The ins and outs of hiring foreign workers

As farm work has become increasingly complex and skil-led, farmers, non-farming landowners and employment agencies are searching the world for the right employees.

At the other end of the scale, some employers, including horticulture operations, are turning the movement of low-wage jobs out of Canada on its head and are bringing foreign workers to this country. Some farmers are looking to foreign workers as an answer to their labour problems.

It isn’t an easy or a quick solution, says Tony Kok, owner of Agricultural Employment Alberta, who works with employers bringing in workers from overseas. “There’s lots of paperwork involved,” he says. “You can do it yourself, but there’s quite a learning curve to the process, and the government seems to constantly change the details, bringing in new rules, new ideas. And, if you don’t get it exactly right Service Canada rejects the application. We almost need a full-time person to keep up with the regulations.”

Kok says if everything goes well, it takes at least 14 weeks to arrange the paperwork to bring in a worker. The time involved, the paperwork required and the cost depend on the skill level the government judges the workers need. Lower-wage workers are considered low skilled and are only eligible for a work permit, which is valid for a year and may be extended for another year, but the extension isn’t a sure thing.

People considered highly skilled can apply to immigrate under the Alberta Provincial Nominee Program. The federal government has to be convinced that any foreign workers you hire would not be taking work from qualified Canadians or being paid lower wages than Canadians could expect.

Advertise first

The first step in the process is advertising for workers for at least two weeks without finding any suitable Canadian applicants for the position. The government has pay scales that you must offer for the work, whether to temporary foreign workers or in your advertisement for Canadian workers. You must provide fully furnished housing for lower-skill-category temporary foreign workers. A government inspector checks the accommodation to ensure it’s adequate.

Government fees for temporary foreign workers are around $500 to $1,000 per worker, but you also must pay their return air fare and ground transportation as well as Alberta Health Care.

“Bringing in foreign workers is not a cheap option,” says Kok. “It may cost slightly less overall than for Canadian workers. But, as it gets harder and harder to find Canadians who are willing to work long hours and weekends, foreign workers can be an attractive option for some employers.”

Hiring a highly skilled person involves a different process, the person you hire can become a landed immigrant and stay permanently in Canada. As with temporary workers, the government has to be convinced your job offer is genuine, that there are no suitable Canadian applicants and that the person meets the criteria for a skilled worker.

The time and cost involved varies. Potential immigrants from some countries must qualify for a Canadian visa, which can be time consuming and costly.

In Kok’s experience costs of sponsoring an immigrant worker are between $1,000 and $3,000. “We’ve found some excellent skilled workers overseas,” says Kok. “And, using Skype, the employer can interview the person almost as well as meeting them in person, without either of you going very far from home.”

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