Yukon foreign worker program unaffected by federal ban

Recent changes to Canada's temporary foreign worker program won't impact Yukon businesses using similar programs offered by the Yukon government.

Recent changes to Canada’s temporary foreign worker program won’t impact Yukon businesses using similar programs offered by the Yukon government.

Last week, federal employment minister Jason Kenney announced an immediate ban on restaurants and the food services sector using the controversial program, in response to revelations that some fast food restaurants are abusing the program.

But that won’t affect Yukon businesses who are using the territory’s own temporary foreign worker system, according to Shawn Kitchen, the assistant deputy minister of advanced education, which oversees the program.

“If there was an employer that was using the federal stream, it would affect them. On the Yukon side, our program is substantially different,” Kitchen said.

The Yukon’s own program is still in its infancy, having been launched as a pilot project in August of last year. It targets only the oil, gas and mining sectors, as well as tourism, Kitchen said.

“As we were developing it, we saw nationally more and more of the issues that Canada saw federally. As we learned from that, we started making some changes to the development of our program to address the challenges we were seeing federally,” Kitchen said.

One of the key differences between the two programs is that Yukon temporary workers are only eligible to work in the territory for 12 months; the federal program approves applicants for four years.

“One of the other challenges we’ve seen elsewhere is layoffs of Canadians. We’re saying if there are layoffs, for the following year you cannot offer temporary foreign workers a position until you’ve offered those laid-off workers the chance to come back,” Kitchen said.

Right now there hasn’t been much uptake of the program, in part because it’s still very new and also because of the slowdown in the mining sector, Kitchen said.

Since the program was launched in August, Kitchen said there have been about 25 applications for temporary foreign workers, and fewer than 10 have been approved. All the applications have come from the tourism sector.

However, many Yukon businesses take advantage of another program to bring in foreign workers. The Yukon nominee program allows employers to bring in foreign workers and nominate them for permanent residency. That program also won’t be affected by the new federal changes.

Northern Vision Development uses the program at many of its hotel businesses.

“For us, the (temporary foreign worker program) is more trouble than it’s worth,” said Philip Fitzgerald, the company’s chief financial officer.

“We use the nominee program. We have for many years. It’s a much better fit for us,” Fitzgerald said.

For many Yukon businesses, the prospect of bringing in a foreign worker makes more sense if that person has the chance to stay longer and eventually become a permanent resident.

Earlier this month the C.D. Howe Institute released a report that said the influx of temporary foreign workers in the country over the last decade – from around 100,000 to nearly 340,000 – is partially responsible for the rising unemployment rates in B.C. and Alberta.

Kenney’s office is now promising a review of the program and suggesting that tougher restrictions will be put in place.

Contact Jesse Winter at