With rising unemployment rates across the country the federal government may reduce the number of temporary worker visas it offers this year, as well as the number of immigrants Canada will accept.
According to an article in the National Post, the government does not want to discourage skilled workers from immigrating to Canada, but is also wary that newcomers will face a tough labour market and possible unemployment on arrival.
The national unemployment rate increased from 6.6 per cent to 7.2 per cent from December to January, the highest level in five years, and some are predicting it could top out as high as nine per cent before the economy starts to recover in 2010.
In Whistler, which has depended on foreign workers in the past, that could mean fewer work visas in the future and a bigger emphasis on recruiting Canadians.
"We haven't heard anything in terms of numbers, but we have had feedback from the immigration division (Citizen and Immigration Canada) that we need to make sure that we're still going out of our way to make sure we're recruiting Canadians wherever possible," said Joel Chevalier, director of employee experience for Whistler Blackcomb.
In response, Whistler Blackcomb is changing its recruiting strategy for this year to focus less on Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Czech Republic and more on Canadian cities with a high rate of unemployment.
For 2008-09, a domestic recruiting drive hired 200 employees. Next season Whistler Blackcomb is looking for 275 Canadian staff.
Australians are currently a large component of Whistler Blackcomb's workforce, accounting for roughly 500 of the 3,800 seasonal employees. Chevalier couldn't say whether that ratio will change in the future as a result of rising unemployment.
Foreign workers can get visas in two ways. They can apply to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) for a temporary work visa, and once in Canada they can apply for most jobs.
The other route is to be hired by Canadian companies, who obtain a visa for up to two years on their behalf.
To be able to offer temporary work visas, businesses must apply to Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSD) for a Labour Market Opinion, which studies the impact of hiring a foreign national on the local market and reviews the employer's efforts to hire within Canada.
For Whistler, which had a pronounced labour shortage until recently, it was easier to meet HRSD's requirements. For example, employers looking to fill highly skilled positions must first advertise for a minimum of two weeks at a national level, using recognized recruitment tools.
Employers looking to fill lower skilled positions have to show that they made a reasonable effort to recruit in Canada, and provide proof to HRSD.
Once they have completed a Labour Market Opinion, HRSD sends that information to the CIC, which issues the actual work visas. From January to December 2008, the HRSD completed more than 23,700 Labour Market Opinions for B.C., compared to over 111,000 for all of Canada.
Chevalier says he's noticed a greater response to job postings from Canadian markets.
"We don't track the specifics, but a year ago we might have posted a job and not got any responses," he said. "Now we get quite a few applications for every job, and we get a few applications where the applicant isn't even going after a posted job - people walking in off the street and looking for employment. Some are pre-existing in the resort and are changing jobs, others are new to Whistler and coming in looking for something seasonal. Certainly there are a lot of people out there looking for work."
The federal government is expected to announce any changes to immigration numbers sometime in March, at the same time Whistler Blackcomb will start recruiting abroad for next year at job fairs in Australia and South Africa. During the summer Whistler Blackcomb will ramp up its domestic recruiting, visiting culinary schools and hospitality programs.