Doors opened for foreign workers 

click to enlarge Worker's Paradise A Whistler-Blackcomb employee works with an Australian applicant during the 2006 job fair. Changes to the Visa system will allow Australians to extend their stay to two years, and streamline hiring. Photo by Maureen Provencal.
  • Worker's Paradise A Whistler-Blackcomb employee works with an Australian applicant during the 2006 job fair. Changes to the Visa system will allow Australians to extend their stay to two years, and streamline hiring. Photo by Maureen Provencal.

Hiring foreign workers in Whistler has just gotten easier, with the Canadian government expanding three working visa programs in a short two-week period.

The Australian working holiday visa program (WHV), the temporary foreign worker program (TFW), and the off-campus work program for international students have all seen recent changes that will help foreign workers stay in Whistler. All changes were announced between Monday, Sept. 10 and Wednesday, Sept. 26.

The expansion of the Australian WHV, making visas valid for two years instead of one, particularly has gotten local businesses excited.

“I am so shocked and excited. This is huge news,” said Louise Lundy, president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.

“If it is going to be one country, it would be Australia that we would pick. So to hear that they are going to do this on a pilot project which we recommended is great news,” she said.

Lundy said an estimated 2,000 Australians work in Whistler each year.

The Whistler Chamber of Commerce has pressed the government to make this change over the past year. Last spring, the chamber presented a petition to the House of Commons in Ottawa to further underline the issue.

In addition to doubling the length of the Australian WHV under a three-year pilot program, the previous limit of 7,550 Australian visas per year has also been lifted. All new changes are expected to come into effect Jan. 1, 2008.

The Canadian government has yet to issue a press release on the Australian WHV program, but the Australian government has uploaded the announcement onto its Ministry of Immigration and Citizenship website.

“Truth be told, I think the only people who really care about the Australian working holiday visa are people in ski resorts like Whistler, Banff, and so on,” said Jeffrey Lowe, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver.

He added that he heard Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed the agreement a number of months ago, but it was only formalized by Australia this month.

Lundy said she hopes the pilot program will help tackle the critical labour shortage in Whistler that is predicted to get worse leading up to the 2010 Olympic Games.

“The great news is that government is moving really quickly on many of these recommendations that have been made by us, as well as other industry groups trying to kind of raise the red flag that we have a problem here in B.C., and in Alberta as well, that we need help, particularly over the next couple of years,” said Lundy.

The expansion of the TFW program will provide another avenue local employers can take to hire foreign workers.

The pilot program, announced Monday, will fast-track TFW visa applications in as little as five days for workers in 12 specified job fields. A majority of these fields fall into the tourism/hospitality and construction sectors, including “ski and snowboard instructor”.

According to Monte Solberg, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, the changes were made because 25 per cent of all requests received by the government for TFWs have been in these 12 job categories.

“Because we already know these are occupations where we don’t have enough Canadians to fill these positions, we will simply analyze the forms that people send in to make sure it is the right category and that the company is prepared to pay the prevailing wage rate,” said Solberg.

Scott Taber, general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Resort, said he applauds the recent visa changes.

“I think it is great news for the market, it is great news for employers in the market, and the more flexibility, the more opportunities we have to bring great people to Whistler,” he said.

Taber added that there is more the government can do to help encourage foreign workers to come to Canada.

“If there were enough people coming out of Canada, it would be fine. But unfortunately, we haven’t had the success of finding enough people coming from Canada,” he said.

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