Small businesses hail government’s $85-million pledge to clear visa backlogs - New Canadian Media
Small businesses say clearing visa backlogs is crucial to allow more Canadians to fill in labour shortages across various industries. (Bill Oxford/canva)

Small businesses hail government’s $85-million pledge to clear visa backlogs

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says Ottawa needs to improve and streamline the temporary foreign worker immigration processes to bring more workers into Canada faster.

Small businesses struggling to find workers are hailing a government pledge to pump $85 million to reduce backlogs in the immigration system and welcome people who can help address Canada’s labour shortages. 

The investment, announced as part of the latest economic update on Canada’s finances by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, will also be used to speed up the processing of permanent and temporary resident and citizenship applications, even as Ottawa pushes forward to bring in a record high 832,000 immigrants over the next two years.

“Immigration is another important driver of economic growth and a Canadian competitive advantage. Our government is committed to bringing in 411,000 immigrants in 2022, the highest number in Canadian history,” Freeland friend in the announcement.

The visa backlog currently stands at almost 1.8 million immigration applications while Statistics Canada reported that there were 1,014,600 job vacancies in September, triggering calls for a more streamlined process to get workers that small businesses need into Canada faster.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said it is pleased that several of its key recommendations were addressed by today’s economic update from the federal government, but cautions that small businesses will need other support as they face new uncertainty with the rise of the COVID-19 Omicron variant. 

“It’s a step in the right direction and it will provide some relief for small businesses across the country that are struggling to find workers,” CFIB vice-president of national research, Simon Gaudreault, told New Canadian Media.

‘Demographic upheavals’

The economic update comes on the heels of a new CFIB report that found more than half of small businesses (55 per cent) cannot get all the staff they need for current operations or to meet new demand, while another 16 per cent were able to face the challenge, but at a significant additional cost.

“Small businesses were already experiencing a very significant shortage of labour at the beginning of 2020, and the pandemic has made the situation only more complex,” said Gaudreault.

“Industries that were locked down for long periods of time, like hospitality, have seen a mass exodus as workers upskilled or switched to other jobs, and virtually all sectors are facing major demographic upheavals with not enough new workers coming in to replace those who are retiring.”

According to the CFIB, Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 95,000 members across every industry and region, nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of businesses affected by labour shortages report not being able to find job applicants with the right skillset or experience.

Its survey of members last month also found that 52 per cent of respondents reported a lack of any candidates at all for vacancies advertised.

“Business that resorted to TFWs (temporary foreign workers) reported a 50 per cent success rate in attracting and retaining staff…the other 50 per cent found the process complicated and lengthy,” he said. 

According to CFIB’s analysis, more than four fifths (82 per cent) of businesses affected by staffing shortages have already raised wages, but the success rate is a mere 31 per cent. In fact, 60 per cent of those who raised wages but did not find it helpful in attracting workers said they received no qualified applicants or no applicants at all.

“Business owners are in a tough position and have to balance the expectations of job seekers with their own ability to remain competitive,” said Laure-Anna Bomal, research analyst at CFIB and author of the report. 

“We’re seeing a lot of creative and flexible solutions emerge as a result, but more needs to be done to support them as they face this incredible long-term challenge.”

Some recommendations CFIB made to the government to address labour shortages and help business owners meet their staffing needs include: 

  • Improving and streamlining the temporary foreign worker and immigration processes to bring more workers into Canada faster, ensuring a good fit between immigrants and positions to fill, and providing them with a path to permanent residency.
  • Opening up the TFW program temporarily to allow small businesses requiring a broader range of skills and wage levels to access TFWs as they try to recover from the pandemic.

“Small businesses have a long and steep climb to recovery, and having the right workers in place or other tools to address labour shortages is a big part of that,” said Corinne Pohlmann, senior vice-president of national affairs at CFIB. 

“They are already doing all they can to attract workers, but they need governments to do their part by adopting policies that increase productivity, connect job seekers with employers and don’t put the cost of hiring out of reach.”

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A multiple-award winning journalist, Fabian Dawson is an internationally acclaimed author, filmmaker and media expert. His work over the last four decades spans the globe and he also serves as a consultant/strategic advisor to a variety of international companies. As deputy editor-in-chief of The Province, part of the Postmedia chain, Dawson led initiatives within a special publications group to provide directed content for a variety of organisations. He was named the 2019 recipient of the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award at Jack Webster Awards. Dawson has been invited by the governments of India, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and the United States to act as a media observer/advisor on a variety of Asian-Canada issues. Dawson, now operates FD Media, which specializes in harnessing editorial assets to revenue generating opportunities.

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