Canada has witnessed in recent years an exponential rise in the number of temporary foreign workers.  The rise has been so significant that there are now approximately half a million individuals in Canada working under temporary work permits.   

Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the system governing the entry of temporary foreign workers, has come under increasing scrutiny as the number of temporary foreign workers has increased.  Specifically, various labour groups across Canada have pointed to what they view as exploitation of foreign workers by unscrupulous individuals and organizations.

Governments at both the provincial and federal levels have put in place a wide range of legislation to address the potential abuse of foreign workers.  A good example of such protection is Alberta’s Fair Trading Act and accompanying Employment Agency Business Licensing regulations.  The Act and regulations make it clear, for example, that recruitment agencies are prohibited from charging fees to individuals who they are assisting in finding work.  The legislation specifically provides that any person who violates this rule can be fined $100,000.00 or three times any amount illegally received, and imprisoned for up to two years. 

The Alberta government recently charged two Edmonton area employment agencies under the Act.  Specifically, the two organizations were charged with illegally collecting fees from temporary foreign workers for assistance in finding them work in Canada, for misrepresentation regarding employment opportunities, as well as for operating unlicensed employment agencies.  In both cases, the job recruiters collected fees in excess of $10,000.00 from several individuals from East Asia.

What does this mean for employers?

This case is a useful reminder to employers of the importance of understanding the rules and regulations regarding the employment of foreign workers.  While temporary foreign workers represent a potentially excellent source of labour, organizations must ensure that both processes and procedures are in place to avoid potential risks, both from a legal and public relations perspective.  Through thoughtful planning, attainment of comprehensive knowledge, as well as common sense execution, employers can tap into temporary foreign labour to address labour shortages with confidence.