they are ready to serve you at our fast-food restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores, retail outlets, seniors’ homes, and elsewhere. Without them, many local employers could be out of business.

My conclusion is that with the lowest unemployment rate in more than 40 years, employers need help and temporary foreign workers and international students are coming to the rescue.

Editor’s Note: Don Curry is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant living in North Bay and is a member of Bay Today’s community advisory committee.

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Don Curry

About the Author: Don Curry

Don Curry is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant and president of Curry Immigration Consulting and a former journalism instructor
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