The immigration system is not meeting the needs of small and medium-sized employers who are facing significant labour shortages, finds a new report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). The biggest issues are a mismatch between the jobs small businesses need filled and the skills-level of immigrants the government prioritizes, as well as the long and overly-complicated process of bringing in and retaining foreign workers.
"Our immigration system does not make it easy for smaller employers and immigrants to connect and work together," said Corinne Pohlmann, CFIB's senior vice-president of national affairs. "Employers who use the immigration system to fill a vacancy face a complex web of red tape and high costs, especially if they are hiring a temporary foreign worker. Once workers are in Canada and have become integrated in their communities and workplaces, it can be extremely difficult to retain them because there are limited pathways to permanent residency, especially for those with lower skill levels."
Labour and skills shortages not addressed by immigration system
More than three quarters of small business owners have had difficulty hiring workers over the past five years due to skills and labour shortages. The majority of occupational shortages reported by small businesses are for jobs that require a college diploma or apprenticeship (46 per cent), followed by those that require a high school diploma or on the job training (31 per cent). However, only 17 per cent and two per cent of the economic immigrants admitted to Canada in 2017 respectively had those qualifications. In contrast, three fifths of immigrants had a university degree, but less than one in ten occupations experiencing shortages require one.
Small business owners who cannot find a worker locally may turn to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program and they are generally very satisfied with the workers they bring in. However, to hire a TFW, employers must fill out reams of complicated forms, pay non-refundable fees and wait six to 12 months or sometimes more to receive approval before they can even begin recruiting.
"When small business owners turn to the immigration system to fill a vacant position, it's because they have tried everything else and run out of options," added Emilie Hayes, senior policy analyst at CFIB and lead author of the report. "The cost and stress they have to go through to recruit a foreign worker wouldn't be worth it if this wasn't their last resort to keep their business operational, and sometimes keep their Canadian workers employed as well."
A path forward for employers and immigrant workers
CFIB urges the government to make changes to the immigration system to help employers connect with qualified foreign workers when they are unable to recruit in their communities:
• Create an "Introduction to Canada Visa" as a pathway to permanent residency for foreign workers in sectors or regions with high demand.
• Ensure that the skills of new immigrants being welcomed into Canada on a temporary or permanent basis more closely align with the skill levels needed by employers of all sizes, including in the skilled trades, and lower-skilled occupations.
• Conduct a full review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program process to reduce the complexity of applications, improve government customer service, and significantly reduce delays in processing applications.
"Immigrants and foreign workers at all skill levels bring a lot of experience and new ideas to Canadian workplaces and are often instrumental to the success of small businesses struggling with skills and labour shortages," concluded Pohlmann. "They are valued employees and small business owners go to great lengths to help them integrate, including assisting them with settling or offering training and mentorship. But they can't do it alone—the government must help both new immigrants and temporary foreign workers connect with employers and help to integrate them into the labour market."