Changes to the temporary foreign worker program has made hiring foreign labour more difficult and costly — especially for lower-skill, lower-wage positions most often seen in agriculture.
And while primary agriculture gets some exemptions under the new rules implemented in June, the big challenge is red tape, says an immigration consultant who works with farms and feedlots in Alberta.
And the only way to work around that red tape is to “cover your butt,” said Cassandra Conacher, owner of Mosaic Canadian Immigration Consulting in Lethbridge.
“With the changes, we saw a recognition of an acute labour shortage in the agriculture industry, albeit just in primary agriculture,” said Conacher.
“But Service Canada is going through a period right now where it’s trying to work things out after the changes, and it definitely doesn’t make it any easier.”
Since June 20, the forms for high-skilled labour have changed four times, while those for low-skilled labour have changed three times, she said. In one case, a client of hers submitted forms in the morning, and during the course of the day, the forms changed and had to be redone.
- More from the Alberta Farmer Express: Déjà vu all over again at Alberta’s largest meat-packing plants
“There are changes happening, and there’s no announcements on the website,” she said.
“The rules and procedures seem to change on a regular basis, and these changes are not being publicized.”
Conacher recommends taking screenshots of the rules on the program website the day an application is submitted.
“It may seem excessive, but that has been a godsend for me on many occasions just to prove that, at the time we applied, we did it right under the rules at that time.”
Inconsistent decision-making is also holding up applications, she said. One feedlot operator was contacted by a program officer to clarify an item on his application, and during the course of the conversation, it came up that workers would be required to purchase and ride a horse to check pens.
“The officer said, ‘Your job ad didn’t say that was a requirement. You’re going to have to go back, re-advertise, and then we can come back to this,’” said Conacher.
The employer made the changes, reapplied, and “the officer came back and said, ‘It’s a little excessive that you put in your ads that you need a horse,’” she said.
“It’s very frustrating when we see that kind of inconsistent decision-making.”
Another company wanted to switch two low-skilled workers to high-skilled positions to recognize their years of service. With only nine employees in total, the company was exempt from the 10-person program cap.
The application was shredded, and the company was told that it needed to fill out a “cap application” because it was adding two new people. The company resubmitted the application, citing that it was cap exempt.
“As of today, the application has been shredded three times for the same reason, and now the MP is involved,” said Conacher. “Unfortunately, what I’m finding is we’re oftentimes having to resort to getting an MP involved. It seems ridiculous that it has to get to that point.”
Applications are being shredded for “something as simple as forgetting to put in a fax number” on a job ad, she said.
“One of the frequent complaints I get from employers is that they had their application sent back because they were missing something minor in their job ads,” she said. “It’s just red tape.”
Blanks on the application forms are another no-no, said Conacher.
“If you’re leaving a blank in the application form, put ‘not applicable,’ or if you’re exempt from something, put ‘exempt,’” she said.
“It seems ridiculous, but you don’t want to have your application shredded three times.”