Moving couch

Bricks & Sticks

by Desi Auciello

Desi Auciello is the 2006 GTHBA President, and is also president of Cachet Estate Homes.

Workers imported…not deported

Date: April 28, 2006

Workers imported - not deported. Now that's not a headline we've become accustomed to reading as of late.

We are all aware of the recent news stories that have highlighted undocumented workers and failed refugee claimants being deported. It is ironic that as Portuguese construction workers are being deported, others are arriving each month thanks to the temporary foreign worker program, known as CREWS.  In fact, in the past four months, over 50 Portuguese foreign workers have been offered jobs in construction through a program called Construction Recruitment External Workers Services known as CREWS.

One of these workers, Luciano, a roofer, was very pleased to receive a work permit in just under a month after his employer contacted CREWS.  As a Portuguese citizen, Luciano was able to apply at the port of entry at Niagara Falls where he was issued a work permit in one day.  Luciano said, "Especially because of what is happening with immigration, CREWS was very helpful and was exactly what I needed!"  As a result, Luciano is spreading the word and encouraging other potential applicants to use the proper channels to obtain a work permit.

Regardless of whether a regularization program for undocumented workers or refugee claimants comes into effect, and it is highly unlikely, CREWS is a viable option for many foreign nationals who want to help build homes in the Greater Toronto Area legally.

The First Step

Foreign people are allowed to work in Canada if they have an offer for work, meet the usual visitor requirements, intend to stay in Canada only temporarily, and have the skills and qualifications needed to perform the work.

The first step is taken by the employer, who must contact a Human Resources and Social Development Canada office and make a case for hiring a foreign worker. Employers first have an obligation to make "reasonable efforts" at hiring Canadians for the job. An employer's application for a temporary foreign worker is approved if it meets the test of "net economic benefit."

As an aside, the net economic benefit test is tough for small construction companies to prove and would be better handled at the sectoral level, a matter being addressed by the Canadian Home Builders' Association.
What is CREWS?

This process can be overwhelming for an employer and that's where CREWS comes in. The CREWS program is an industry-led initiative that assists construction employers with the application process for hiring temporary foreign workers.

The program has been around since 2001 after the GTHBA and the federal government signed an agreement to streamline the process.  CREWS has brought in over 300 workers. 

Although the program has been around for nearly five years, one has to ask why workers are still entering the country illegally instead of using CREWS. To date, CREWS has been underutilized by employers because some workers with work permits were readily available.

Currently the agreement allows for the temporary entry of qualified foreign construction workers to address the current shortage of bricklayers, carpenters, cement finishers, concrete forming carpenters, framers and drywallers. Other trades are considered on a case-by-case basis.

Through CREWS, workers have arrived from Argentina, Portugal, Poland, Ukraine, the Philippines and 40 other countries around the world. They are working legally and because of the continuing demand for their skills, have successfully renewed their work permits for subsequent years.

For the worker, there are many advantages to a temporary work permit. Overseas workers are entitled to bring their families to Canada and spouses can also be granted work visas.  Ontario health benefits are provided after three months. Having one year of Canadian work experience and some language skills also boosts the worker's chances of earning enough points to apply for permanent residence.

On the matter of the point system, obtaining enough points to gain legal entry into Canada as a skilled worker continues to be a challenge. And that's why the Canadian Home Builders' Association has written to the federal immigration minister Monte Solberg urging for changes to the point system to allow for the entry of these skilled workers on a permanent basis.

Overall, there is no question that our immigration system is in need of an overhaul and we are encouraged by Minister Solberg's recognition that the immigration system needs repair. In the meantime, the CREWS temporary foreign workers program represents a viable and more importantly, legal solution.

Employers interested in the program should contact CREWS program manager at 416-391-1583 or visit