Immigration Minister Marc Miller is warning that Canada’s economy has become too dependent on cheap labour from international students and temporary foreign workers, however many businesses don’t agree.
“We have gotten addicted to temporary foreign workers,” Miller told BNN Bloomberg in an interview on Tuesday.
“Any large industry trying to make ends meet will look at the ability to drive down wages. There is an incentive to drive labor costs down. It’s something that’ll require a larger discussion.”
Miller recently announced a two-year cap on international students, reducing the annual amount by 35%. There are also plans to reduce the amount of weekly work hours students are permitted to have.
Miller said the federal government will continue to take the necessary measures to curtail Canada’s dependence on temporary foreign labour. However, some businesses have pushed back on Miller’s sentiments, saying that there aren’t enough domestic workers to fulfill certain job gaps in the economy.
There are over 2.5 million non-permanent residents in Canada, according to data from Statistics Canada. That figure accounts for slightly more than 6% of the country’s population, many of whom fill key positions in the labour force.
The massive jump in population also increases rental prices and contributes to the overall housing crisis however, leading many Canadians to want more restrictions on immigration.
“I will have to be a little more surgical than I have in prior steps I’ve taken,” said Miller. “There are consequences to taking a decision that would limit that flow of people for businesses, for the economy.”
Miller said he’s working alongside Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault on what changes need to be made to the temporary foreign worker program concerning potential exploitation of some lower-wage sectors.
Canadian Federation of Independent Business president Dan Kelly accused the federal government of being in “panic mode” and making abrupt policy changes without considering their long term effects, particularly on rural communities who rely heavily on migrant workers.
“I worry that we may be scapegoating the temporary foreign worker program and the international student program to too great a degree and thinking that this is some big panacea or big fix,” said Kelly in a BNN interview.
Some companies that employ international students have already begun lobbying against the proposed reduction of permissible work hours.
“Some of the big-box stores, some of the businesses that have international students, have pushed relatively hard to preserve the 40-hour work week,” said Miller. “Some student groups call for it as well because a lot of employers want you to be able to commit to more than 20 hours.”
Among those lobbying for international students to have a 30 hour work week while class is in session is the Retail Council of Canada.
“For international students, retail can provide a way to supplement their incomes, enhance language skills, and provide useful employment skills – everything from front-line retail and customer service, to logistics and supply chain,” wrote spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen in an email to BNN Bloomberg.