Immigrant worker’s struggle exposes nominee program problems

An Immigration Canada form. - iStockphoto, courtesy Getty Images

An Ecuadorian immigrant’s Sisyphean efforts to gain employment in Canada highlight some of the problems plaguing provincial employee nominee programs.

Juan Carlos Escobar Hernandez has found the program — designed to expedite permanent residency for skilled workers and expand the labour force — frustrating and difficult to access, a problem not helped by a lack of government information.

He’s gone the extra mile — actually many of them. With time running out on his work permit, Escobar Hernandez gave up on Alberta’s Immigrant Nominee Program and moved to the Yukon, which he was told had a faster processing time.

He’s having no better luck up north, complaining it’s too hard to discover which employers are participating in the Yukon Nominee Program. He’s already applied to “90 per cent” of jobs he’s educated for, with no bites.

A major problem is that employers are restricted from advertising for foreign workers. Since nominee programs are designed to fill labour shortages, employers have to give Canadians a shot first. That means a job posting stays up for a minimum four weeks before giving a nominee candidate a shot.

Hiring a nominee creates new hoops for employers to jump through. They must show proof of extensive advertising and, if they hire a foreign worker, must show why any Canadian candidates were rejected for the job. Employers pay a $230 fee to the government and arrange air travel for the employee to come to the Yukon. They also set up a screening interview with an immigration officer, which they must attend.

Given that, employers might think twice before nominating anyone. Many businesses also revolted against the program last year when the government hiked nominee wages from $11.75 to $15 per hour, meaning nominees could make more money than current employees.

The nominee initiative also came under fire earlier this month when two Korean workers filed a human rights complaint over alleged exploitation and discrimination at their jobs.

The Yukon Federation of Labour says the entire system is “ripe for abuse” and has likened it to slavery, because employees are dependent on their bosses to maintain their resident status.

In 2012, the provincial NDP called for an audit of the program after similar accusations of exploitation.

Escobar Hernandez has until July 24 before his work visa expires, then he may have to return to his native Ecuador, where he says he doesn’t feel safe due to the high rates of violent crime.

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