Canada overhauls foreign worker rules, citing abuses

The foreign worker program would now be used ‘as a last and limited resort’

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Canada's jobs minister unveiled stricter rules for hiring temporary foreign workers Friday after allegations of widespread abuses by employers, such as sidelining Canadians for jobs.

The changes are meant to ensure the foreign worker program is used as intended "as a last and limited resort to fill acute labor shortages on a temporary basis when qualified Canadians are not available," Employment Minister Jason Kenney said in a statement.

The new rules include more job site inspections, fines of up to Can$100,000 (US$93,000) and jail for employers who abuse the program. Also, the amount of time a temporary foreign worker can remain in Canada has been halved to two years.

Temporary foreign workers will no longer be allowed to apply for low-skilled, low-paid jobs in restaurants, hotels or retail stores in areas where unemployment is higher than six percent -- which is most major cities across Canada.

The latter is meant to encourage hiring of Canadian youth, who as a group are struggling with high unemployment.

Ottawa took action after receiving hundreds of complaints about employers including a trucking firm, restaurants such as McDonald's, and even banks searching abroad for people to fill jobs in Canada that could have gone to Canadians.

In some cases, Canadians said they lost their jobs to foreign workers.

Kenney reserved particular scorn for the fast-food industry, saying he was "really ticked off" to learn that Canadian applicants were not even considered in some cases, or that new franchises were opened in areas where employers then claimed they could not find local workers to hire.

"That is clearly an abuse," he said. "You can't build your business model" around hiring temporary foreign workers.

The foreign worker program was started in 1973 to bring foreign academics, engineers and other highly-skilled workers to Canada to fill gaps.

The number of foreign workers in Canada jumped to more than 300,000, or 1.5 percent of the total labor force, as it was expanded over the past decade to include low-skilled workers.

The restaurant industry suddenly rose to become the top employer of temporary foreign workers last year, before being briefly blacklisted by the government over abuses.

The new rules will not apply to farm workers or nannies.