What, How, & Why

What is the Temporary Foreign Worker Program?

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) allows employers in Canada to hire workers from other countries for temporary positions when there are no qualified Canadian citizens or residents available. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) co-manage the program’s many employers and the tens of thousands of employees.

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How does it work?

If an employer wishes to hire a temporary foreign worker, they typically need to prove that they put in the effort to hire a Canadian worker first. ESDC assesses those efforts and determines whether or not an employer is eligible to use the TFWP.

“[Employers] need to do the [job] advertisement for at least three months,” says a representative from ESDC. “When that part is complete and you’re still not able to find someone, now you can go with the program.”

Potential employees can apply for the TFWP in their home countries. If they have the qualifications that an employer in Canada desires and is thus chosen for the position, then he or she must apply for a work permit through CIC and supply the required documents. If everything is processed successfully, the worker can then come to Canada to work.

Work hours and wages for the TFW must be the same as what was described in the employer’s original job advertisement to Canadians. Employers are also responsible for their foreign employees’ benefits and medical coverage.

“It’s the same rules,” says the ESDC rep. “We’re gonna consider that person like he’s a Canadian when he comes here.”

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As far as housing, employers must ensure that there are affordable living options near the workplace. With the exception of live-in caregivers and some agricultural workers, employers aren’t obligated to provide housing. If they choose to do so, however, they must follow the same standards that regular landlords follow.

How long can a TFW stay for?

As of April 1, 2011, TFWs are eligible to work in Canada for a maximum of four years—with the exception of agricultural workers who have shorter timelines. Following that time, they are expected to return to their home country, unless they applied and were successful in obtaining a permanent residency. TFWs may apply for the TFWP again, but only after they have been out of Canada for at least four years. This is known as the four in and four out rule.

Why is it important?

For employers, the TFWP is important because it allows them to fill positions that many say Canadians don’t want. Statistics Canada reported that nine out of 10 vacant jobs in 2015 were low-skill, low-wage. So although employers can hire TFWs for high-skill, high-wage jobs, those positions aren’t as in demand. This is why you’ll see lots of foreign workers at fast food restaurants or as farmhands. For employers, TFWs help to keep their businesses going.

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On the other end of the program, Erin Burk, a migrant counsellor from the New Canadians Centre in Peterborough, Ontario, explains why the TFWP is so important for foreign workers.

“Many of them are looking for dignified work and a higher wage than they are able to receive in their home countries,” she says. “It’s important because they are able to send a lot of [money] home. People are able to send children to school when that might not otherwise be a possibility, they can build houses, buy whatever they need. … It sustains families and communities.”