Whistler Chamber seeking two-year visas for others 

wants to extend successful visa program for Australian workers to other nationalities

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The Whistler Chamber of Commerce is leading an initiative to convince the federal government to expand one-year work visas for temporary foreign workers to two years for nationals from New Zealand, the U.K., South Korea, the Czech Republic and Japan.

It is similar to its successful efforts in 2007 to lobby the government to have visas extended to two years for Australians wanting to work in Canada; supported by the B.C. and Canadian Chambers of Commerce, they sent a petition with this request to the House of Commons which was acted upon.

Whistler Chamber president Fiona Famulak said this broadening of the International Experience Canada (IEC) program, previous ly known as the Working Holiday Visa Program, is a priority for the chamber in 2012.

"To paint the big picture, we know that Canada is facing a critical skilled labour shortage and needs an injection of this order to stay competitive and be productive. That's not a new story, we've known for some time that there was a critical shortage of skilled labour, in part because the baby-boomer generation is approaching retirement," Famulak said.

A wave of shortages hit Whistler around five years ago and while this isn't the case at the moment, she said it won't last.

"The lull we're experiencing in Whistler and in B.C. right now is temporary, the labour shortage does have a peak and trough cycle. We just want to make sure we are planning forward and prepared to support our employers for when the shortages return."

Famulak referred to Premier Christy Clark's recent comment that a million jobs were due to be created in the province in the next decade and there will be only around 650,000 workers to fill them. The most recent numbers for the Sea to Sky region from 2006 stated that the corridor was short about 3,500 workers.

"We're focusing on enhancing opportunities for Canadian employers to hire foreign workers through the IEC program," she said. "We do have a track record in helping to influence the program."

IEC visas are arranged through bilateral agreements between nations, with each national government needing to be negotiated with separately, making the process time consuming.

Famulak said they would engage the B.C. Chamber and their members at their AGM in May, and if successful they would go to the Canadian Chamber, which would take the request to parliament.

Nicolle Morris, the Business Development Planner at Whistler Blackcomb, gave her support to the Whistler Chamber plans.

Out of Whistler Blackcomb's 3,600 employees, 536 are Australian, 395 are from the U.K., seven are South Korean, 25 are from Czech Republic, 80 are from New Zealand and 14 from Japan.

"We try to build our hiring and recruiting strategy around trying not to depend on staffing from any one country," she said.

"The last few years we've focused on domestic initiatives (to find new staff) but it's undeniable that without foreign workers most of the businesses in Whistler would not be able to really operate. It's crucial to our operation, for sure."

Haley Sims, the head of human resources at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, said she anticipated coming labour shortages and thought a two-year IEC visa would be helpful. The hotel had been an advocate of the change to Australian visas.

"The shortage is something that has been talked about for many years," she said.

They recruited about 110 foreign workers in separate waves in 2007 and 2008 who arrived the following year. Turnover since has been low but Sims said they are preparing for this to change.

Oliver Thiemig of Germany is in his second season in Whistler, working as a boot fitter at Surefoot. He said having to renew his visas has an impact on his search for housing and work, and those who prove they are committed to being in Whistler would benefit from a two-year IEC visa.

"I got another 12 months visa and I'd love to just stay here," he said. "I would say it is not a problem for me to renew but I would just like to have the chance to stay and show what my relationship is to Canada and to Whistler."


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