Unemployment and Temporary Foreign Workers

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle” – George Orwell

The quotation from Orwell is a constant reminder on many scores. Today it is the fact that unemployment in Canada is higher than desired, while the country is pursuing a policy to bring in both skilled and temporary foreign workers. What can be deduced from this?

A shortage of skilled workers may be due to the need for specialized training. This can be alleviated over time with appropriate training provided to Canadians, and targeting immigration policy to attract persons with these skills. Training is the preferable route if there is a need to curb immigration flows.

A shortage of temporary workers, mainly in the agricultural and construction sectors, suggests that unemployed Canadians are unwilling to perform these tasks. There is no shortage here just a reluctance to do the work. This might be overcome by offering higher wages, but these could backfire if they make producers less competitive. An alternative would be to withhold unemployment payments to those refusing to take up available jobs. There seems to be a disconnect here if Canadian workers are able but unwilling to do the jobs undertaken by temporary foreign workers.

What do the figures show? Unemployment in October 2012 was 7.4% nationally in Canada that is 1.4 million people in a labour force of about 19 million, and a population of almost 35 million.

The temporary foreign workers, especially live-in caregivers and seasonal farm workers, entering Canada each year has doubled from 100,000 a year in 2003 to almost 200,000 per year in 2011. But in 2011 there were almost 300,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada, consisting of those who entered in 2011 and those who entered in previous years and have not departed (CIC figures as reported in the Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 6, 2012, p.5).

Thus, if 100,000 of the 1.4 million Canadian unemployed could or would fill one third of the jobs presently held by temporary foreign workers, the unemployment rate would fall to 6.8%; and if 300,000 of the unemployed filled all of the jobs filled by temporary foreign workers, the unemployment rate would fall to 5.8%. The latter is about the equivalent of full employment. Thus an alternative to maintaining the influx of temporary foreign workers is a policy which trains Canadian unskilled unemployed workers and moves them to where they are needed. I doubt much is needed for seasonal farmwork.

The need for skilled workers is addressed by the economic category of immigrants. This is refined to let Provinces nominate the skill categories required and may work, but once a person is admitted into Canada as a permanent resident, he or she can move freely to any other province.

There is another number to consider the estimated 500,000 illegal migrants in Canada, many of whom hold jobs in the service sector.


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