The current Temporary Foreign Worker Program can be broken down into two broad segments. The first and most commonly recognized segment of the program deals with those who respond directly to employer needs, including those with a validated labour-market opinion (LMO) from HRSDC and other foreign nationals in Canada tied specifically to the labour market (including workers under Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP), international agreements, etc.). The second segment of the Foreign Work Program can be described as “facilitative” in nature and is not associated with a specific job or employer (including reciprocal youth exchange programs, spouses with open work permits, etc.). Foreign nationals who enter Canada under the “facilitative” segment do not require an LMO from HRSDC and are not tied to a specific segment of the labour market.
Estimates of the number of people entering Canada on a temporary basis are usually inferred from counting the number of documents issued. However, certain practices result in significant and sometimes substantial double counting. As a result, there is a need to perform calculations based not solely on the number of permits but, more importantly, on the number of people in order to achieve an annual count of foreign workers (number of unique foreign workers present at some time during the year) and the length of authorization for each work permit.
Looking at calculations of the number of foreign workers present on December 1st, we can determine that foreign workers have historically made up a small proportion of the total labour force in Canada. In 1980, foreign workers represented 0.2% of the total labour force, and by 1990 the share had climbed to 0.8%. By 1993 the share had fallen to 0.5% where it remained stable through 1999. However, since that time, the size of the TFW population has grown rapidly and now stands at over 300,000 or 1.6% of the total labour force in Canada.
The recent rapid increase in the TFW population since the beginning of the 2000s has been well documented, but what may not be as well known is the origin of the increase in the number of TFWs. A significant part of the recorded increases has come from the “facilitative” side of the Foreign Worker program. For instance, foreign nationals present in Canada under the youth exchange program have increased from roughly 10,700 in 2000 to 61,000 in 2011. Significant increases have also been noted for the spouses and common-law partners of temporaries and other similar entrants who have “open” work permits (not linked to a specific job or employer) upon arrival.