Federal officials recently announced that temporary foreign workers (TFWs) will no longer be required to leave Canada after four years’ employment.
The government will also begin paving the way for more to remain in Canada permanently.
The ‘cumulative duration’ or ‘four-in, four-out rule,’ was a requirement that these workers could only work here four years then had to leave the country.
It was a condition of employment taking its toll on employers and workers alike, say those very glad to hear it’s ended.
“This news couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s quite a relief,” says Allan Campbell, who co-owns Durston Honey Farms near Dauphin.
Beekeepers have been among the hardest hit within agricultural sectors that rely heavily on temporary foreign workers because of a shortage of domestic workers available to work.
The four-in-four-out rule was costing them retraining costs, reduced productivity, and made things very difficult for employers, Campbell said.
They’d no sooner get these staff trained and familiarized with their jobs, than they had to leave. Technically, they could return after four years, but they never did. Many were known to go on to work in Australia, Campbell said.
“We were just giving all our trained workers to another country and we’d never see those people back.”
That’s also good news, said Campbell, who has had as many as a dozen TFWs working for him.
“Now we’ll be able to keep our most qualified workers,” he said. “And they’ll be able to continue to support their families a lot better. They’ve created a life here as well too.”
In a statement released last week announcing the government’s decision to end the four-in-four-out rule, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizen John McCallum said government could see that it was placing “an unnecessary burden on applicants and employers” as well as on officials processing all the applications. The rule has been in effect since April 2011.
“In many ways, the four-year rule put a great deal of uncertainty and instability on both temporary workers and employers,” he said in a prepared news release.
The federal government also says it is now committed to further developing pathways to permanent residency for eligible applicants among temporary foreign workers.
Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), called the government’s decision good news as well.
“These changes are a positive step forward by the Federal Government which will help alleviate some of the issues that farmers, processors and agricultural employees are facing,” MacDonald-Dewhirst said in a statement.
CARHC has recently released national Labour Market Information research showing nearly 60,000 vacancies in primary agriculture and a job vacancy rate of seven per cent, or higher than any other industry in Canada. By 2025 that shortage is expected to grow to 114,000 workers.
Fixing the cumulative duration rule has been a long-standing recommendation of Canada’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Labour Task Force (LTF), and was one of several presented to the House of Commons human resources committee earlier this year.
Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) president Ron Bonnett said in a news release that the government’s early action on this file with respect to ending the four-in-four-out rule “is a critical step forward and that CFA looks forward to working on a more comprehensive suit of meaningful changes to the program, and broader labour market programming.
CAHRC vice-chair and Manitoba farmer Doug Chorney said it’s good to see government take action on the four-in-four-out rule and their quick response to a parliamentary committee study undertaken this year. Known as the HUMA Report, it drew attention, among other things, to agriculture’s critical dependency on temporary foreign workers, noted critical shortages in areas such as seafood and meat processing and recommended restructuring of the temporary foreign worker program to better reflect the realities of labour market needs in Canada.
“They’ve heard concerns from the employer community,” he said. “We’re definitely encouraged.”
However, the complexity and extent of agriculture’s growing labour shortage is issue that requires much more ongoing work to address,
The Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan has laid out a series of proposed solutions to address the industry’s labour needs for both the short and longer term, including calls for creating an industry jobs resource centre that would make jobs and career pathway options searchable online.
“It’s a complicated problem with complicated solutions,” Chorney said. “There’s no real silver bullet to deal with this.”
Agriculture’s labour gap exists despite significant recruitment efforts to try to hire domestic workers, and CAHRC research additionally shows farmers’ hiring difficulties stem from offering jobs in rural locations, that are also physically strenuous as well as often only seasonally available.
A recent Labour Market Forecast report by CAHRC focussing on the grains and oilseeds sector specifically is a case in point. It showed 5,700 jobs left vacant among these types of farms. And there will be more vacancies to come. The LMF report projects that due to retirements by 2025 as many as 17,400 jobs could be unfilled in the grains and oilseeds sector alone.
Farm owners rely on family members because the employees they need can’t be found, Chorney said.
“We’ve so often depended on our kids, or our uncles to be our second line of defence for labour,” he said. “But farms have grown now in size and sophistication to the point where we need full-time employees or almost full-time seasonal employees.”