Recent visa changes could make Whistler worker shortage even worse

Recently imposed visa rules could make a Whistler worker shortage even worse
With two-year work permits set to expire for a large number of Australians who live in the resort community of Whistler, employers are wondering how they’ll staff their businesses. As Kristen Robinson reports, some businesses will be harder hit than others.

Aussies Arvid Finlayson and Amanda Larkins are both employed at a popular Whistler bar where 90 per cent of the workforce is from Australia but their working holiday will soon come to an end.

“Yeah, I’ll have to head home within the next few months”, said Finlayson, a bartender. “That’s it. We can’t extend it anymore now as opposed to people that we’ve met here that have extended it like twice” added Larkins, a server.

Larkins is referring to the two-year work permits set to expire for a large number of Australians living and working in the resort community. Changes made in 2015 to Canada’s Working Holiday agreement with Australia mean young Aussies can only apply for a two-year visa once. Before 2015, there was no participation limit and Australian nationals aged 18 to 30 could apply for a 12-month visa as many times as they wished – as long as they were still eligible.

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The new rules were imposed by the former Conservative government in an attempt to protect Canadian jobs by limiting the amount of time temporary foreign workers could stay in the country. Nancy Chan, a communications advisor with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said prior to 2015 “the Government of Canada found that with unlimited participation, some Australian youth were using International Experience Canada (IEC) as a way to stay in Canada permanently.” To stop the program from being abused, Chan said “a participation limit was implemented for all Australian applicants who submitted their application after the launch of the IEC 2015 season (March 3, 2015)”.

Whistler Blackcomb, the resort community’s largest employer, said the changes are not causing its Aussie workforce to flee en masse. “Any impact from a labour perspective is difficult for businesses to plan for so in an already tight market, the reduction of the Australians’ ability to be here makes it difficult for particularly small businesses to survive” said Joel Chevalier, Whistler Blackcomb’s vice president of employee experience.

Chevalier said Whistler Blackcomb planned ahead and absorbed the impact by investing in training for new employees and replacing some Aussie hires with an increased domestic workforce.

The region’s hospitality industry, fueled by young workers – a large chunk of them from Down Under, is expected to be hardest hit. “It’s gonna be pretty bad because you’ve got a handful of Kiwis, a couple of English and a couple of Canadians but Australians are the most here” predicted Larkins.

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Brooke Finlay, an immigration consultant with Whistler Immigration Limited said many of the hundreds, if not thousands of Australians working in Whistler, could be affected – “It will have an impact but the reality is the same number of Australians are able to participate in the program because there’s no limit on the number of visas that can be issued to Australians in the working holiday visa program.”

Chan said Australian nationals can apply to participate a second time in IEC but if they already participated in the Young Professionals or Working Holiday category for up to two years, they would need to apply under the International Co-op category for up to 12 months. Aussies can also try and work around the rules by applying for permanent residency or another work permit.

For bartender Alexander Edmonds, who holds dual Australian and U.K. citizenship, applying to stay under a British passport is an option – but he admits it’s a long shot to keep the dream job he trained 10 months for.

“It’s still a maybe. If I don’t get it then I’ll definitely have to go home. It’s really the only option.”