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Just over a year ago, the government announced an accelerated labour market opinion (A-LMO) process for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), shortening the process from several weeks to within 10 business days. Business welcomed that initiative with great enthusiasm. Last week, however, new government regulations came into force to create more disincentives to using the program.

There is no commitment to service levels at present; the prior commitment to efficiency has fallen to the side. Since the spring, the TFW program has been subject to a death of a thousand cuts.

Certainly, the program is a long way from being eliminated. But, the measures discussed in late winter, stated in the budget, and then announced on April 29 make it clear the government is tightening the screws on the program. Those measures include suspending the A-LMO process, introducing a user fee, and requiring a transition plan for employers to hire Canadian workers, among other measures.

The irony is that such changes will penalize small and medium-sized businesses; those firms who rely on 83% of the TFW positions approved via the LMO process, according to 2012 data. They are the firms in low unemployment and/or low population locations where skilled workers are not available or where Canadian workers are unwilling to move to work.

A new user fee for positions requiring an LMO was introduced last week via regulations. The fee comes as no surprise; the government announced its intentions in the budget after consulting with employer groups and industry associations late last winter. What concerns many chamber members and the employers who turn to the program as a last resort in recruiting, is that the fee comes with no service guarantees. (The gazette notice simply states that the department intends to develop and publish service standards for the processing of LMOs.)

The employers will pay the fee without knowing when they will receive an opinion. The opinion may be negative, which shuts down the request for a temporary foreign worker. Where an LMO is positive, it is valid for six months. In other words, to fill positions, employers may require more than one fee paid per worker.

Not only has the government nixed the faster processing and introduced user fees, it has estimated the government will earn between $9 million and $17 million in each of the next 10 years. These are net earnings after costs, or “funds made available to the Government of Canada as a result of the fee.”

While employers struggle to locate workers with the skills they need, the government has seen a revenue-generating opportunity. It has swapped commitments of efficiency for new fees without service standards.

This hardly bodes well for an economy with skills shortages that are not quickly or easily addressed, and where temporary foreign workers have made the difference to filling employers’ labour market needs.

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