That, in the opinion of the House, the government should develop and publicly release within 120 days following the adoption of this motion a comprehensive plan to expand pathways to permanent residency for temporary foreign workers, including international students, with significant Canadian work experience in sectors with persistent labour shortages, and such plan should incorporate the following elements:
(a) amending eligibility criteria under economic immigration programs to give more weight to significant in-Canada work experience and expand the eligible occupational categories and work experience at various skills levels;
(b) examining evidence and data gathered from recent programs such as Temporary Resident to Permanent Resident Pathway, Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP), Rural and Northern Immigration Program (RNIP), and Agri-Food Pilot, and Provincial Nominee Process (PNP);
(c) incorporating data on labour market and skills shortages to align policy on immigrant-selection with persistent labour gaps;
(d) assessing ways to increase geographic distribution of immigration and encourage immigrant retention in smaller communities, as well as increase Francophone immigration outside Quebec;
(e) identifying mechanisms for ensuring flexibility in immigration-selection tools to react quicker to changes in labour market needs and regional economic priorities; and
(f) specifically considering occupations and essential sectors that are underrepresented in current economic immigration programs, such as health services, agriculture, manufacturing, service industry, trades, and transportation.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to members today regarding my private member's motion, Motion No. 44, on expanded pathways to permanent residency for temporary foreign workers.
I have to say that it came as quite a surprise to be chosen first overall in the private members’ business lottery last fall. In fact, I was in the government lobby when the member of Parliament for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne came in and said I was number one. Then everyone under the sun started yelling and calling my family to tell them that I won the lottery. Anyhow, my wife is still waiting for the cheque to arrive and I think she will be waiting for some time.
I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all those individuals and organizations that reached out and shared their important ideas for possible bills and motions with me. I did not take this decision lightly, and I hope that this motion will make a meaningful impact in the lives of families and communities, not just in Surrey Centre, but across the country from coast to coast to coast.
Motion No. 44 would address ongoing challenges with our immigration system, filling critical gaps in our labour market by creating more accessible pathways to permanent residency for temporary foreign workers. Since I was elected in 2015, a constant theme in my office has been seeing employers in need of employees. Employers from a wide variety of sectors, including agriculture, transportation, manufacturing and more, are desperate for employees to fill persistent gaps in our labour market.
I wanted to do something that helps the Canadian economy and our small and medium-sized businesses fill employment gaps and live up to Canada’s reputation as a country with a nation-building immigration policy. The goal of our immigration system is to support economic growth by bringing people to Canada.
Canada’s population is aging and domestically we have a low birth rate. Some estimate that by 2030 our population growth will come exclusively from immigration. We are already seeing evidence of this with statistics from 2018 and 2019, which show that immigration was responsible for the employment growth across the country. Currently, immigration accounts for almost 100% of Canada’s labour force growth and 75% of Canada’s population growth, which is mostly in the economic category.
One thing is clear from my experience as a member of Parliament over the last six years: Canada needs workers and Canada needs immigration. By making permanent residency more accessible to more individuals who have devoted time and energy and made sacrifices for the benefit of our communities and our economy, we will help our country flourish and grow.
Our government, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and IRCC work hard to address the challenges faced in our immigration system. With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, those challenges were exacerbated. However, despite the difficulties we faced and continue to face in this pandemic and rapidly changing world, we have seen improvements and increases in our immigration numbers.
Last December, IRCC announced that we had surpassed our target of welcoming 401,000 immigrants or new permanent residents in 2021 as part of the 2021–23 immigration levels plan. This is the highest number of newcomers welcomed to Canada, surpassing the previous record set in 1913.
What is the temporary foreign worker program? I am sure most members in this chamber are very familiar with the temporary foreign worker program through work in their constituency offices. The temporary foreign worker program is an important and essential part of Canada’s immigration system. It allows Canadian employers to open temporary jobs to foreign workers when Canadians are unable to fill the positions.
My constituency office in Surrey Centre receives a staggering number of these files each year. My team estimates that we work on an average of 250 to 300 temporary worker files annually. Many of these requests are from local businesses and employers who are desperate to fill persistent labour shortages in our community.
Employers wishing to hire temporary foreign workers go through a rigorous process of completing a labour market impact assessment, also known as an LMIA, to find out the potential impact that temporary foreign workers would have on the Canadian labour market. The LMIA consists of assessing the regional and occupational labour market information and the employers’ efforts to recruit and advertise for the position, as well as working conditions, wages, labour shortages and the transfer of skills and knowledge to Canada.
Canada approved 550,000 temporary foreign worker applications in 2017. Despite this seemly large number of individuals coming to Canada each year as TFWs, it is not enough, and we need to do more to find employees to fill job vacancies.
According to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration’s June 2021 report, “Immigration Programs to Meet Labour Market Needs”, there are several sectors and regions in Canada experiencing labour shortages. Immigration policy, as it stands, is not meeting the needs of the labour market. Health services, agriculture, manufacturing, service industries, trades and transportation are particularly vulnerable to being under-represented in our current economic immigration programs.
The COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the beginning months, exposed the delicate nature of our temporary foreign worker programs. Thousands of TFWs stepped up to make sure our seniors received care, trucks kept moving, grocery stores were stocked and restaurants stayed open. Many faced delays renewing their permits. They were uncertain of their status and uncertain if they would remain employed. However, they remained steadfast and helped to keep our country moving and functioning.
In its report, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration urged IRCC to make more accessible pathways to permanent residence available in order to prevent the abuse of foreign workers with the precarious status of out-of-status individuals.
Temporary foreign workers are hard-working individuals. They face the risk of exploitation and challenging work environments, and are important contributors to the communities they live in. Unfortunately, for all the risk they face, and the hard work and sacrifices they make for our community and economy, they do not receive adequate reward for their efforts, in my opinion.
Another persistent obstacle faced by temporary foreign workers and their employers includes the need to renew every two years. This means that employers and workers have to go through the process frequently. Employers must make new LMIA applications and advertise extensively. Once they receive approval, which can take months, they have to get the employees to apply for new work permits, which takes months again, adding to uncertainty and stress as many TFWs do not know if they have medical benefits or whether their children can attend school until their approvals are processed. This process is repeated several times, as those who this motion wishes to address have no pathway to permanent residency.
TFWs also face challenges to qualify for permanent residency. Despite their valuable contributions to our communities and economy, and great employment records over a number of years working in this country, obstacles like a lack of higher education and low language testing scores put TFWs at a disadvantage. This can be more frustrating for temporary foreign workers and their families as their language and skills are sufficient for the work they do, but not enough to grant them permanent residency. They may have working language skills, but not a high enough IELTS score. They may have a class one driver’s licence to drive long-haul trucking, but only a grade 12 education and therefore may not meet the requisite point score. Imagine the frustration of both the employee and employer when a person is good enough to do a job, but not good enough to become a permanent resident of this country.
Many of the industries I have mentioned today fall under NOC levels C and D. This is the national occupational classification system, which classifies jobs based on the type of job duties and the work a person does. NOC level C jobs are intermediate jobs that usually require high school and/or job-specific training, such as long-haul truck drivers or food and beverage servers. Level D consists of labour jobs that usually give on-the-job training, such as fruit pickers, cleaning staff and oil field workers.
NOC levels C and D provide some options for pathways to permanent residency. During the pandemic, our government introduced the temporary residence to permanent residence, TR to PR, pathways. These were created to help admit immigrants during the pandemic. Alternatively, NOC level C and D recipients can apply through the provincial nominee program, which allows Canadian provinces and territories to create their own immigration programs tailored to their economic and population growth strategies. There are also a variety of other regional and industry-specific programs, such as the agri-food pilot and the rural and northern immigration pilot program.
These pathways exist, but we need to do more. We need to add immigration programs that are going to meet our present and future economic needs. Thinking about the pandemic and the challenges Canada faced to get workers into the agriculture industry in the early months, we need to work towards creating a more agile immigration system that can respond quickly to changing situations.
When we look more closely at individual industries, such as the agriculture industry, for example, we can see the real strain that labour shortages are creating. This year, I saw blueberry farmers who normally hand-picked a large portion of their berries forced to machine-pick their crops as there was a huge shortage of farm workers.
Similarly, the heat wave that swooped over B.C. ripened cherries from southern B.C. to the Okanagan at exactly the same time, causing a massive labour pinch. Everyone needed workers at the exact same time. Processors had to increase their workforce due to the increased demand, however with COVID travel restrictions, it became difficult to get much-needed workers in a timely manner.
The agri-food pilot was introduced more than three years ago. To be eligible, individuals require at least 12 months of full-time, non-seasonal Canadian work experience in an eligible occupation and an English or French language proficiency of at least a CLB level 4, as well as a high school education.
The agri-food industry is more than just food production. It includes all aspects of getting food from the field to our tables, and includes delivery and sales, which are a big part of this $111 billion a year industry. This is more than 6% of Canada’s GDP. It also creates 2.3 million jobs.
Keeping all of this in mind, with my private member’s motion No. M-44, expanded pathways to permanent residency for temporary foreign workers, I am asking that should this motion be adopted, our government develop and publicly release a comprehensive plan to expand pathways to permanent residency for temporary foreign workers within 120 days. This should include international students with significant work experience in sectors with persistent labour shortages.
I ask that the eligibility criteria be amended under the economic immigration programs to give more weight to significant in-Canada work experience and expand the eligible occupational categories and work experience at various levels. I am also asking that language requirements be relaxed. These workers have been able to conduct their work in a manner satisfactory to their employers and Canadian workplace safety standards; therefore, they should be considered sufficient to be permanent residents of Canada.
This plan should also examine evidence and data gathered from recent programs such as TRPR, the Atlantic immigration program, the rural and northern immigration pilot, the agri-food pilot and the provincial nominee program. It should also incorporate this data on labour markets and skills shortages to align policy on immigrant selection with persistent labour gaps. These programs and data will provide important region- and industry-specific data to align policy with the diverse needs across our country to ensure appropriate geographic distribution of immigration and encourage immigrant retention in smaller communities. We are a country of not only geographic diversity but also linguistic diversity. This plan should also find ways to increase francophone immigration across Canada.
While we continue to upgrade our immigration system, we have a lot of work to do keep up with the demand. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed shortcomings in our ability to adapt quickly to the rapidly changing world. That is why identifying mechanisms for ensuring flexibility in our immigration selection tools to react more quickly to labour market needs and regional economic priorities is important.
Finally, I am asking for our government to consider specific occupations and essential sectors that are under-represented in the current economic immigration programs, such as health services, agriculture, manufacturing, the service industry, trades and transportation.
We know the growth and stability of our communities and economy rely on the work and dedication of immigrants coming to this country. We need to continue to create mechanisms in our systems to ensure that Canada is an attractive and accessible place for temporary foreign workers to call home.
I hope I can count on members' support for Motion No. M-44, expanded pathways to permanent residency for temporary foreign workers. I look forward to the remainder of the debate today.