Minister promises changes to temporary visas, but no 'draconian measures'

OTTAWA — Immigration Minister Marc Miller says he plans to recalibrate the number of people who come to Canada temporarily to make sure the program is sustainable, but details about what measures the government is considering remain unclear.

Miller, who announced his intentions after he tabled the immigration targets for permanent residents on Wednesday afternoon, said the approach will likely differ based on the different categories of work and study permits.

When it comes to the agricultural sector, for example, the minister said the government needs to more "cohesively and comprehensively" to respond to the reality that temporary foreign worker status is often exploited.

"People that can't switch jobs if they are abused or have unsafe work conditions, the fact that they are threatened with return to their country if they don't perform well, those are all real threats," Miller said at an event in Toronto on Thursday.

He added that there are success stories as well.

"There is a whole ecosystem there that we need to address comprehensively."

The Liberals' record-breaking immigration targets for permanent residents over the last three years have drawn increasing scrutiny as Canada grapples with a shortage of available and affordable homes.

The government sets no such targets to govern temporary resident visas for people to work or study in Canada, but those numbers have rapidly escalated as well.

The Immigration Department's most recent annual report shows a massive increase in temporary worker visas, with 337,460 people holding permits in 2018, versus 605,851 in 2022.

"We have become quite addicted as a country to temporary foreign workers and it's having perverse carry-on effects that perhaps were predictable, but I think unanticipated by some folks in the short term," Miller said.

There have been large increases in the number of international students as well, and Miller recently announced changes to the verification of school acceptance letters in an attempt to curb fraud.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser, who previously served as immigration minister, floated the idea of capping international student visas as a possible option to deal with a housing crunch in campus towns, but Miller appears to be leaning away from that option.

"There'll be no sort of draconian measures that will be taken immediately," he said.

For now, Miller said he can only offer "broad brush strokes" about the anticipated changes to the programs.

"Particular measures will have to be addressed in a very surgical way in the very near future," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2023.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press