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B.C. freezes worker-immigration program as backlog grows

B.C. freezes worker-immigration program as backlog grows
JUSTINE HUNTER
VICTORIA — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Mar. 31 2015, 9:14 PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Mar. 31 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
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The B.C. government has abruptly shut the door on most of its provincial immigration program for the next three months, saying new federal limits on temporary foreign workers have triggered an unmanageable flood of applicants seeking entry to Canada through British Columbia.

Jobs Minister Shirley Bond said Tuesday that no new applications will be accepted until July 2, giving her staff time to process a growing backlog while her ministry looks at what qualifications it will seek from those hoping to come to B.C. through the provincial nominee program (PNP). Some exceptions will be made in high-need categories such as health-care workers.

Nurse practitioner Ranjit Lehal works at the New Canadian Clinic in Burnaby, providing care for government-assisted refugees.
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Under the program, Ottawa allows the provinces limited control over immigration. This year, B.C. will grant permanent resident status to 5,500 immigrants to fill labour-market needs.

Applications to the provincial program surged after the federal government introduced immigration changes, in particular tighter controls on its temporary foreign worker program. A year ago, B.C. could process a PNP application in 12 weeks; now the wait list is 13 months, and there are already more people in the queue than B.C. can admit this year.

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The provincial government has been warning that British Columbia faces a skills shortage with an anticipated construction boom in the north. It has long called for more control over immigration to address such shortages.

However, many of the temporary foreign workers in B.C. were being hired for low-wage jobs in the hospitality industry. The federal government was forced to make changes after allegations surfaced last year that some employers – particularly restaurants – were abusing the program.

Ottawa is phasing in limits on the number of temporary foreign workers that large- and medium-sized companies are permitted to hire and is promising more inspections of workplaces, bigger fines for companies that abuse the program and increased application fees for employers.

As a result of those changes, Ms. Bond said, applications for the program dropped sharply and there has been a spike in applications to the provincial program. “We need to make sure the system we use in the [provincial nominee] program actually lines up with some of the changes that have taken place,” she said, adding: “This is not about reconstructing an avenue for temporary foreign workers.”

Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, welcomed the freeze. He said a problem was created when Ottawa applied the brakes to the temporary foreign worker program without an alternative in place.

“The federal government rocked the boat on the temporary foreign worker program and it was done for short-term, political optics,” he said. “We need to discuss the provincial nominee program in a strategic way, and I think that is what is going on here.”

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