The CEO Poll: Split on migrant workers

Alberta axes some of its fast-track immigration programs to displeasure of some businesses.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

Canadian CEOs are divided about Alberta’s recent decision to axe two of its five fast-track immigration programs.

A recent Compas Inc. poll of business leaders found that 49% thought it was wrong to suspend the programs because companies should be allowed to employ the most skilled workers regardless of citizenship. “The Alberta Immigrant Nomination Program is very important to businesses that wish to retain critical foreign workers,” said one respondent. “This program is essential for businesses to remain competitive.”

But another 42% of executives said the government was right to suspend the two programs because the employment of citizens must take precedence. “We should be monitoring and training our own people when there is a shortage,” one CEO said.

This poll follows the Alberta government’s decision to suspend both its Family Stream immigration program, which helped those with relatives in Alberta seek permanent residency, and its U.S. visa holder category, for immigrants who have already worked in the U.S. The Alberta government said the changes were due to the province’s 6.3% unemployment rate and decreased demand for labour, and said it wants to put Canadians first. Alberta’s temporary-foreign-worker programs will also be reviewed.

The business leaders also weighed in on whether foreign-worker programs actually benefit Canada’s economy. Of those polled, the majority — 57% — said the programs have a positive impact. One CEO, who employs “low-skilled” machine workers, said, “These abilities are difficult to find in Canada — even during the current economic slowdown.” However, 20% were neutral and 19% disagreed that the programs help the economy.

When asked whether government should focus on the employment of Canadian citizens in tough economic times, the CEOs were split. While 38% agreed with the statement, 38% disagreed and 22% were neutral.

In terms of the challenges involved with hiring foreign workers, 83% of respondents agreed that verifying credentials was a struggle, and 75% said that finding workers with an adequate grasp of English or French was difficult.