By Vivian Moreau
Changes to Canada’s foreign worker approval process have been streamlined, allowing a greater variety of workers into Canada more quickly and letting them stay longer, federal minister Monte Solberg announced Friday in Vancouver.
But the change doesn’t affect the many foreign workers who come to Whistler on one-year working visas, and that didn’t impress some in Whistler’s hospitality sector.
“Where it is a step in the right direction, it is a small step and it’s not even a solution for most of the people here in Whistler,” said Scott Taber, Four Seasons general manager.
Up to now foreign professional job seekers approved through a lengthy application process had to leave the country after 12 months.
Previously, employers could hunt only for professionals through the program and had to advertise extensively across the country, a lengthy and expensive process, according to Whistler Chamber of Commerce president Louise Lundy.
“Last year we were saying ‘This is ridiculous. These processes are antiquated, too expensive and discouraging to employers,’” Lundy said.
And although the reduced advertising component is still expensive, Lundy said the widened scope of allowable professions means employers can now bring in lower skilled workers through the program, such as hospitality staff.
“They’ve made it a hundred times easier so if you’re talking to an employer who actually tried this process as early as last summer they would still be saying that it’s (too cumbersome a process), but if they tried it in the last 12 weeks they would be going ‘holy cow this is a completely different experience.’”
Changes to the labour market opinion process are effective immediately, as are other improvements to the program such as an online, rather than mail-in, application procedure for employers that will shorten waiting times, the minister said. Last year the program brought in 18,048 workers to B.C., the second highest number in the country.
The labour market opinion process of importing foreign workers is separate from the foreign worker visa program that also admits service workers but is still restricted to a one-year duration.
Solberg, previously citizen and immigration minister, switched portfolios recently to human resources and social development but still shares responsibility with his replacement, Diane Finley, for finding solutions to Canada’s lack of workers.
In a telephone interview Solberg said the problem of understaffing was made abundantly clear to him in a visit to Whistler last fall.
“As we walked around Whistler and talked to store owners it was clear just how difficult it was to find and keep temporary workers, “ Solberg said. “I’ve got to know friends in Whistler pretty well,” he added, “and they’ve been very persistent on this issue and it’s nice to be able to finally deliver on that commitment that we made when we first met about five months ago.”
However, some suggest the whole system is not meeting Whistler’s needs.
Having to advertise across the country for housekeepers “is just such a waste of time,” said Pradeep Puri, Hilton Whistler Resort’s general manager. “It looks like a step forward and if not full forward at least it’s a step forward,” he added.
Taber said now changes need to be made to extend time requirements to the feds’ worker visa program. “The chamber is doing excellent work in moving this program forward and we just need to continue to put the pressure on for us to have a viable work force for our world class resort.”