BCBC Publication: Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada: Separating Fact from Fiction

  • July 25, 2013

Human Capital Policy and Law Volume 3, Issue 3

The increase in the number of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Canada has sparked controversy and prompted a fair amount of unfavourable commentary over the past year or so. Some union leaders have suggested that foreign workers here on a temporary basis are displacing Canadians from jobs and distorting local labour markets. A few academic commentators have probed and raises questions about the legal rights and status of TFWs. In contrast, many business leaders point to the challenges companies face in finding people to fill jobs, notably in some regions, and argue that TFWs are often essential to their operations. Temporary foreign workers are also frequently sought for specific skills which may not be sufficiently available in the Canadian market.


  • There were 300,000 Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) in Canada at the end of 2011, up from approximately 150,000 in 2006. The overall figure for TFWs captures people who entered Canada under several different program categories.
  • As of 2011, more than half of all TFWs were classified as workers with “Canadian interests.” This broad category includes more than 65,000 TFWs here under reciprocal employment arrangements that have no net impact on the domestic labour market.
  • Just over 100,000, or one in three of all TFWs, entered as a result of positive Labour Market Opinions issued by the federal government in response to applications made by Canadian employers. Of these, roughly half were live-in caregivers and seasonal agricultural workers.
  • International agreements such as NAFTA account for nearly 12% of all of the TFWs in the country.
  • There were 70,000 TFWs in British Columbia at the end of 2011. Relative to the size of the labour market, BC has proportionally more TFWs than other provinces. But this is mainly due to a large number of reciprocal foreign workers (people on youth exchanges, visiting professors and lecturers, trainers, and so on) present in BC.