The cap on the number of people Alberta can nominate to become permanent residents has been raised as the demand by employers and temporary foreign workers remains strong.
Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said the cap has increased from 4,400 to 5,000 per year.
“Of the workers that have exhibited a desire to stay, I can probably fill that cap of 5,000 in the first three months of every year.
“So does the need exceed the cap? By far,” said Lukaszuk who spoke to temporary foreign workers in Red Deer on Friday.
The federal government decides who becomes residents based on nominations from Alberta.
Lukaszuk said he is waiting for the results of a provincial review underway on the impact of the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program on Alberta to tell him what employers, workers and Alberta communities want.
If there are industries that continuously fly workers “in and out, in and out” because employers cannot find Albertans or Canadians to fill a job, should that job be filled with a temporary foreign worker or should it be filled by someone who wants to become a Canadian, Lukaszuk said.
In the meantime, Alberta has put two streams on hold in its immigrant nomination program, the family and the U.S. visa holder streams.
“My responsibility to Albertans is first. It would be unconscionable to allow unemployed immigrants to arrive in this province and compete for jobs where we do have Albertans who are looking for jobs right now as well.”
The federal government’s family reunification program for immigrants will continue.
Recently, the province announced $74,000 for Catholic Social Services in Red Deer to extend its pilot project for settlement services to temporary foreign workers until March.
“This is a program not mandated by the federal government. We do not have to provide temporary foreign workers with settlement services,” Lukaszuk said.
But teaching workers basic skills — how to catch a bus, how to get a driver’s licence, how to shop — is a benefit to workers, employers and the community as a whole, he said.
With a higher unemployment rate right now, Alberta has fewer temporary foreign workers. But the hospitality industry and seasonal industries like greenhouses, need foreign workers on an ongoing basis. And with population growth that has “flat-lined to zero” and more baby boomers reaching retirement, immigration is always vital to filling jobs in Canada, Lukaszuk said.
More than 60,000 temporary foreign workers live and work in Alberta.
Wayne Ramsay, owner of Ramsay Ridge hog farm located south of Sylvan Lake, is happy Alberta has a Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
“It found us a worker who would take a lot of the barn responsibilities in a time when we couldn’t find anyone to help us. It’s worked very well,” Ramsay said.
Rowel Velasco, 34, of the Philippines joined the Ramsay Ridge 20 months ago after more farm workers in Alberta started seeking work in the oilpatch.
“They make very good money and you can’t blame them,” Ramsay said.
He hopes Velasco, a veterinary technologist, can become a resident, along with his wife and three young daughters.
“Rowel’s family would make good Canadians and we need good Canadians.”