Tough restrictions around temporary foreign workers

To represent no more than 10 per cent of employer's workforce

OTTAWA (Reuters) — McDonald's restaurants and other companies will face tough restrictions on their ability to bring in temporary foreign workers under reforms announced on Friday to address a public outcry over perceived abuses of the system.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney introduced the changes after having temporarily frozen the ability of restaurants to bring in any temporary foreign workers after stories of foreign workers displacing Canadians at some McDonald's outlets.

The program had been designed to help the booming resource industry but ended up mushrooming in the low-skilled fast-food industry, raising questions as to whether this was good for the economy and causing backlash when Canadians could not find work.

"Sometimes they don't bother calling young Canadians who drop off their resumes, and that really ticks me off," Kenney said of employers using the program.

Here are highlights of the changes he announced:

• Low-wage temporary foreign workers will be able to represent no more than 10 per cent of the workforce of companies with 10 or more employees, as of mid-2016. As a transition, employers will be frozen at 30 per cent or current levels, whichever is less, and then 20 per cent in mid-2015.

• In areas with unemployment of six per cent or more, temporary foreign workers will not be allowed to fill the lowest-wage, entry-level workers.

• The government fee per worker will rise to $1,000 from $275, for required "labour-market impact assessments," which will now only be valid for one year instead of two.

• Employers seeking to hire high-wage temporary foreign workers will have to submit transition plans to demonstrate how they will increase efforts to hire Canadians, through higher wages, training and more active recruitment.

One goal is to shift the emphasis back to higher-skilled employees and not just bring in as many foreigners for low-wage jobs as companies will hire.

"Countries in the western world that have based their migration policies on large numbers of low-skilled people have ended up regretting the economic consequences," Kenney told a news conference.

Asked about the example of meat-packer plants in the Prairies which are unable to operate at full capacity because of labour shortages, he responded: "Yes, we could expand our GDP and our economy almost infinitely if we just opened up our borders to... an infinite number of new people, but this is not a sensible economic or immigration policy."

The new rules will cause problems for some restaurant owners, he said, but he pointed to the resource boom areas of Western Australia and North Dakota, both of which he said are able to put up restaurants without cheap foreign labour.

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