Businesses in Yellowknife can hire temporary foreign workers after the city received an exemption from new federal rules.
Changes made by the federal government in September 2014 barred employers in the accommodation, food services and retail sectors from hiring temporary foreign workers in regions where unemployment rates are six percent or above.
Under the banner of “ensuring Canadian workers come first,” the move was designed to limit the use of temporary foreign workers in areas where large numbers of Canadian residents were looking for jobs.
However, the territorial government has successfully argued that the raw numbers in the Northwest Territories left Yellowknife employers at an unfair disadvantage.
For example, in December 2014, the territorial unemployment rate was 13.9 percent outside Yellowknife – but just 2.3 percent in the city.
Those two rates combined to give the Northwest Territories an overall unemployment rate of 7.4 percent. Since that was above the six percent cap, Yellowknife businesses faced restrictions despite the city’s low unemployment figures.
“It’s unfair to treat employers across the entire territory the same way when, in fact, the unemployment rates in the capital region are significantly different,” explained Andy Bevan, the territorial government’s assistant deputy minister of labour and income security.
On Monday, the territory confirmed Yellowknife had received an exemption for businesses in the affected sectors. They are now free to hire temporary foreign workers.
However, Bevan says the system is still designed to protect, and promote, the priority given to Canadian residents looking for work in Yellowknife.
“This is just one tool in the toolbox for employers,” he told Moose FM.
“When they apply through the temporary foreign workers program, they have to demonstrate to the federal government that northerners – and other Canadians – aren’t able to fill these positions.”
Bevan noted that many temporary foreign workers who come to Yellowknife do eventually settle in the territory as permanent residents, through the nominee program.
That program was recently revamped to make entry slightly easier, as the territory seeks to increase its population by 2,000 people in a bid to boost its economy.