Foreign workers caught in employment limbo

Temporary foreign workers are still arriving in Central Alberta even though some others have lost their jobs here due to the recession.

Raul Rosas

Raul Rosas

Temporary foreign workers are still arriving in Central Alberta even though some others have lost their jobs here due to the recession.

“When these kind of cases came up a few months back, it wasn’t as big of a deal because people were still looking for foreign workers,” said Jaime Huizing, settlement counsellor with the Temporary Foreign Workers Settlement program in Red Deer.

But now workers have fewer opportunities to find other work once they arrive, she said.

Workers are allowed to look for a new job, but they need to find an employer who will go through the proper channels to show they need to hire a foreign worker, she said.

“They have to prove they’ve advertised the position to permanent residents and Canadians first.”

But if more Canadians are in need of jobs, how do they prove there’s still a need to hire a foreign worker, she asked.

Foreign workers end up paying the price.

“Some of them are selling land back home or borrowing off of family or getting loans to come here, thinking they’re coming to make money,” Huizing said.

Raul Rosas, of Veracruz, Mexico, is caught in job limbo in Red Deer.

Rosas, an engineer, came to Red Deer in December on a two-year contract with an oilfield company and was laid off in March.

He first spotted a newspaper ad for the job in June. It took three months to get a work permit, during which time he travelled to another part of the Mexico for training to prepare for the Canadian job.

He paid his own travel, accommodation and food expenses for the training, as well as medical tests and documents needed for his work permit.

“I really wanted to come here, but it’s really difficult to find a company while in Mexico. I decided to take the chance,” Rosas said.

Rosas wasn’t the only person at the company who was laid off. Other Mexican workers decided to return home, their flights paid by the company. But Rosas is determined to stay.

“In Mexico, the situation is even worse and I’m not allowed to go back to my old job because I quit.”

“I’m just going to stay here and keep going,” said the 26-year-old, who is continuing his job search and volunteers as an interpreter, translator and class assistant at Temporary Foreign Workers Settlement program, and at CrossRoads Church.

The federal government’s foreign worker program entitles workers to stay in Canada for the duration of their work permit, which can be up to two years.

Workers must reapply for a new work permit if they want to get a type of job other than what they came for.

Rosas has been looking for almost any kind of job and he’s had about four job offers, but each time the employer loses interest when they find out he’s a temporary foreign worker.

Companies believe it’s a difficult, complicated process to qualify to hire foreign workers. But it’s not, Rosas said.

Work is Rosas’ only option. He doesn’t qualify for employment insurance. He hasn’t worked the 950 hours required because this was his first job in Canada.

Rosas just wants Canadian employers to realize there are eager, hard-working, qualified temporary foreign workers searching for work.

“If it’s not easy for Canadian people, it’s even more difficult for us,” said Rosas who has become fluent in English since he arrived in Canada.

“This is the only chance for us. We have nothing to lose and everything to win.”

Charles Strachey, a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration, said the recession has hit everyone, including some companies that use foreign workers.

“This slowdown has happened fairly quickly. I don’t think all employers were able to anticipate it,” Strachey said.

On the other hand, some sectors still need foreign workers so they are continuing to come to Red Deer, he said.

“There are still employers out there, including retail, agriculture and the hospitality industries, who are still struggling to find staff. So yes, they are still coming, but just not in the same numbers.”

In 2008, about 39,000 foreign workers came to Alberta.

The province is aware that some foreign workers are experiencing layoffs and they can go to the Labour Market Information Centre, at First Red Deer Place 4911 51st St. in Red Deer for help to find a new employer, Strachey said.

Temporary Foreign Workers Settlement program, funded by Alberta Employment and Immigration, is located at 202 5000 Gaetz Ave.