Don’t Cut The International Experience Canada Program

By Andy Semotiuk | January 7, 2015

US and Canadian Immigration lawyer Andy Semotiuk: An article in today’s Globe and Mail took aim at the concept of foreign young people getting temporary status to work in Canada:

Working holiday programs for thousands of foreign youth – often touted by the Conservative government as a positive element of the controversial temporary foreign worker program – risk boosting youth unemployment at home, internal Citizenship and Immigration documents say.

The International Experience Canada initiative allows tens of thousands of young people to work in Canada each year without requiring employers to pay prevailing wages or prove Canadians could not be found for the jobs.

It is the largest area of the controversial temporary foreign worker program, and Conservative Minister Jason Kenney has frequently invoked it to counter criticism of the broader program. Australians working in Whistler are a common example Mr. Kenney cites.

However, labour groups paint the program in a more negative light, saying employers use it to staff construction sites with low-paid workers who lack proven qualifications.

I don’t like the idea of cutting off the International Experience Canada program. First, we would lose the goodwill that comes with thousands of students who have worked in Canada and then go on to become Canada’s “ambassadors” overseas. Second, in many instances the employers hiring the foreign workers will simply have nobody to take up the jobs required. Raising wages might work as a temporary measure – but then the question becomes will customers pay the higher prices that higher wages necessitate? Maybe, but maybe not. In some cases, the result will be to close down the business.
Why don’t Canadian workers take some of these jobs? The answer is that they don’t want them at low wages – and probably not even at higher wages. The jobs are not the most attractive in the world. If you think about it, a Canadian employer would almost always want to hire someone local and keep them. But these are jobs with a high turn over, so Canadian employers hire foreign students – temporary workers by definition – and pay them minimum wage.

Bear in mind that there is a quid pro quo in all of this. Just as there are indeed thousands of foreign youngsters working in Canada, there are thousands of Canadian young people working overseas. Two popular hotspots for Canadian youth are France and Australia, but if you have some time on your hands, read the list here of all the countries that allow for young people to come and work within their borders. Canada is far from alone in this practice.The life skills and education that Canadian young people receive through these experiences is valuable. In the tit-for-tat world of international visas, if we were to ban young people from coming to live and work in Canada, other nations would no doubt follow suit.

These are problems best left to employers and the market to sort out. Until it can be better established that elimination of the foreign student employment program will result in the hiring of Canadian student workers en masse, the program should stay.

Andy Semotiuk is a Canadian and US immigration lawyer with immigration law firm Pace Immigration. You can learn more about Andy at My Work Visa.