TORONTO – Fashion professionals are the latest to protest the reforms to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), echoing complaints from other sectors of the economy including the tourism, health, and fast food industries.
Alecia Bell, president of Toronto’s Elite Model Management, has appealed to Employment Minister Jason Kenney and rallied the support of 150 members of the fashion industry to petition Immigration Minister Chris Alexander for a meeting.
The main controversy for the fashion community is that the new TFWP reforms impede the employment of foreign models. Companies accustomed to hiring models from overseas object that the new Canadian immigration regulations treat their businesses on a par with those who rely on low-skilled labour.
Bell contends that this policy does not reflect the realities of the fashion industry. The designation of labour as high-skilled or low-skilled derives from the hourly wage relative to the provincial median. Canadian fashion epicentres such as Toronto and Montreal are subject to the Ontario rate of $21 and the Quebec rate of $20, respectively. In contrast, foreign models are paid hourly rates of $100 to $500 or more. Therefore, to treat foreign models like low-skilled workers is, in Bell’s words, “not an accurate assessment of our industry at all.”
Yet modelling agencies such as Elite, along with photographers, clothing retailers, and other fashion-related businesses are now subject to a $1000 fee for every foreign model they employ. They want Canadian immigration officials to eliminate this cost and speed up the application procedure for models who require a work permit to enter the country.
They claim that the reforms are having a major impact on the industry. For example, a delayed Canadian work permit recently cost Elite a $300,000 dollar contract. As Bell explained in an interview with CBC News, the consequences of such a loss have wide-ranging effects across the industry. Delaying a work permit for a single foreign model affects multiple Canadian jobs, including those of photographers, videographers, stylists, hair and makeup artists, caterers, drivers, and many more.
“These are people that rely on us for their income,” Bell says. “While they may not work for three weeks, they have rates that are established for that one or two weeks of work that are high enough to substantiate their profession. Losing that client is devastating financially.”
Bell adds that homegrown retailers, such as Reitman’s, Hudson’s Bay Company, and Holt Renfrew must import foreign models to stay competitive with international companies retailing in Canada. Agencies like Elite prioritize Canadian models, but the domestic talent pool is simply not large enough to meet all of their needs.
Failure to compete on the international market ultimately means that the Canadian fashion industry will lose out to other countries. Bell reports that another Elite client has chosen to move a $500,000 shoot to New York after being discouraged by the thousand-dollar fee and the difficulties in obtaining work permits for the necessary foreign models.
The government continues to defend the Temporary Foreign Worker Program reforms as a protective measure against abuses to the system. But this explanation is not enough for Bell and others in the fashion industry.
“I was even further concerned that no one thought to speak with us about such a significant change.”
In addition to the official statements from Elite Model Management, two separate campaigns on Change.org have also launched to protest the reforms.
For more information about Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program contact our Canadian immigration law firm toll-free in North America @ 1-855-360-4333.