Temporary Foreign Worker Program—Employment and Social Development

Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Temporary Foreign Worker Program—Employment and Social Development

(Report 5—2017 Spring Reports of the Auditor General of Canada)

31 October 2017

Michael Ferguson, Chartered Professional AccountantCPA, Chartered AccountantCA
Fellow Chartered Professional AccountantFCPA, Fellow Chartered AccountantFCA (New Brunswick)
Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to present the results of our audit of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which is managed by Employment and Social Development Canada. Joining me at the table is Glenn Wheeler, the Principal who was responsible for the audit.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is meant to help employers fill job vacancies when qualified Canadians are not available. Employment and Social Development Canada is supposed to make sure that employers use the program to respond only to real labour shortages.

Our audit focused on whether the Department managed the program to allow employers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill labour shortages only when qualified Canadians were not available. The audit also focused on whether the Department ensured that employers complied with program requirements. In addition, we assessed how well the Department implemented the reforms that the federal government announced in June 2014.

Overall, the reforms introduced in 2014 contributed to a reduction in the number of temporary foreign workers. However, the Department’s implementation of these reforms did not ensure that employers hired temporary foreign workers only as a last resort.

For example, in many cases, the Department just took the word of employers that they could not find Canadian staff. The Department also did not consider sufficient labour market information to determine whether Canadians could fill jobs. We found cases in certain sectors—primarily caregivers, and fish and seafood processing plants—in which the Department should have better questioned whether temporary foreign workers were filling real labour shortages. In particular, there were indications that unemployed Canadians who last worked in a fish and seafood processing plant may have been available for work.

In addition, the Department committed to requiring employers to demonstrate that they had tried to fill low-wage positions by recruiting from under-represented groups. In the files we reviewed to which this commitment applied, 65% of employers did not make adequate efforts to appeal to under-represented groups before requesting temporary foreign workers. Nevertheless, the Department approved most of these applications. For example, program officers approved applications for temporary foreign workers in some fish and seafood processing plants located near First Nations communities, even when efforts to recruit from these communities were not found on file.

We also found that the Department increased its enforcement activities since announcing program reforms. However, it did not use the information it had to focus its activities on employers of the most vulnerable workers or on employers that were most at risk of not complying with the program.

As well, most enforcement activities consisted of reviewing documents that employers were asked to provide to investigators by mail. The Department conducted few onsite inspections and face-to-face interviews with employers or temporary foreign workers.

Finally, we found that the Department did not measure the results or impact of the program and did not know what impact the program had on the labour market. Appropriate analysis of results and impacts could have helped the Department understand underlying reasons why, for example, Canadians did not appear willing to take some of the jobs that temporary foreign workers eventually filled.

We are pleased to report that the Department has agreed with our recommendations and has prepared an action plan to address them.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the Committee may have. Thank you.