Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Research: How temporary are temporary workers?

Over time, Canada has seen a large increase in the number of temporary migrant workers. In 1996, there were ~53,000 temporary workers in Canada. This number increased to ~310,000 in 2015 (green line).

There are several program streams under which temporary workers can come to Canada. Broadly speaking, these fall into two categories.
  1. The Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program includes live-in caregivers, seasonal agricultural workers, and temporary foreign workers. 
  2. The International Mobility Program (IMP) includes workers who come to Canada under bilateral agreements (e.g., free trade agreements, recent international graduates, etc.)
Over time, there has been a shift with the number of TFW entrants (red line) declining (after a 2009 peak) while the IMP entrants are increasing (blue line). This shift likely reflects the rash of free trade agreements signed b the Harper government.

Statistics Canada has just released a paper entitled “How temporary were Canada’s temporary foreign workers?” The paper examines the length and type of stay of TFWs admitted between 1990 and 2009 and identifies factors associated with these outcomes.

The study does appear to include workers who arrived under IMP streams. A limitation of his study is that it does not account for TFWs who remained in Canada without an authorized work permit.

The crux of the analysis is:
  1. Most TFWs left Canada within 2 years of arrival.
  2. Over time, the proportion of TFWs in Canada 5 and 10 years after first admission has increased over time.
  3. TFWs who stayed in the long term mostly obtained permanent resident status.
The study suggests that patterns in staying reflect both the motives of TFWs and program constraint:
Low-skilled TFWs and individuals from countries with low levels of economic development and social stability may be highly motivated to stay longer or to stay permanently in Canada because they have more to gain from Canada’s standard of living and social and physical environments. In cases such as the [Live-in Caregiver Program], where there was a sure transition pathway to permanent residence, the majority of TFWs chose to stay. Even if limited pathways were available, as in the case of the [Low Skills Pilot], a large share of TFWs were able to stay in Canada. But, when no pathway was offered, as in the case of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, low-skilled TFWs could only stay as temporary residents or leave (no data are available to estimate how many of these TFWs stayed in Canada as undocumented persons).

On the other hand, high-skilled TFWs and individuals from developed economies may have relatively low motivation to stay in Canada permanently because their skills are sought after internationally. The social and economic gains from transition to permanent residence may not be substantial relative to the gains from returning to the country of origin or moving to other countries…. Consequently, the rates of stay for high-skilled TFWs were low to moderate even though there were more available transition pathways for them than for low-skilled TFWs.
The study concludes that the results are contrary to the common belief that host countries do not exercise adequate control over the duration of migrant worker stays. This conclusion should be accepted with caution due to the exclusion of undocumented workers from its scope.

-- Bob Barnetson

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