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B.C. government priorities chase hospitality workers to Alberta

System of getting permanent residency through B.C.'s provincial nominee program favours non-hospitality workers
MKS Immigration Lawyers managing partner Aleksandar Stojicevic works with restaurant owners to navigate B.C.'s provincial nominee program

The B.C. government's decision last year to start to prioritize health-care workers and child-care workers who are already in the province's provincial nominee program (BC PNP) and who want to move on to become permanent residents of Canada is adversely impacting the hospitality sector.

Hospitality workers are newly finding it virtually impossible to move from working in the BC PNP program to being permanent residents of Canada, according to consultants, immigration lawyers, restaurant owners and industry advocates.

This is prompting many of those workers to move to other provinces, where it is easier to find a pathway to become permanent residents in Canada, and then potentially to become citizens – a goal shared by many.

The B.C. government says that it continues to invite hospitality workers to be among the 8,000 people annually who it is able to invite, through its BC PNP, to apply to the federal government to be granted permanent resident status.

Hospitality industry insiders, however, told BIV that the number of those hospitality workers invited to move on to permanent resident status is very small, compared to how it was before the provincial government changed its system.

"The province changed the BC PNP radically in November of last year, and now, if you're a cook, let's say, in Vancouver, it's practically impossible to get permanent resident status using the BC PNP," MKS Immigration Lawyers managing partner Aleksandar Stojicevic told BIV.

This frustrates restaurant owners such as Glowbal Restaurant Group principal Emad Yacoub, who told BIV that more than one of his employees have recently quit to move to Alberta and other parts of Canada because they view the path to becoming permanent residents as being easier in those provinces.

Here's how restaurant owners and workers navigate the BC PNP

For employers to become part of the BC PNP, they first have to get the province to certify their business as being an eligible employer in the program. The industry is OK with this requirement.

"To keep the integrity of bringing a worker to Canada, we have got to keep high standards," BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association CEO Ian Tostenson told BIV.

"There are some bad employers out there – not a lot, but there are some."

Industry insiders did not know how many workers are currently in B.C. under the BC PNP, and the B.C. government did not provide a figure or an estimate when BIV asked for one.

Immigration consultant Brij Rathi estimated that the number could be around 50,000 people.

Rathi and Stojicevic explained that the foreigners who come to the province to work in the BC PNP get points in a variety of categories for such things as language proficiency, wages and education. If workers meet a certain threshold of points, they are then eligible to be invited by the province to apply for permanent residency status.

The province and the federal government have agreed on a cap for how many foreign workers B.C. will invite annually through its BC PNP to apply to the federal government to become permanent residents of Canada.

The B.C. government sent an email to BIV confirming that "for 2023, B.C. requested and received an allocation of 8,000 nominations."

It acknowledged that demand among workers in the BC PNP each year to become permanent residents exceeds that 8,000-person cap.

Rathi said that the province now has "dedicated draws," where it first excludes all workers except for those in prioritized categories, such as health-care workers and those who work in early-childhood education and care.

Then, it uses a point system.

Rathi said that even when the point system is used, it is challenging for hospitality workers to be selected to be eligible to apply for permanent-resident status because they tend to be paid low wages, and therefore gain fewer points.

BIV asked for an interview with B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains. Labour ministry staff punted that request to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs because, they said, that ministry administers the BC PNP. It is not clear whey the labour ministry does not oversee a program to bring workers to the province. 

BIV last week asked for an interview with Municipal Affairs Minister Anne Kang but was told in a statement that she was "unavailable for an interview."

That ministry this morning reiterated that "we aren’t able to accommodate an interview request at this time."

The minister has also yet to meet with Tostenson or anyone in his organization and he said he looks forward to meeting the minister for a discussion when she has time. 

The ministry, meanwhile, sent BIV a statement saying:

"The BC PNP supports the provincial economy’s ability to deliver the services that people count on by helping to address labour shortages in key service areas that British Columbians need, such as health care and child care."

The ministry said that the program "continues to issue invitations to apply and nominations to applicants in a wide range of occupations, including hospitality workers under the skilled worker stream, entry-level semi-skilled stream, and international graduate and post-graduate streams."

Stojicevic, however, said that before the November changes, the B.C. government was nominating several hundred cooks, restaurant managers and other hospitality workers each year.

"Now? Very few," he said.

Labour Market Impact Assessments needed to hire temporary foreign workers also irk restaurant owners 

A separate program that enables hospitality employers to hire needed workers is the federal government's temporary foreign worker (TFW) program.  

One of the requirements to hire workers into that program is to get a federally administered labour market impact assessment (LMIA) – something many restaurant owners still call labour market opinions. 

LMIAs assert that the businesses need to bring in foreign workers because there are no local workers who they are able to hire.

Restaurant owners have long expressed frustration at how hard it is to find workers so the scarcity of hospitality workers is well known.

The industry has for at least a couple years unsuccessfully urged the B.C. government to ask the federal government to waive its requirement that B.C. employers need to have federally approved LMIAs as part of the federal TFW program, Tostenson said. 

Maritime provinces have asked the federal government to waive this requirement and the federal government has agreed, he added.

Having to go through the LMIA process takes time and can cost thousands of dollars per worker.

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