The Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program is the Canadian government's primary means of helping employers address immediate skill and labour shortages. As labour tensions continue to mount across industries, Canadian employers have been making use of this program to fill a growing number of vacant positions.
In 2006, over 112,000 temporary workers arrived in Canada, making up 42 per cent of all new temporary residents. In December 2006, the total population of temporary foreign workers in Canada was nearly 171,000, a 122 per cent increase over the past ten years.
The 2007 Canadian federal budget allocated $50.5 million over two years to the TFW Program, aiming to more efficiently respond to regional labour and skill shortages and reduce processing times for applications. Online application systems will be improved and lists of occupations with known labour shortages will be maintained. Additionally, to protect temporary worker rights, a system will be developed to ensure employer compliance with the TFW.
In Alberta, demand for foreign workers has increased by 400 per cent between May 2006 and May 2007. In December 2006, Alberta was home to 22,392 temporary foreign workers - outnumbering the 20,717 immigrants admitted as Permanent Residents in 2006. This marks the first time in history that the number of temporary workers has exceeded the annual number of people admitted to a province through the Canadian immigration system.
To respond to this dramatic increase in temporary foreign workers, the Alberta government is working with the federal government to strengthen protection measures for temporary workers. In early July, the two parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding to share information and ensure that the terms and conditions of the TFW program are fulfilled. This is the first time that the federal government has cooperated with a provincial government to enforce human rights protection measures. To further support temporary workers in Alberta and to give them a voice, the Office of the Temporary Foreign Worker Advocate was established in early May. Since its opening, the Advocate has assisted dozens of workers from the Philippines, Mexico, India, Romania, and several other countries.
Though not a permanent solution to Canada's dwindling workforce and aging population, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is helping to solve current labour problems and maintain Canada's vibrant economy. For foreign workers, it is also acting as a stepping stone to Canadian permanent residence.