Why are so many temporary foreign workers in Southwestern Ontario?: Moffatt

There’s no “severe labour shortage” in the region, but TFW numbers have risen dramatically

Hamilton (Wikimedia)

Hamilton (Wikimedia)

A common defence of Canada’s ballooning temporary foreign worker program is that it’s needed in areas with severe labour shortages. Despite this, there has been an influx of TFWs to a very surprising place: Southwestern Ontario.

Any increase in TFWs in Southwestern Ontario should be seen as a surprise, as the labour market has been in decline in the region over the last decade, with London, Windsor and Hamilton experiencing significant declines in their full-time employment rates:

Southwestern Ontario Full-Time Employment Rates

With the possible exceptions of Guelph and the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo CMA, one would have to look for a very long time to find a “severe labour shortage” in Southwestern Ontario. Despite this, the number of TFWs has risen dramatically across the region. Here are the number of TFWs across seven communities in Southwestern Ontario on December 1 of each year:

Temporary Foreign Workers in Southwestern Ontario on December 1

Note the increases in TFWs in Hamilton and London, along with a spike in Windsor in 2012. These were the same communities that experienced the sharpest declines in their full-time employment rates. Here is the data on TFWs expressed as a total over the seven communities:

Total Number of Temporary Foreign Workers

So what are all these TFWs doing in London, Hamilton and Windsor? We really cannot say thanks to limited data.

There are at least two publicly available data sets on TFWs. The data posted in the above charts is from Citizen and Immigration’s Immigration Overview. The data set also includes TFW data sorted by source country, yearly sub-status and gender and occupational skill level. Unfortunately those data items are not divided up by city or province, so there is no way to tell what types of jobs TFWs are taking in places like St. Catharines-Niagara.

The second publicly available data set is the Employment and Social Development Canada’s Labour Market Opinion Statistics. An LMO is often needed before a firm can “hire a foreign worker or get pre-approval to hire a large number of workers.” The LMO Statistics does break the skill level and occupational groups data to the province level, but not the city or CMA level. However, even the provincial data is of limited use, as there is no direct way to correlate the data from the immigration set to the LMO set (or vice versa), since as the LMO Statistics point out, “not all Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) require a labour market opinion (LMO) to obtain a work permit.” Restricting our examination to TFWs that have an LMO gives us an incomplete picture, but using the immigration data set prevents us from analyzing skill and occupational data at the provincial level.

The temporary foreign workers issue is just another example of why Canada needs to keep better labour market data. There may be very good economic reasons why the number of TFWs has doubled in Southwestern Ontario in the last decade, but without proper data there is no real way of knowing.

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11 comments on “Why are so many temporary foreign workers in Southwestern Ontario?: Moffatt

  1. Given the unemployment statistics for southwestern Ontario (double for youth), it is very hard to understand why TFWs would be approved, other than during crop season. Perhaps Minister Kenney can provide an explanation? Might it be punishment for the number of Liberal and NDP seats?

    • Well, not likely, Walt, since in all of Southwestern Ontario there is a total of one Liberal and I think seven NDP seats. I’m pretty sure every voter in SWO isn’t also a CEO or proprietor taking advantage of TFW workers, so I’m kind of dumbfounded at how so many people voted against their own interests.

  2. Up until the late 60’s, labour in crops such as tobacco was done by local people and workers from Quebec and the Maritimes. People worked May 1st to Christmas in tobacco, for instance, did a couple of months in the tobacco factory or warehouse then collected EI until the end of April. Then the system changed, the use of EI was heavily criticized and the government promoted the use of TFWs which has greatly increased over time. The myth was perpetuated that our Canadian workers did not want to work, which was absolutely not true. As well, there are thousands of Mennonite workers in SW Ontario and many of them have a citizenship problem: i.e. Lost Canadians trying to regain citizenship.
    The government needs to make it advantageous for farmers and other employers to hire Canadians: who could blame them for not hiring TFWs if that makes them more money in a business where it’s hard to profit anyway? Rural people tend to vote conservatively anyway, and I would not expect that to change (especially with the hated windmills everywhere, ruining farmland) so, yes, they are often voting against their own interests by supporting a government that pushes TFWs.

  3. SW Ont has a worker shortage every year. So we have Mexicans, Jamaicans etc by the thousands working in the fields. Always have had.

  4. This article hits the nail on the head — there is not appropriate data and perhaps more importantly, every area of Canada needs to be looked at separately. Currently there are just over 113,000 jobs listed on the Federal Job Bank. Of these 20% are in Alberta and 27% are in Ontario. The population of Ontario is 13.3 million versus Alberta’s 3.8 million (based on statsCan 2012 statistics) It is vital that proper data is maintained — maybe there isn’t the need in Southern Ontario, for the number of TFWs that are there, but maybe there is the need is Alberta, and maybe for Alberta the answer still is not TEMPORARY workers…

  5. I cannot think of any reason to have a TWA in our country let alone Ontario. We bring in immigrants to become citizens and that is the preferred way. Eliminating the TWA would only have one effect and that is wages would have to rise to attract people into that industry. The spin offs are only positive 1) higher wages means better standard of living 2) higher wages means more income tax and municipal tax for governments at all levels 3) companies that cannot afford to pay higher wages would close down and workers would shift to companies that are profitable 4) profitable companies pay corporate taxes whereas companies breaking even pay no corporate taxes.
    Help me see the plus in having TWA’s, as I cannot see it. And I have heard the argument that national companies cannot have the same prices if they cannot use TWAs in areas where there is labour shortage…..funny the big national gas stations don’t seem to care if prices are higher in certain areas and we as citizens should not care about how Companies price their goods in different markets as competition will set the price.

  6. There seems to a perception among a lot of Canadians that Temporary Workers are all returned to their home countries at the end of their contract. I know personally that many of the TW’s apply for, and obtain, immigration status. There is also a perception that they take away Canadian jobs. I know a number of small business owners in Alberta who constantly find a revolving door trying to find Canadians to fill jobs, skilled or unskilled, willing to provide mentoring and training, only to find many hires simply quitting in a short time. That is expensive for small business owners and it affects their profitability which in turn affects their ability to stay in business and employ people.
    Many of the TW’s come very well trained and commited to fulfill their contract obligations. They also pay taxes, buy from local merchants, making a contribution to our society. It adds inclusive diversity to our culture and society fabric. In many cases, TW’s wages are on par with Canadian wages. These are persons willing to move to our country to find work, while many Canadians will not take initiative to relocate to even another Canadian region for meaningful work.
    This program has many benefits to Canada, and like any government programs, there will be some abuse and fraud. We have similar affects with our Canadian safety net programs, and they need reform improvements over time as well.

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