Ottawa plans to eliminate controversial 4 and 4 rule

Regulation forced temporary foreign workers to leave the country for four years after working four years

Kevin Nixon is feeling relieved.

For about five years, honey producers like him have been asking the federal government to change a rule that made it difficult for beekeepers to retain foreign workers.

On Dec. 13 the government relented by abandoning a controversial rule that allowed foreigners to work in Canada for only four years.

“In order to prevent unnecessary hardship and instability for both workers and employers, the four-year cumulative duration rule will no longer apply to temporary foreign workers in Canada, effective immediately,” the government said in a news release.

The regulation, known as the four and four rule, was put in place in 2011.

Under the rule, temporary foreign workers could have a job in Canada for four years and then would be ineligible to work in Canada for the next four years.

The former Conservative government passed the regulation to encourage businesses to hire Canadians or push foreign workers to become permanent residents of Canada.

Beekeepers said the rule was ridiculous because jobs in the industry are seasonal, and many foreign workers prefer to return home to countries such as the Philippines, Guatemala or Nicaragua during the winter.

As well, it can take years to train a foreign worker or for that person to become competent in English. Forcing someone to leave after they’ve become a skilled employee made no sense to them.

“A lot of our beekeepers have staff of 10, 30 or 40 foreign workers,” Rod Scarlett, Canadian Honey Council executive director, said earlier this year.

“They (the employees) develop an expertise that makes the operation successful.”

Nixon, who chairs the honey council, said the federal government’s reversal is a “big deal” for beekeepers.

“It (the decision) caught me by surprise. We were hopeful this was coming but you … never know,” said Nixon, who operates Nixon Honey Farm near Red Deer.

“It’s been a few years of worry and trying to discuss this with government, so it’s nice to see a positive outcome.”

About 600 people work in Alberta’s beekeeping industry, and 70 to 80 percent of them are foreign workers, Nixon said.

Not all of the employees are from the TFWP. A number of beekeepers use the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), which applies to workers from Mexico and the Caribbean.

Nixon has 22 employees, and 17 are foreign workers.

Two of his foreign employees had to leave Canada this year because they breached the four and four rule. Nixon was worried they would never return, but now they likely will.

“If you have workers with you for six to eight years, you can’t replace that in a year. It (this change) is going to be good for the workers, for them to continue building their lives,” he said.

“It will allow (beekeepers) to sleep better at night…. Hopefully it will allow beekeepers to consider re-investing in their operations.”

Ottawa is expected to announce further changes to the TFWP next year.

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