e-4138 (Citizenship and immigration)
Original language of petition: English
Petition to the Government of Canada
- The 2009 CIMM Standing Committee report on Temporary foreign workers and non-status workers recommended that the government discontinue employer-specific work permits;
- The 2016 HUMA Standing Committee report on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program found that employer-specific work permits “place migrant workers in a vulnerable position with negative implications for their physical and mental well-being” and recommended that immediate steps be taken to eliminate employer-specific work permits;
- In 2019 Canada acknowledged that employer-specific work permits create a power imbalance that “favours the employer and can result in a migrant worker enduring situations of misconduct, abuse or other forms of employer retribution” when it implemented the Open work permit for vulnerable workers (OWP-V) policy;
- Numerous regulatory reforms attempting to improve the protection of temporary foreign workers, including the OWP-V policy, have failed to meaningfully counteract the high risk of abuse imposed on workers by employer-specific work permits; and
- A truly just and equitable immigration system provides full and permanent status to all workers coming to Canada and regularization programs for those currently without status. As an interim measure, migrant workers should not be tied to a specific employer or sector.
Government response tabled
Response by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Honourable Marc Miller
Any instances of harassment, abuse, or exploitation of temporary foreign workers are unacceptable and are not tolerated in Canada. The Government of Canada (GoC) acknowledges that there may be inherent power imbalances between some employers and temporary foreign workers, and has implemented a number of measures to help ensure worker protection.
The GoC aims to balance the need to support employers in addressing labour shortages in Canada’s competitive economy, while seeking to protect temporary foreign workers during their stay in Canada. Employer-specific work permits remain an important feature of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program and Canada’s immigration system.
Eliminating employer-specific work permits would represent a fundamental shift that could negatively impact the current labour migration system and would not necessarily reduce abuse and exploitation in the TFW Program. Even with Open Work Permits, those who are vulnerable could face challenges in leaving their employer, including limited skills and financial options, low official language abilities, and challenges finding affordable housing, among others. Removing the employer-specific work permit also risks making it more difficult to retain workers in certain occupations and industries, exacerbating labour shortages in many regions, including those that are more rural or remote in nature.
Employers under the TFW Program commit to?several key worker protection?measures (particularly for low wage workers), such as paid return airfare and a commitment to help with affordable housing. The Program also ensures that the wages of temporary foreign workers are aligned with those of Canadians doing the same job, which,?in-turn, protects the Canadian economy from downward pressure on wages and benefits all workers; temporary foreign workers as well as Canadians and permanent residents.??
Employer-specific work permits can offer measures of protection for foreign nationals, as employers of employer-specific work permit holders are immediately subject to a compliance regime which seeks to ensure employers are meeting Program requirements and regulatory obligations. This enables the GoC to conduct inspections to help ensure employers comply with regulatory conditions and employment standards legislation—for example, providing a workplace free of abuse, respecting a worker’s job description, and not engaging in reprisals against workers who raise concerns.
During an inspection (which can be conducted with or without notice), employers must demonstrate that they are meeting the terms and conditions of the TFW Program listed in the Labour Market Impact Assessment. If an employer is found to have committed a violation of program conditions and is deemed non-compliant, they can face consequences, including administrative monetary penalties of up to $1M and a temporary or permanent ban from the Program. Employer-specific work permits make it possible for the Government to know, for program integrity and worker protection purposes, which employers are employing foreign workers at any given time and at what locations they are working.
In 2022-2023, the Department completed over 2,100 inspections. Through these inspections, 1,014 employers were found compliant, 1,015 were found compliant with justification, and 116 were found non-compliant.
Over the course of an inspection, when IRCC finds that the employer had been non-compliant with the Regulations, the employer is given the opportunity to justify their non-compliance (as a procedural fairness step). An employer may be found compliant with justification if they are able to demonstrate that the reason for their non-compliance can be justified using the justifications included in the Regulations (for example, an error made in good faith by the employer, a change in federal or provincial law, or a change to the provisions of a collective agreement), and if they remedy the effects of the violation (for example, compensating the foreign worker for unpaid wages).
Worker Protection Measures
As part of the GoC’s broader commitment to worker protections, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) introduced, in June 2019, measures to make it easier for workers to leave abusive situations with the introduction of the Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Workers (OWP-V). This permit provides workers on valid employer-specific work permits experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, abuse in their job, access to an open work permit. With an open work permit, workers are able to exit abusive situations quickly and work for almost any employer in Canada.
The OWP-V has a lower burden of proof compared to most immigration programs, recognizing that abuse is often difficult to substantiate. While we recognize the criticisms of the OWP-V with regards to higher than expected processing times, IRCC is continuously working to reduce the barriers that workers might face in exiting situations of abuse. Issuance of an OWP-V triggers a referral to either the IMP or TFWP employer compliance regimes dependent on which program the foreign worker was hired under, and results in an inspection under the related (IMP of TFWP) program.
Moreover, in Fall 2021, the Department began the roll-out of trauma-informed training for officers who process OWP-V applications. This training includes a decision-making framework and procedures for following up with clients to address systemic barriers that prevent vulnerable TFWs from applying and being successful in obtaining an OWP-V. This training continues to be delivered to officers evaluating OWP-V applications.
The TFW Program also has existing measures under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) Stream, where workers have the ability to work for another SAWP employer without having to apply for a new work permit, subject to agreements between the source country, employer and employee.
In Canada, temporary foreign workers have the same rights to workplace protections under applicable federal, provincial and territorial employment standards as Canadians and permanent residents. The Government understands that migrant workers in Canada might face challenges with regards to knowing and accessing their rights in Canada. As such, in September 2022, regulatory amendments were made to compel employers to provide migrant workers with information on their rights, including access to healthcare while in Canada.
Furthermore, the GoC introduced the Changing Employers Public Policy in May 2020. The public policy allows temporary foreign workers already in Canada who are changing jobs or employers, and who have secured a job offer under the terms of either the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or International Mobility Program, to quickly begin work with a new employer or in a new occupation in advance of a final decision on their work permit application. Eligible workers can obtain authorization to work for a new employers within 10-15 days.
IRCC will continue to work with Employment and Social Development Canada to explore the Government’s commitment to implement sector-based work permits. While we cannot speculate on any future policy decisions, IRCC is currently looking at possible reforms to the employer-specific work permit. Any new developments will be communicated publicly.
Response by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages
Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): Irek Kusmierczyk
In Canada, temporary foreign workers have the same rights to workplace protections as Canadians and permanent residents under applicable federal, provincial, and territorial employment standards. The mistreatment of any temporary foreign worker – or any worker – is never acceptable.
While the large majority of employers who participate in the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program meet their obligations and treat their employees with respect, in those cases where there is mistreatment the consequences can be severe.
To address concerns around worker treatment, and to assist migrant workers in knowing and accessing their rights in Canada, in September 2022, regulatory amendments were made to compel employers to provide migrant workers with information on their rights, including access to healthcare while in Canada.
In addition, a Migrant Worker Support Program was launched in 2022 (totalling $49.5M) to better support temporary foreign workers in Canada to learn about and exercise their rights. To date, funding is supporting 10 organizations, and over 100 sub-agreement holders across Canada, to deliver services including on-arrival orientation at major international airports and community-based and emergency support services.
To assist with enforcement, the TFW Program also operates a confidential tip line and Concierge Service to assist workers who report allegations of abuse and mistreatment. Through the tip line, workers are offered personalized service, based on their needs, to report allegations of abuse or mistreatment, as they arise. Agents answer the phone five days per week (with weekend voicemail service) with the support of interpretation services in over 200 languages. All leads, tips and allegations received by the Department, whether through the tip line or the Concierge Service, are reviewed and flagged within 24 hours based on their level of risk. Leads that are considered high-risk are assessed as a priority; ensuring appropriate action can be taken as quickly as possible (inspections are launched on these high-risk employers within 24-48 hours to ensure worker safety). The numbers of tips and allegations received continues to increase, for example, this year, the Department has already seen a 53% increase in volume, compared to the same period last year.
During an inspection (which can be conducted with or without notice), employers must demonstrate that they are meeting TFW Program requirements listed in the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). If an employer is found to have committed a violation of program conditions and is deemed non-compliant, they can face consequences, including administrative monetary penalties of up to a maximum of $1 million and a temporary or permanent ban from the Program. Without employer-specific work permits, it would be challenging for the Government to know, for Program integrity and worker protection purposes, which employers are employing foreign workers at any given time and at what locations they are working.
In 2022-23, the Department completed over 2,100 inspections. Through these inspections, 1,014 employers were found compliant, 1,015 were found compliant with justification, and 116 were found non-compliant.
In situations where the Department is made aware of serious risk to the health and safety of foreign workers, the TFW Program works closely with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), other federal stakeholders, and provinces and territories (PTs) to help resolve these situations.
The TFW Program is a complex and multi-jurisdictional program where provinces and territories (PTs) are largely responsible for the administration and enforcement of legislation applicable to temporary foreign worker employment standards, occupational health and safety, and recruitment and housing standards; except under sectors covered by the federal Labour Code. The federal government is working closely with PTs and stakeholders to facilitate collaboration across jurisdictions and obtain greater assurance that PT standards are met, while implementing federal policies aimed at protecting temporary foreign workers.
The goal of the TFW Program is to support employers in addressing labour shortages in Canada’s competitive economy, while seeking to protect temporary foreign workers during their stay in Canada. Employer-specific work permits remain an important feature of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program and Canada’s immigration system.
Eliminating employer-specific work permits would represent a fundamental shift in the operation of the program, and the government is taking a cautious approach to what a sector specific work permit system might look like. For example, the TFW Program has existing measures under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) Stream, where workers can work for another SAWP employer without having to apply for a new work permit, subject to agreements between the source country, employer, and employee.
The Government of Canada will continue to review and develop policies and regulations that promote and safeguard the health and safety of temporary foreign workers when they come to Canada. As part of this effort, and to foster continuous improvement, the TFW Program relies on recommendations and feedback from various sources. In this spirit, the program looks forward to receiving recommendations from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM).
- Open for signature
- September 29, 2022, at 2:41 p.m. (EDT)
- Closed for signature
- December 28, 2022, at 2:41 p.m. (EDT)
- Presented to the House of Commons
November 7, 2023 (Petition No. 441-01900)
- Government response tabled
- January 29, 2024
Only validated signatures are counted towards the total number of signatures.
|Province / Territory
|Newfoundland and Labrador
|Prince Edward Island