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B.C. to extend worker program to food firms

A pilot project to bring needed entry-level and semi-skilled foreign workers to British Columbia will be expanded to its food processing sector.

The province will expand the two-year “strategic occupations” pilot program beyond the tourism, hospitality and long-haul trucking sectors to include food processing, “to help offset a serious staffing challenge,” said Murray Coell, the province’s minister for labour market development, in a release Thursday.

B.C.’s food processing industry will need 7,800 workers in the next decade, the province said, noting that processors, through the BC Food Processors Association, have already developed human resource development strategies to hire, train and retain domestic workers.

But the sector has also “demonstrated a need to retain foreign workers through permanent immigration to fully meet ongoing workforce requirements.”

The expansion announced Thursday adds occupations eligible for the pilot project to include industrial butchers, meat cutters, process control and machine operators and testers and graders for food, beverage and fish processing, the province said.

The foreign worker pilot project was first launched in February. It allows eligible employers to retain foreign workers who’ve been in their employ for at least nine months by offering them an “expedited” process for permanent residency. Spouses and dependents of these workers are also eligible to immigrate under the program, the province said.

“By expanding the pilot, the Province is helping us retain valued foreign workers and substantially reduce the costs of having to replace them,” said Robin Smith, president of the BC Food Processors Association, in the province’s release Thursday.

“With greater ability to attract both Canadian and foreign workers, the B.C. food processing industry will be in a much stronger position to develop a permanent, reliable and stable workforce, which is essential for competitiveness.”

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