Faced with a drop in demand for labour in the province, the Alberta government has suspended a pair of programs meant to fast-track immigration applications for foreign workers.
The province suspended two of the five streams of the Alberta Immigration Nominee Program (AINP), which last year recommended 4,216 applicants be granted permanent residency by the federal government. The two streams suspended Monday - one for family of workers living here and the other for those holding U.S. visas - accounted for 33 per cent of that total. Applications received before Monday will still be eligible.
The AINP program was introduced in 2008, and the government cited a slowing economy in its decision to temporarily cut off the two streams.
"The economy is not what it was," Alberta Employment and Immigration spokeswoman Sonia Sinha said, stressing the move is temporary and could be reversed. "The focus is on Albertans and Canadians, and jobs for them first."
Liberal immigration critic Hugh MacDonald said if the government wanted to preserve local job opportunities, it would stop accepting workers under the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program.
Effectively, the government's move Monday may open up more spots for such temporary workers, already in the province, to apply for and receive residency.
"I'm very glad to see the change," said Yessy Byl, a temporary foreign worker advocate with the Alberta Federation of Labour. "What the government, I understand, is doing is concentrating on sponsoring nominees who are already here working, and that is the critical area."
As of last December, Alberta had about 65,000 foreign workers, more than half of them so-called "low-skilled" employees who work in meat-packing and manufacturing jobs. In recent years, those workers have had a difficult time obtaining permanent residency, since the province can only nominate up to 5,000 per year, and many of those spots went to skilled labourers.
But with the downturn in the economy, the cuts to ANIP make sense, said Peter Veress, the president of foreign-worker specialist company Vermax Group Inc.
"This was a program designed for meeting a certain labour shortage," he said. "We don't need that program any more."