Fix the Temporary Foreign Workers Program by making it permanent

Here’s a thought: what if the Temporary Foreign Workers Program was no longer temporary?

Instead, participants would be allowed to bring their families over with them and settle down.

Timelines could be set to ensure workers actually stayed in their sponsored communities. Workers would be expected to stay in their employer’s region for a minimum period of time, say five years, pending exceptional circumstances.

Employers, meanwhile, would need to help with the transition from home country to Canada by providing language training, educational opportunities and worker support. Abusers of the program would risk stiff penalties: fines and even criminal charges if necessary.

The Temporary Foreign Workers Program should be a permanent immigration program, not a short-term solution to an acute labour shortage that’s only going to get worse.

The fact of the matter is this country needs workers. Drive through towns on the Prairies and you‘ll see it first hand.

‘Help wanted’ signs are everywhere.

Critics of the idea will argue Canada should focus its efforts on training and retraining Canadians. It should develop programs that tap into underemployed population groups, such as Aboriginals, those with dis abilities and young Canadians.

I don’t disagree.

Even so, with Canadian birth rates continuing to decline and many of us refusing to move away from home to where the jobs are, I’m not convinced job training will be enough to fill the baby boomer void.

Let’s face it. Canada is under growing international pressure to contribute more to the global economy. Our resources, skills and expertise are a hot commodity.

As an agriculture reporter, I’m reminded daily of Canada’s need to step up to the plate to feed the growing world. With the world’s population expected to balloon to nine billion people by 2050, that’s a lot of mouths to feed.

The Temporary Foreign Workers Program, in its original form, was meant to attract skilled labour to Canada. As employment minister Jason Kenney has repeatedly re-minded the House of Commons, most of the program’s workers hail from countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, with employees from Asian countries falling in behind.

They’re skilled workers who, while here, would contribute to the Canadian economy. They’d be employed.

So, why don’t we let them stay?

The number one complaint I hear from folks about the program (outside of the “they should have hired Canadians” lament) is employers are constantly training people for jobs because the system doesn’t line up with applications for citizenship.

Too often, they tell me, workers are forced to go home only months after their training is completed.

For example: it can take 12 months to train a herdsman, one rancher told me last week. By the time they’re comfortable in the job, it’s time for them to go home and the ranch is back to square one.

For employers, this can be especially frustrating. Training doesn’t always come cheap and their investment isn’t guaranteed to stay long-term.

The result: people become expendable and a relationship between employer and employee doesn’t always develop.

Ottawa pundits will argue Canadian workers should take priority. The government, they insist, must develop a long-term employment strategy.

That long-term strategy should be immigration.

Canada prides itself on its multicultural identity. We revel in the fact we’re a “cultural mosaic” rather than a “melting pot” like our neighbours to the south.

Now it’s time for us as a country to prove it to the rest of the world. If we’re really as welcoming as we claim to be, we’ll let the workers stay.

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