Temporary foreign workers have become an important source of labour supply in the Canadian labour market in recent years, and nowhere is the importance of access to labour supply felt more keenly than in the North.

Citing an “unprecedented demand and unique economic conditions” and “a rising concern for the fair treatment of temporary foreign workers”, the federal government recently announced amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) that, in the eyes of some stakeholders, would significantly alter Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and employers’ access to labour. However, while some of the amendments may have a wider impact than was planned, these much talked about reforms should not negatively impact the flow of skilled and necessary labour to the North (or to the rest of Canada). For example, the four year “caps” on work permits that were announced apply only in limited circumstances. Many workers will be able to remain in Canada on work permits for five or seven years, and possibly longer. In addition, because the government has streamlined the processing of permanent resident applications for persons already working for Canadian employers, even where the four year cap applies, workers can become permanent residents of Canada before they are shut out by the cap.

The remaining reforms apply to protecting Canada’s most vulnerable foreign workers, live-in caregivers and lower-skilled workers who are at risk at both the hands of unscrupulous employers and third party employment agencies. While employers may be the object of more scrutiny in their employment practices, and those found in breach will be subject to serious (and some would say draconian) penalties, employers who are “on-side” should see no dramatic change once the regulations come into force on April 1, 2011. For a fuller review, see: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/releases/2010/2010-08-18.asp.