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Canada Restaurant Industry Needs Immigrant Workers

Blog posted on by Evelyn Ackah in Temporary Foreign Worker Program and Low Skilled Immigrants

Canada Restaurant Industry Needs Immigrant Workers

In the third quarter of 2019, there were 67,370 vacant jobs in Canadian food service and drinking establishments, according to Statistics Canada. This restaurant labour shortage is the highest in nearly five years. During the holiday season, Canada restaurants faced a critical shortage of workers:

Record low unemployment, shifting demographics and competition for workers from a slew of new restaurants and food delivery services are making it tough for restaurants to find enough workers to operate at capacity — opening the patio in summer or hosting private parties during the holidays. Executing expansion plans seems impossible.

Canada's restaurant industry is facing a labour shortage and needs immigrant workers for semi-skilled and low-skilled jobs.

Canada's Workforce Is Shrinking

Canadian employers are facing an aging workforce and need more lower-skilled immigrants to fill jobs. Restaurant and food services traditionally attract a young workforce, say restaurant owners and industry associations.

  • In 2019 Canadians under age 25 made up only 28.25 of the population in 2019, versus 48.1% in 1971
  • Canada's overall unemployment rate is at historic lows
  • A housing shortage and high housing costs make it difficult to live on entry-level food service salaries
  • More workers 24 and under are choosing fields higher-paying fields such as tech, transportation, retail and education over lower-pay fields

The Association Restauration Québec, representing 5,550 restaurant owners, told a legislature committee their situation is critical with 14,000 vacant jobs for cooks, waiters and kitchen staff across Quebec, and that more foreign workers are needed "to fill the jobs of cooks, servers and kitchen staff." Quebec, British Columbia and some parts of Atlantic Canada have the worst shortages right now, according to Restaurants Canada, but food industry labour shortages exist across the country, including places like Banff, Alberta.

Looser Immigration Rules Can Help the Restaurant Labor Shortage

David Lefebvre, vice president of industry association Restaurants Canada, told CBC that the industry "wants the government to loosen rules about who can come to Canada to work in the field so it's not just trained chefs who can move here, but front-of-house and other kitchen staff, too."

  • The Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts at Toronto's George Brown College, enrolment by Canadians has plateaued, while international students have increased by six-fold between 2009 and 2019
  • There are more than 67,000 vacant positions in bars and food service

Restaurant owner Hemant Bhagwani told CBC,

I cannot open a restaurant without hiring a foreign worker inside my kitchen, period.

Canada Needs More Low Skilled, Entry Level Immigrants

Canada's merit-based immigration system favors highly skilled and educated immigrants who can help grow the local economy and create jobs. Canadian employers are struggling to fill positions for farm workers, truck drivers and food service personnel. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which advocates for small businesses, has urged the government to broaden its immigration system to include more trade and semiskilled workers.

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"Canada is a safe, friendly and welcoming country that appreciates the contributions immigrants make to help build our economy," said Calgary immigration lawyer Evelyn Ackah.


Evelyn L. Ackah, BA, LL.B.

Founder/Managing Lawyer

Ms. Ackah is passionate about immigration law because it focuses on people and relationships, which are at the core of her personal values. Starting her legal career as a corporate/commercial ...

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