The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science, and Technology (SCSAST) has recommended that Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) stop issuing closed work permits.

The committee’s report reviewed the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which was established in 1973 to help Canadian employers fill urgent job vacancies when no qualified Canadians or permanent residents were available. Originally intended as a last resort, the TFWP has become a central component of the Canadian labor market.

Standing committees like the SCSAST investigate and research issues affecting Canada, presenting their findings to the government. The Senate, Canada’s upper parliamentary house, serves an investigative and legislative role

How the TFWP Works
The TFWP has become a key pathway to permanent residence for many newcomers, offering valuable in-country work experience for applications to programs like Express Entry’s Canadian Experience Class. Employers must obtain a positive or neutral Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) before hiring foreign workers, proving that no Canadian or permanent resident is available for the job. Once an LMIA is secured, it is shared with the foreign worker for their work permit application to IRCC. Employers must provide support, including housing and healthcare, and ensure fair wages and safe working conditions.

Work permits under the TFWP are typically closed, meaning the employee can only work for one employer. Exceptions exist in cases of employer abuse.

Improvements for Employers and Employees
The SCSAST report highlights several criticisms of the TFWP, noting that it often fails both employers and workers. Employer-specific work permits can make migrant workers vulnerable to abuse and restrict employers’ flexibility to move or promote workers. The Cooper Institute also reports frustrations among employers, especially with seasonal workers, regarding training and planning challenges due to the transient labor force.

Phasing Out Closed Work Permits
To reduce temporary foreign workers’ vulnerability, the SCSAST recommends phasing out employer-specific work permits within three years. The Cooper Institute supports this, suggesting permanent resident status for all migrant workers to ensure equal treatment and better protection of labor rights. Many IRCC-funded settlement services are inaccessible to TFWs, disadvantaging them in adjusting to life in Canada.

The SCSAST suggests replacing the current TFWP with sector or region-specific work permits, which could benefit employers by distributing administrative responsibilities and costs to a regional authority.

Improving Communication
The SCSAST report calls for better communication within the TFWP, noting inconsistent information sharing among departments, lack of data organization, and insufficient communication of workers’ rights. The report recommends establishing a Migrant Work Commission, including a Commissioner for Migrant Workers and a Commissioner for Employers, to serve as a single contact point for abuse reports and rights advocacy. The commission would also collect and analyze data on migrant workers’ experiences and their role in the labor market.

Additional recommendations include improved pre-arrival information for TFWs, more unannounced workplace inspections, and expanding the Provincial Nominee Program to allow more temporary and migrant workers to become permanent residents. The government has 150 days to respond to or explain the lack of response to the committee’s report.


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