Human Resources

Ask the experts: What do I need to know about hiring temporary foreign workers?

Take care when tapping into overseas labour pools

Tue Dec 4, 2012 12:01am PST

Andrew Pollard: President, Mining Recruitment Group Ltd.


No HR issue is more prevalent in the local media than the use of temporary foreign workers (TFWs). At best, this program is a short-term band-aid that allows companies to proceed with their plans where no other option is available, thus allowing further employment of local workers and an overall economic stimulus to a province so dependent on its natural resource industry. At worst, companies are able to abuse the program by using for their own benefit – by paying TFWs lower wages – which sparks union battles, lawsuits and the shuttering of projects entirely.

With the current backlash in the media surrounding the use of temporary foreign workers, companies are asking themselves if using the program will do more harm than good. I would resoundingly say "no."

Every year, Canadian employers hire thousands of workers through this program to fill immediate openings that would otherwise have gone unfilled. It was only upon discovery that some employers might have been trying to manipulate the system for their benefit that such contention was spawned.

For employers considering using this program, don't be dissuaded by the headlines – but do make sure you are doing it as a last resort and not as a means of trying to save money on wages (if found out, it will ultimately cost you much, much more). Ensure the requirements of the positions you are recruiting for are vital to the task at hand without being unreasonably specific (Mandarin is not usually essential for labourers in B.C.). Seek advice from HR professionals, lawyers and the federal government, as they, too, will help avoid potential pitfalls.

The temporary foreign worker program is vital to the health of our economy, but only when used as intended; when used maliciously, it turns into a threat.

Jonathan Leebosh: Partner, Egan LLP – Ernst & Young's allied business immigration practice


Although the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program has come under scrutiny recently, it's important to keep in mind that the rules regulating bringing TFWs to Canada are generally meant to benefit the Canadian labour market and address an employer's temporary need.

Foreign nationals are not meant to be a cost-saving tool to be used in place of qualified Canadians — something we continue to see the federal government monitor. Wages for a TFW typically should not differ from similarly experienced Canadian workers and, with limited exception, must meet a pre-established "prevailing wage" requirement for the particular occupation. Also, it might seem obvious, but TFWs are equally protected by Canadian laws relating to employment (such as employment rules and human rights legislation).

If you decide to hire workers from overseas, the first thing to know is that there can be lengthy processing delays in getting TFWs to Canada. This is not a quick-fix solution. The visa and immigration process can be complex and involves more than simply filling out forms. Canadian labour market analyses, wage surveys, free trade agreements, suitability of the foreign national and medical and criminal clearances are some of the issues that can pop up. And although the government has taken steps over the past 18 months to improve the efficiency of the TFW program, it has done so by placing a greater accountability on employers, along with introducing more serious penalties to non-compliant employers.

If you work with an recruiting agency, make sure it is reputable and licensed, because you can be held responsible under immigration and employment standards for the failings of the recruiter, including collecting a fee from an employee for the recruiting process.

Tim Swanson: Consultant, Corporate Recruiters Ltd.; chairman, Vancouver Enterprise Forum


Recent events concerning TFWs have put a good program under controversy because of accusations that some companies might be trying to leverage the program for the wrong reasons. The program was instituted to help solve labour shortages and not displace eligible workers with cheaper ones.

When you think about importing talent, remember that if something is a good idea, cost effective and easy to do, everyone would be doing it. If few businesses are doing it, there is risk. So consider the following points.

Hire imported temporary workers the same way you hire full-time employees. Always identify your desired outcomes and make a game plan. Start with the end result and work backwards to set out clear objectives.

Address and engage work-site unions to ensure they're on side and, if possible, willing to endorse your plan while they train new members. Your issue must be lack of human resources, not lack of financial resources.

You must demonstrate a concerted effort to try to employ Canadians. Document your efforts, as you will require a labour market opinion (LMO) to obtain visas, and keep the data handy to defend against any grievance.

Carefully review required skill sets. Most job descriptions have unnecessary requirements that drive up cost. Make sure that required skills are reasonable and not exclusionary. And any language requirements other than French and English must be vigorously defendable.

Think about temporary employees as "hired guns" that require acclimatization and need to adapt to your culture. Think about the fit and get what you need.

Never underestimate the time needed for people to become productive – over-plan for training time. And finally, don't underestimate how our cold weather may affect overseas workers' productivity and motivation.

Tags: Andrew Pollard, human resources, immigration, Corporate Recruiters Ltd., productivity, trade agreements, mining, temporary foreign workers

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