Nearly six months after Ottawa announced changes to the controversial foreign worker program, business groups and provincial governments are asking for the strict regulations to be reconsidered.

The changes have made it harder for employers to access the foreign labour market.  The federal Government has introduced a cap to limit the proportion of low-wage temporary foreign workers that a business can employ. The cap will significantly restrict access to the Program. Employers of low-skilled, entry-level positions were hardest hit by the changes.  For example the accommodation, food services and retail-trade sectors were essentially barred from the program unless they operate in an area where unemployment is below 6 per cent.

Business groups representing employers of entry-level workers are forming a coalition to push back against the changes.  Four employer groups have written a joint letter to the government calling for some of the provisions to be softened:  The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Restaurants Canada, the Retail Council of Canada and the Tourism Industry of Canada sent the letter Monday outlining their concerns.  The employer coalition wants that 6-per-cent rule reconsidered. They also want the government to reconsider a new rule that caps and gradually lowers the percentage of low-wage temporary foreign workers at each work site from 30 per cent to 10 per cent by July 1, 2016.

CFIB president and CEO Dan Kelly says the temporary foreign worker program has been legitimately criticized for using TFWs to fill permanent labour market needs.  He adds that small businesses would much rather hire permanent workers, but the immigration system doesn’t allow them to hire people with entry-level skills. The Canadian economy needs workers at all skill levels, Kelly says.  The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is calling on Ottawa to replace its controversial temporary foreign worker program with a visa that would provide a path to permanent residence for entry-level employees from abroad.

Government officials are also  pressing for changes to the new regulations.  In Alberta, Jobs Minister Ric McIver said the province has sent a letter to federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.  “I would like the federal government to take the cap off of the maximum number of provincial nominees that we can appoint so that we can bring in the people that we need,” McIver said in an interview Monday.  McIver speculates that Alberta will be short 96,000 workers by 2023.  Foreign workers are required to fill that labour shortage for both skilled and non-skilled labour.