EDMONTON – Thousands of temporary foreign workers hoping to stay permanently under Albertaâ€™s special nominee program lost their chance this fall.
The province announced last month wait times of more than two years in some categories to process applications for the 5,500 spots â€” and by that time any two-year work permits will have expired, making those workersâ€™ applications invalid.
â€œPeople are shocked because many were told about the provincial nominee program when they were deciding whether to come to Alberta,â€� said Marco Luciano of Migrante, a TFW advocacy group.
â€œThousands have already lost their chance, and (other) people are in a very precarious situation because of the delay in processing applications.â€�
Jobs Minister Ric McIver acknowledged the â€œtremendous interestâ€� in the nominee program, where employers put forward workers for permanent residency. More than 10,000 applications are in the queue.
â€œWeâ€™re advocating for more spaces because we need them,â€� McIver said Monday, adding heâ€™d like the federal government to double Albertaâ€™s yearly quota under the program. â€œWeâ€™ve got temporary workers filling permanent jobs.â€�
McIver noted there is â€œtime sensitivityâ€� to the issue because by next spring, thousands of TFWs who arrived in 2011 will be scheduled to return home when their four-year contracts expire.
McIver said he will be discussing with federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney â€œa number of different scenariosâ€� to meet the spring crunch, with the goal of turning many more TFWs into permanent Alberta residents.
â€œWhy not? Like good Canadians, these people are working hard, paying taxes, contributing to society and staying out of trouble,â€� McIver said.
â€œThatâ€™s going to require some co-operationâ€� on the part of both levels of government, he added.
The spike in applications for the nominee program started in 2013, said Oghio Ikhalo, a spokesperson in Albertaâ€™s Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Department.
For workers who arrive after Sept. 1, 2014, the wait time to hear if an application is approved is 25 months in the skilled and semi-skilled categories, the latter including the food industry.
The wait is 18 months in manufacturing, 15 months in trucking and 14 months for postgraduate workers, many of whom are on 12-month work permits.
The department also announced it will no longer consider applications on a first-come, first-served basis, said Ikhalo.
Instead, the department wants to spread the applicants â€œfairlyâ€� across all sectors of the economy, he said.
â€œAt the end of the day, these are human beings who want to better themselves,â€� said Ikhalo. â€œBut we have a set allocation.â€�
Immigration lawyer Vanessa Routley said sheâ€™s heard from many frustrated clients.
â€œMany workers have put time and effort and money into getting into Alberta so they could have a chance to apply for the nominee program,â€� she said.
â€œItâ€™s sad, because they are suddenly told if they play by the rules, they will get status, but now there is no chance,â€� said Routley, wondering why Alberta does not speed up the application process.
Temporary foreign workers should be wary if they are told they will likely be able to stay permanently when their contract is over, said labour department spokesperson Janice Schroeder.
â€œThey are signing a temporary contract,â€� she said.
With Albertaâ€™s nominee program oversubscribed, the province is advising workers to apply to a federal program called Canadian Experience Class that offers another route to permanent residency, she added.
There seems to be mixed messages about immigration from Ottawa, Routley said.
While Albertaâ€™s annual quota is 5,500, the federal government this year opened the doors to 10,700 Irish workers under the International Experience program.
They can arrive with no job offer, and can stay two years, with the option of permanent residency if they get a skilled job, she said.
The federal government signed similar International Experience agreements with 30 countries, but allocated far fewer workers: 200 for Ukraine, 250 for Mexico, 5,350 for the U.K. and 1,000 for Taiwan, she said.