Canada is slashing its spots for foreign guest workers, and resort towns are worried

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Marco Werman: Every year, tens of thousands of immigrants enter the US legally on temporary seasonal work visas, and they’re the backbone of many American resort destinations, like Cape Cod, not far from our studios here in Boston. Go there in the summer and you’re likely to hear accents from Eastern Europe or the Caribbean. It’s the same for Banff, Alberta, north of the border. But a recent policy change by Canada’s federal government has many in the town feeling nervous and upset. Renata D'Aliesio is on the story for the Globe and Mail.


Renata D'Aliesio: Canada’s temporary foreign worker program allows both low-skilled workers and high-skilled workers into the country. What’s changed is with the result of reforms in June, the Canadian government is really clamping down on the low-skilled positions. Coming in 2016, businesses will only be allowed to employ 10% of their workforce through temporary foreign workers.


Werman: What prompted this turnaround?


D’Aliesio: There was some reports in the media of businesses squeezing out Canadian workers in favor of temporary foreign workers. This really caused an uproar in the public in regards to that. That’s what really sparked a lot of these reforms.


Werman: What impact does this new ruling have for Banff?


D’Aliesio: I was in Banff a couple of weeks ago and there are several businesses there, particularly in the hotel sector, that are very concerned that they won’t be able to fill this gap. They don’t believe that there are more Canadians willing to pick up and move to Banff for what is, in essence, seasonal work and not the highest paying jobs. So, they’re very worried that come this summer, when it is peak tourist season there, that they just won’t have enough workers to fill all the positions.


Werman: And yet we hear 110,000 Albertans are looking for work. Is that just hype or is that actually the unemployment data?


D’Aliesio: It is the unemployment data, and this is something that the Canadian government and the employment minister continues to point to when he hears these concerns, that there are still too many Albertans out of work. But what the employers counter with is if these workers were willing to work, that they would be applying for these jobs, and they’re just not applying for them is what they argue.


Werman: I gather many of the tourists who come to these ski resorts, they prefer foreign ski instructors to Canadian ones? What’s that all about?


D’Aliesio: That’s something that the Whistler Chamber of Commerce there had mentioned to me, that the concern raised in Whistler, which is in British Columbia, is that some of the ski instructors who have been brought in through the temporary foreign worker program won’t be allowed in, and some of the tourists who keep returning to Whistler year after year are warning that they won’t return, they’ll go elsewhere if the ski instructors aren’t there.


Werman: Do they think they’re better, or do they just like the accent?


D’Aliesio: I don’t know. Language is a big thing. Some of the tourists just don’t speak English and want ski instructors who are able to speak fluently in their language. I take it skill of some of these instructors is one of the priorities as well.


Werman: Take us back to the employers, because I’m not sure I understand why they doubt their ability to attract Canadian workers.


D’Aliesio: What the employees are saying is they try. One of the rules of the temporary foreign worker program is you must advertise in Canada and try to attract Canadian workers first. It’s only after those efforts show that you haven’t been able to recruit any workers are you allowed to turn overseas for workers. So, what they say is if there were Canadian workers, they would be hiring them already.


Werman: Will business owners scramble now to find Canadians -- work harder? Or will they continue to hire foreigners just off the books?


D’Aliesio: With the businesses I spoke to there said is they just don’t think that there are more Canadians to fill these jobs. So, what they’re expecting this summer if nothing changes to the temporary foreign worker program is they will try to recruit more foreign workers through a different program. It’s more of a working holiday visa program where workers come for a couple months to work and travel. The other thing that they expect will happen is they will just have to rely on the workers they have to work longer hours, to work on off-days to make up for the labor shortfall.


Werman: Renata D’Aliesio with the Globe and Mail newspaper speaking with me from Toronto. Thank you.


D’Aliesio: Thank you Marco.