Making Temporary Permanent: The Silent Transformation of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program
During the mid-2000s the number of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) present in Canada increased dramatically, more than tripling in eight years. The bulk of the increase was due to an expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to include lower-skilled occupations. The stated reason for the expansion was to address short-term labour shortage s. Contrary to expectations, upon the onset of the economic downturn in 2008, the number of TFWs did not decrease significantly, and appears to be increasing again in 2010 and 2011. This paper tracks the evolution of the TFWP from a stable program designed to address short-term labour needs in high-skilled occupations into a broader labour market tool. The paper examines the most recent available statistical data for the TFWP and other documentary evidence to argue the role of the TFWP in Canada’s labour market has quietly shifted, becoming a permanent, large-scale labour pool for many industries, reminiscent of European migrant worker programs. The paper also examines the potential labour market implications of an expanded, entrenched TFWP.
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