Making Temporary Permanent: The Silent Transformation of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program


  • Jason Foster



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.


Abella, M. 2006. Policies and Best Practices for Management of Temporary Migration. Presented at International Symposium on International Migration and Development, Turin, Italy June, 2006.

Alberta Employment and Immigration (AEI). 2010. “TFW Monthly Activity and Status Report, January 31, 2010.” Retrieved April 6, 2011

Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL). 2007. Temporary Foreign Workers: Alberta’s Disposable Workforce: The Six-Month Report of the AFL’s Temporary Foreign Worker Advocate. Edmonton: Alberta Federation of Labour.

Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL). 2009. Entrenching Exploitation: The Second Report of the AFL’s Temporary Foreign Worker Advocate. Edmonton: Alberta Federation of Labour.

Bakan, A. B., and Stasiulis, D. K. 1997. Not One of the Family: Foreign Domestic Workers in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. DOI:

Bauder, H. 2006. Labor Movement: How Migration Regulates Labor Markets. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. DOI:

Castles, S. 2006. “Guestworkers in Europe: A Resurrection?” International Migration Review, 40(4), 741-66. DOI:

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). 2009. Facts and Figures 2009. Ottawa: Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). 2011. Facts and Figures 2010. Ottawa: Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). 2012. Preliminary Tables – Permanent and Temporary Residents. Ottawa: Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Cranford, C., and Ladd, D. 2003. “Community Unionism: Organising for Fair Employment in Canada.” Just Labour, 3, 46-59.

Cross, P. 2011. “How Did the 2008-2010 Recession and Recovery Compare with Previous Cycles?” Canadian Economic Observer January 2011.

Dugale, V. 2009. “Migrant Workers Organize.” Our Times, 28(3), 22-30.

Flecker, K. 2010. “Building a Disposable Workforce through Temporary Migration Policy.” Canadian Issues/Themes Canadiens Spring: 99-103.

Foster, J. 2008. “Temporary Foreign Workers: Alberta’s Disposable Workforce.” Union: Insight and Analysis Winter 2008: 15-17.

Foster, J. and Barnetson, B. (2012). “Justice for Janitors in Alberta: The Impact of Temporary Foreign Workers on an Organizing Campaign.” Journal of Workplace Rights 16(1), 3-30. DOI:

Foster, J. and Taylor, A. 2011. “Permanent Temporary-ness: Temporary Foreign Workers in Alberta’s Construction Trades.” Canadian Industrial Relations Annual Conference, June 2011, Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Fudge, J. 2011. “The Precarious Migrant Status and Precarious Employment: The Paradox of International Rights for Migrant Workers (No. 11-15).” Working Paper Series. Vancouver: Metropolis British Columbia. DOI:

Fudge, J., and MacPhail, F. 2009. “The Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada: Low-Skilled Workers as an Extreme Form of Flexible Labour.” Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law, University of Melbourne, Working Paper No. 45.

Gross, D. 2010. “Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada: Does a Policy with Short-Term Purpose Have a Long-Term Impact on Unemployment?” Canadian Issues/Themes Canadiens Spring: 107-11.

Gross, D. and Schmitt, N. 2010. “Temporary Foreign Workers and the Persistence of Regional Labor Market Disparities.” Metropolis BC Working Paper #09-05. DOI:

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). (2010). Temporary Foreign Worker Program Labour Market Opinion (LMO) Statistics, 2005-2009.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). 2011. Temporary Foreign Worker Program Labour Market Opinion (LMO) Statistics, 2006-2010.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). 2012. “Accelerated Labour Market Opinion Fact Sheet. Kenney, J. (2010) Quoted in Interview with the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.” Canadian Issues/Themes Canadiens Spring: 10-13.

Keung, N. 2009. “Marchers protest migrants’ roundup; Advocates decry raids that led to deportation of foreign workers”. Toronto Star, May 3, p. A3. Toronto.

Martin, P. 2003. Managing Labor Migration: Temporary Worker Programs for the 21st Century. International Institute for Labour Studies, Geneva.

Martin, P. 2010. “Temporary Worker Programs: U.S. and Global Experiences.” Canadian Issues/Themes Canadiens Spring: 122-28.

Martin, P., Abella, M. and Kuptsch, C. 2006. Managing Labour Migration in the Twenty-First Century. New Haven: Yale University Press. DOI:

Nakache, D., and Kinoshita, P. 2010. “The Canadian Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Do Short-Term Economic Needs Prevail Over Human Rights Concerns?” Institute for Research on Public Policy, Research Paper No. 5.

Pastor, M., and Alva, A. 2004. “Guest Workers and the New Transnationalism: Possibilities and Realities in an Age of Repression.” Social Justice 31(1–2): 92-112.

Preibisch, K. 2007. “Local Produce, Foreign Labor: Labor Mobility Programs and Global Trade Competitiveness in Canada.” Rural Sociology, 72(3), 418-49. DOI:

Preibisch, K. 2010. “Pick-Your-Own Labor: Migrant Workers and Flexibility in Canadian Agriculture.” International Migration Review, 44(2), 404-41. DOI:

Ruhs, M. 2002. “Temporary Foreign Workers Programmes: Policies, Adverse Consequences, and the Need to Make Them Work.” Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California (San Diego), Working Paper 56.

Ruhs, M., and Martin, P. 2008. “Numbers vs. Rights: Trade-offs and Guest Worker Programs.” International Migration Review 42(1): 249–65. DOI:

Sharma, N. 2001. “On Being Not Canadian: The Social Organization of “Migrant Workers” in Canada.” Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue Canadienne de Sociologie 38(4): 415-39. DOI:

Sharma, N. 2007. “Freedom to Discriminate: A National State Sovereignty and Temporary Migrant Workers in Canada.” Pp. 163-83 in Citizenship and Immigrant Incorporation, edited by G. Yurdakul and Y.M. Bodemann. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI:

Siemiatycki, M. 2010. “Marginalizing Migrants: Canada’s Rising Reliance on Temporary Foreign Workers.” Canadian Issues/Themes Canadiens Spring: 60-3.

Stanford, J. and Vosko, L. eds. 2004. Challenging the Market: The Struggle to Regulate Work and Labour. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Sweetman, A. and Warman, C. 2010. “Canada’s temporary foreign workers programs.” Canadian Issues/Themes Canadiens Spring: 19-24.

Thomas, D. 2010. “Foreign Nationals Working Temporarily in Canada.” Canadian Social Trends (June): 34-48.

Tinbergen, J., and Polak, J. J. 2005. The Dynamics of Business Cycles: A Study of Economic Fluctuations. London: Routledge.

Trumper, R. and Wong, L. 2010. “Temporary Workers in Canada: A National Perspective.” Canadian Issues/Themes Canadiens Spring: 83-9.

United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW). 2011. The Status of Migrant Farm Workers in Canada, 2010-11. Toronto: author.

Valiani, S. 2010. “The Rise of Temporary Migration and Employer-Driven Immigration in Canada: Tracing Policy Shifts of The Late 20th and Early 21stCenturies.” Presented at the workshop on “Producing and Negotiating Precarious Migratory Status in Canada”, York University, Toronto: Research Alliance on Precarious Status (September 16).

Voyageur, C. 2007. Presentation at Treading Water: Wages, Workers and the Boom, Edmonton, Parkland Institute, University of Alberta, September 29.

Warman, C. 2009. “The Earning Outcomes of Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada.” Queen’s Economics Department Working Paper.

Wong, L.T. 1984. “Canada’s Guestworkers: Some Comparisons of Temporary Workers in Europe and North America.” International Migration Review 18(1): 85-98. DOI:



— Updated on 2012-10-01


  • 2012-10-01 (2)
  • (1)

How to Cite

Foster, J. (2012). Making Temporary Permanent: The Silent Transformation of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Just Labour, 19.