A Maple Ridge film company has been placed on a blacklist by the federal government after a pair of former employees accused its owners of abusing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Parvaz Film Corporation is suspended from using the program while an investigation is underway.
Employment and Social Development Canada issued a statement this week alleging there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the company provided false, misleading or inaccurate information for a Labour Market Opinion.
“Our government will not tolerate any abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” said the statement.
“Our message to employers is clear and unequivocal – Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs.”
Sareh Aminian and her husband Payam Bakht claim they paid $15,000 to come from Iran to Canada to work for Sherry Soltani and her husband Majid Mahichi, who own Parvaz Film Corp., which produces cable TV shows for the Persian community.
It is one of five employers listed on the government’s blacklist.
According Mojdeh Shahriar, an immigration lawyer who represents Aminian and Bakht, Parvaz Film had promised the couple jobs that, apparently, did not exist.
The $15,000 was supposedly charged to cover Bakht’s work permit and the company’s Labour Market Opinion, a screening process conducted to ensure a business has been unable to find a Canadian to fill the position.
Aminian and Bakht provided details of the allegations, including documentation, to the criminal investigations branch of the Canada Border Services Agency in August 2013 and went public with their story last month on CBC.
“The couple’s objective to come forward with these facts was to prevent other similarly situated vulnerable persons from being victimized by this company in the future,” said Shahriar, their lawyer.
She added that Aminian and Bakht are pleased the federal government has since suspended Parvaz Film, but want a thorough investigation.
Mahichi, who owns Parvaz Film Corporation, insists neither he nor his wife received any money from Aminian and Bakht.
Mahichi said Bakht worked for the company and even appears in several TV shows, available online via YouTube.
“After a few sessions of filming and working with us, they disappeared.”
Mahichi believes the company will be vindicated following an investigation, and intends to pursue legal action against the Iranian couple.
In a statement posted online, Parvaz Film calls the accusations “false” and “unfair.”
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has grown considerably in the past decade and is now used to fill positions in a vast range of sectors, from the fast-food industry to engineering.
According to Statistics Canada, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada grew to 491,547 in 2012 from 181,794 in 2002.
The program has come under fire recently after several McDonald’s franchises were accused of favouring temporary foreign workers over Canadian residents.
The government has since placed a moratorium on new hires in food services, but is also conducting a review of the entire program.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada could not provide figures on how many temporary foreign workers are based in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
But statistics based on positive Labour Market Opinions show cities of a similar size, such as Chilliwack, are seeing a rapid increase in foreign workers, growing to 735 in 2012 from 80 in 2005.
Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp acknowledges the substantial increase in foreign workers over the past decade concerns the government.
“We have made some changes to the program that has reduced the participating rate by about 30 per cent, but the minister is still conducting a review to see what other changes need to be made,” said Kamp.
“It is safe to say, we are not going to return to the status quo.”
Although the focus has been on jobs that require a Labour Market Opinion, nearly two-thirds of all temporary foreign workers do not need one because they are brought in under trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Kamp said local statistics on temporary foreign workers are grouped with Vancouver, a region which drew around 14,000 foreign workers in 2012.
“I know there’s a significant number in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows too,” said Kamp.
Although the government contends the program is needed to fill a growing labour shortage, a report released in April by the C.D. Howe Institute found little data to properly gauge the state of the market.
The report concluded a temporary foreign worker program is unlikely to be a comprehensive solution to labour shortages.
“Ideally, a TFW program offers employers access to an indispensable temporary workforce until domestic workers become available,” said the report. “Employers should not attempt to use the program as a way to circumvent the search for and hiring of domestic workers.”
The report noted a successful foreign worker program should encourage employers to attract and train domestic workers for jobs that are permanent, possibly with federal government help.
Kamp noted that the vast majority of businesses that apply for temporary foreign workers play by the rules, but agreed that others are not using the program as it was intended.
“For some, temporary foreign workers have become a permanent part of their business. Is that a good thing? I think it can be argued that it’s not,” say Kamp.
Employment Minister Jason Kenny is expected to announces more changes to the TFW program in the coming weeks.
Employment and Social Development Canada encourages people who have concerns or complaints about the TFW program to call their tip line: : 1-800-367-5693 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.