Stephen Harper’s Conservative government may work in mysterious ways, but this week’s “announcements” about expanding foreign worker programs shows that it is attuned to some of the country’s needs.
The Conservatives moved on two fronts this week: the working holiday visa program for Australians will be extended from one year to two, and the process for hiring temporary foreign workers for a number of specific jobs has been streamlined.
There has been no official announcement about the extension to the working holiday visa program for Australians (a release from Hostelling International last week was the first indication), but the program is expected to kick in early next year. The annual cap of 7,500 working holiday visas for Australians will also be lifted.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard is apparently keen on Australians working abroad as he reached a similar work and travel agreement, albeit for only one year, with the United States during the recent Asia Pacific summit.
Meanwhile, the streamlining of the temporary foreign worker visa program was announced Monday. Employers trying to hire foreign workers for any of 12 jobs, including ski instructor, will now be given a yes/no answer from Immigration Canada within five days. Previously employers had to prove, through a cross-country search, that they couldn’t find a qualified Canadian to do the job — a process which Whistler businesses found often took months and inevitably never seemed to satisfy Immigration Canada.
Both of these visa programs respond to the needs of Whistler, and other Western Canadian mountain resorts, and show the Conservatives have been listening. The Whistler Chamber of Commerce, which led the campaign to extend the working holiday visa program and met with Monte Solberg, formerly the minister responsible for immigration, last year, also deserves kudos.
However, as anyone who has looked at the demographics knows, the visa programs are helpful but labour is going to be a large, long-term problem for Whistler.
A study last year by go2, the B.C. tourism industry’s human resources association, concluded that labour shortages in the Sea to Sky corridor will get much worse over the next decade. In actual numbers, the study found that tourism operators need to attract an average of 3,500 workers every year from outside the region. And that number did not include any of the skilled trades, such as construction workers, mechanics and landscapers.
So, the chamber hired a recruiting specialist last year. The chamber is also making efforts to get the working holiday visa program extended to Britain. Closer to home, the chamber and others have worked at retaining employees, targeted students as potential employees and expanded recruitment efforts.