Federal government ends the “4-in/4-out” rule for Canada’s migrant workers

An important first step has been made in reforming Canada’s controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

On December 13, the government pledged to reverse the program’s cumulative duration rule—also known as the “4-in/4-out” rule—which was established by the previous government in 2011. It required many migrant workers under the TFWP to leave Canada after completing four year’s of labour, after which they were prohibited from returning for a further four years.

Metcalf Innovation Fellow Fay Faraday has published three reports on the precarious conditions created by the TFWP. Her most recent report, Canada’s Choice, details how the first workers forced to leave under the new “4-in/4-out” rule were those who had spent the longest time in Canada. “Despite their long-term contributions to the economy and their communities, with very rare exceptions, these migrant workers had no opportunity to apply for permanent residence in Canada,” writes Faraday. This often resulted in them slipping into undocumented status, where Faraday notes “they are even more vulnerable to exploitation.”

John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, acknowledged the rule’s flaws when announcing the government’s decision on Tuesday. “In many ways, the four-year rule put a great deal of uncertainty and instability on both temporary workers and employers,” said McCallum.

While the timing of the announcement was a surprise, the content was not. In September, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills, and Social development released a report on the TFWP that recommended the government end the “4-in/4-out” rule. Faraday expressed her concerns with the committee’s report upon its release: “While the report has recognized longstanding calls to end tied permits and the 4-in/4-out rule,” said Faraday, “the recommendations that address key issues like access to permanent status, recruiter regulation, and rights enforcement are vague and are left for future review.”

The Government of Canada will formally respond to the Committee’s report in January, where it will also bring forward its full plan to redesign the TFWP.


Key Elements of the TFWP That Continue to Drive Workers' Precariousness

  • Work permits that tie workers to a specific employer;
  • Inadequate and uneven regulations of exploitative recruitment practices;
  • Fragmented complaint-based mechanisms for enforcing workplace rights;
  • Lack of protection for workers who raise complaints about rights violations; and
  • A lack of access to permanent residence on arrival or pathways to permanent residence for most low-wage migrant works.