Canada opens up work permits to families of foreign workers in effort to fill labour shortage

OTTAWA — The federal government is making it easier for temporary foreign workers to bring their families with them to Canada.
At an event in Edmonton on Friday, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced that starting in January, people applying for temporary work permits would also be able to bring their families with them, something previously not permitted in most cases.

“This is going to allow more than 200,000 workers who have family members in Canada, or that will be coming to Canada to continue to be with their loved ones, and work while they’re here to support themselves,” he said.

The program will run for two years and allow spouses and adult children of people in Canada on work permits to receive permits of their own.

Temporary foreign worker programs are divided primarily into high skill and low wage streams, with jobs that pay below the median hourly wage in a given province falling into the low-wage stream.

Fraser is planning to expand the ability of foreign workers to bring their families in three phases.

Some workers in the high skill group have been able to bring their spouse, but the change announced Friday will allow most people in that group to bring their families with them, starting as early as January.

People in the low-wage stream will be added next, which includes workers in the hospitality, tourism and some health-care positions.

The last phase in Fraser’s proposal would target agricultural workers, who make up the largest share of workers in the program. He said the process will include consultations with provinces, which play a role in the program by inspecting worker housing and setting other standards.

The latest Statistics Canada numbers released in September show that at the halfway point of this year there were nearly one million vacant jobs across the country, with postings in health care, hospitality and tourism especially difficult to fill.

The agency said in June there were nearly 150,000 jobs in food services and accommodations left unfilled as the summer tourism industry got underway.

Fraser said he doesn’t have firm timelines, but he hopes to move quickly.

“My appetite is to move as quickly as possible.”

The minister said that Canada is dealing with a major labour shortage and that a lack of workers could be one of the biggest challenges to the country’s post-pandemic economic recovery.

“Our GDP today is much higher than pre-pandemic levels, and this summer the rate of unemployment in Canada was at its lowest level ever,” he said. “It’s very important that we tackle the challenges before us, the labour shortage, if we’re going to make sure that businesses are set up for success.”

Fraser said the government had lifted the cap on the number of hours international students could work and also tweaked immigration programs to select immigrants in key sectors, but more needs to be done.

He acknowledged there have been issues around housing and that employers could raise wages to bring in workers, but he said not expanding the program would mean leaving thousands of jobs unfilled, hurting businesses who employ many Canadians.

“The decision not to expand its nature is a decision not to do that what we know is possible to respond to a labour shortage, which is routinely cited by employers as the number one challenge,” he said.

He also said it is a question of fairness for foreign workers, who shouldn’t have to be separated from their families to make a living.

“People who are here making a contribution to Canada’s economy don’t have to make the tough decision to be apart from their children and their spouse when they do so.”

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