In 2017, British Columbia issued approximately 17,000 work permits under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (the “TFWP”), which is the second-highest number of such permits granted in Canada after Ontario. The TFWP allows employers to hire temporary foreign workers (“TFWs”) to fill jobs that cannot otherwise be filled by Canadian citizens or permanent residents. For example, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, a program stream under the TFWP, allows workers from Mexico and certain Caribbean countries to be employed for up to eight months in connection with the production of goods on the National Commodities List.
The BC Temporary Foreign Worker Protection Act (the “Act”), which applies to all foreign nationals who are employed or seeking employment in BC, received royal assent on November 8, 2018, but will not be in force until regulations are enacted, likely early in 2019. The Act’s stated aims are to improve the protection of TFWs by creating a registry of employers and foreign worker recruiters active in the TFWP and by expanding governmental enforcement tools.
Creation of Two Registries
Two separate registries will be implemented – one for foreign worker recruiters and one for employers. Recruiters and recruitment agencies must obtain licences. Employers who wish to recruit foreign nationals for employment, either directly or through recruiters, must hold registration certificates issued by the provincial government. The Act provides criteria for issuing, refusing, suspending, or cancelling a licence or registration. The registration process will be online and free.
The Director of Employment Standards (the “Director”) may provide information collected and obtained under the Act to public bodies and other governmental agencies. The Director may also publish the names of violators and make this information available for public inspection at Employment Standards Branch offices.
Expansion of Enforcement Tools
The Act prohibits several practices. Foreign worker recruiters and employers must not take TFWs’ passports, misrepresent employment opportunities, or threaten deportation without lawful cause. The Act also brings in tougher penalties for recruiters and employers who violate the legislation and mistreat TFWs. In addition to losing their licences and registrations, individual employers can be fined up to $50,000 and imprisoned for up to a year. Companies can be fined up to $100,000.
The Act states that recruiters must not, directly or indirectly, charge any person other than employers for recruitment services. Charges illegally levied by recruiters may be recovered and returned to workers in any manner authorized by law. Employers must not reduce the wages of TFWs, or vary, reduce, or eliminate other benefits or term or condition of a TFW’s employment, to recover recruiting expenses. These requirements cannot be waived, even if the parties mutually agree.
The Act is available online here; however, the associated regulations have not yet been published.