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Chamber champions two-year working visas

Whistler employees from abroad could stay for longer

The President of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce is spearheading a campaign to get the federal government to extend holiday working visas from one year to two years.

That could be good news for the roughly 3,000 seasonal workers who descend on Whistler every year from places like Australia, New Zealand and England. Many of those young workers are loathe to leave the resort when their visas run out after a year.

The change could also help resort employers who are facing a looming labour shortage in the coming years.

"If we are able to keep our visiting workers here in Whistler for at least an additional year, that would make a significant difference for many Whistler businesses," said Chamber President Louise Lundy.

Lundy presented her plan to roughly 350 delegates at the BC Chamber annual general meeting in Panorama at the end of May where it was met with unanimous approval.

The policy was tacked on to another policy submitted by the Prince George Chamber which outlined recommendations to change the current immigration laws to help deal with labour shortages in the province and across the country. Those recommendations included fast-tracking immigration applications for foreign workers and recognition of credentials from other countries.

For Lundy however the extension of the holiday working visa is key for Whistler businesses that are already feeling the pinch of a dwindling labour pool.

Hilton Hotel and Resort General Manager Pradeep Puri also believes the change could benefit Whistler.

"It would provide the labour pool we are looking for," said Puri. "It needs to be done two ways in my opinion. We should have that extension but as well we should increase the number of countries that are eligible under this program. We only have a dozen countries. They should include some of the other key countries that can provide us with the labour pool, like China, Philippines, India, and some of the eastern European countries."

With the support of the BC Chamber, the policy manual will now go to Premier Gordon Campbell and all MLA’s.

With provincial support, the Chamber hopes to get support and change at the federal level.

Lundy will attend the Canadian Chamber AGM in September where she will present the policy.

"We all know people who have had a really great worker, who wanted to stay and you spent a year training them and then they have to leave and there’s nothing you can do about it and it’s just really frustrating when we have these shortages and gaps and so many people who want to stay," she said. "So I just hope we can make this one thing happen and we can make it happen fast. It won’t solve the problem but it sure helps the problem."

-With files from Vivian Moreau-