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Ric's workers jobless, homeless

With the closing of Ric’s Grill in Kelowna last week, many staff members are now out of work and looking for a new job. For some it will be easier than others, but for the three temporary foreign workers who were formerly employed by Sunny and Sal Gupta they will undoubtedly have the toughest road ahead.

The trio were hired around the same time in February of this year after going through the same painstaking and expensive process of moving to Canada seeking a better opportunity.

They are all now out of work and due to backlogs and changes in the temporary foreign worker program, it could be 16 weeks before a new contract can be put together – if they get approved by Service Canada at all.

It should also be noted that during this time, they are unable to work due to the structure of the temporary foreign worker program, which does not allow someone to work without a contract between the employee and a designated employer. Compounding their problems, the men must find a new home by the end of this month, a difficult proposition considering they now have no income.

Each employer that is seeking foreign workers must submit an application to Service Canada showing they can not find local workers, but have identified someone abroad that they want to hire. The federal government would then go through the employer’s application to confirm that the recruitment efforts were valid and genuine.

If a company shows enough effort was put into advertising, then a positive Labour Market Opinion is issued and the worker then applies for a work permit that includes confirmation of a positive LMO. Between the time that Ric’s workers were hired and the Kelowna location closed, this test was renamed the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and is now even more comprehensive and rigorous.

Immigration lawyer Sandra Hakanson says Vimal Kumar, Deebak Bist, and a third man will have an uphill climb ahead of them, one that will test their patience within the workings of a government system.

“The problem (Vimal Kumar) is going to come up with, specifically in the food industry, is they’re having a problem with regards to issuing positive labour market initial assessments,” she says.

“Because you have to show an unemployment rate of less than six per cent. In the Okanagan, we’re at 7.1 per cent. So the chances of these fellows getting a positive labour market initial assessment is not very high.”

Depending on the length of their work permits (Castanet has been told they signed a two-year contract with Ric’s), the group should not face immediate deportation, but their ability to find an employer that is willing to go through the temporary foreign worker program will take weeks, not days.

“The good thing is they’re not going to ship him out of Canada during this process, but he can’t be working,” says Hakanson.

“This has been one of the biggest issues that we’ve had with this program. The immigration lawyers across Canada have been balking about this, because we’ve said ‘what protection do we have for these workers?’”

She would like to see an expedited process for the LMIA in cases such as this, where workers don’t have to wait four months for new employment.

“I think there needs to be something in place that allows these folks be able to go over to another employer and say, ‘Here’s my situation’. So if (an employer) has been looking to fill a position, then they ought to be able to get that application in and get it expedited,” she says.

“The whole program is designed around protecting that foreign worker because of situations like this, except they dropped the ball on taking it just that one step further to protect those workers.”

While similar stories surrounding the government’s program have recently come to light in the media, Hakanson says the issue is not widespread and she has only encountered a handful of legitimate claims over the past decade.

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