Door closes on foreign workers

Posted by admin on Mar 13th, 2009

Janaya Fuller-Evans. Special to Vancouver Courier. Friday, March 13, 2009

Vancouver’s construction industry has stopped bringing in new foreign workers, a major shift from the hiring frenzy just months earlier. “They’re not being brought in any longer,” said Regina Brodersen, human resources director for the B.C. Construction Association. Construction companies apply through the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program to hire foreign workers provided there are not enough Canadian construction workers available. Because of the recession, there are fewer construction jobs and more Canadians available to fill them.

“Since now there are Canadians available there are no permits being given,” said Brodersen, who helps construction companies find employees. “There has been a slowdown in foreign workers.”

According to Brodersen, the temporary work permits are issued for 12 months but can be extended up to 18-24 months. She said while the permits for foreign employees are not being revoked, they are not being extended and, presumably, the workers are going home once their contracts are up.

This January, construction companies in Vancouver applied for half the residential building permits they did last year, a sign the recession is taking its toll on the industry.

Jeffrey Lowe, a Vancouver immigration lawyer, said there are fewer jobs but highly skilled workers are still working. “I can think of a number of clients who have stopped bringing in foreign workers,” said Lowe, who represents both companies and employees. “[But] employers are keeping the best ones.”

The provincial nominee program, which expedites immigration for workers coming to B.C., has seen a decline in foreign construction applicants.

In the past three months, the provincial nominee program has nominated 77 applicants in skilled construction, according to the Minister of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development, Murray Coell. The number was down almost 20 per cent from the preceding three months.

Foreign construction workers who want to stay in B.C. have to be employed to apply. “If they’re laid off they’re looking for work to stay,” Lowe said. “In many cases they’re having to take different jobs.”

This can mean taking positions that require a lower skill set or pay less.

Lowe says foreign workers from the U.S. and the U.K. apply because they like Vancouver and want to stay, even if the wages are less here, whereas workers from the Philippines come through the temporary worker’s program for higher pay. The average carpenter in B.C. on construction jobs earns $22 an hour.

But Greg Kroeker, president of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council, says the real concern is how many immigrant construction workers are staying and working illegally. The government should be less concerned with attracting foreign workers in the current economy and should focus more on controlling who slips in over the border, he said. “We can tell you that under the current trade rules, workers can come in from the U.S. and become part of an underground economy.”

Lowe advises his clients to work legally if they want to stay or come back.

“The temptation would be to work under the table if they get laid off,” Lowe said. “I strongly advise against it. They can be banned from getting a work permit for six months.”


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