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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Website seeks to catch immigration law firms dodging foreign-worker rules

OTTAWA - A website devoted to documenting abuses of the temporary foreign worker program is on the hunt for immigration law firms that might be willing to help employers dodge rules that require them to hire Canadians first.

Operators of the website NTFW.ca, which maps and identifies businesses that hire temporary foreign workers, posed as a company called Big Jimmy's Construction and sent an email to a number of law firms specializing in immigration issues.

In the email, "Jimmy" says he wants to hire a Thai family member, but has been flooded with interested Canadians after posting the job on the federal government's job bank — a necessary step for those seeking to hire temporary foreign workers.

"I made the qualifications as strict as possible and kept the salary as low as possible to discourage Canadian applicants. But I ended up getting 100s of resumes!" the email says.

"Do you think you could help me get an LMO (labour market opinion) even though I have 100s of Canadians wanting that job?"

One of the replies, which the site says was sent by someone at the firm of Toronto-area immigration lawyer Adela Crossley, came as a surprise to the website's founder, Rohana Rezel.

"Trust me when I say that she would find a way around the fact that there are suitable Canadian candidates; she is very creative," says the reply.

In an interview Thursday from Vancouver, Rezel said he was "taken aback" by the email.

"We were relieved to get a response from another lawyer who told us in no uncertain terms that what we were suggesting violated the regulations."

Contacted by The Canadian Press, a terse Crossley said she had no knowledge of the exchange, but added the person who wrote the reply "did not speak for me."

"If she did send something out, and I read it and it's not appropriate, I will deal with her appropriately," Crossley said.

"But I would never, ever suggest such a thing."

Another Vancouver immigration lawyer who received the email from "Jimmy" politely replied that he'd try to help. But he insisted Thursday his response was a standard, pro-forma reply sent early in the morning before he'd had a chance to read the email thoroughly.

Toronto immigration lawyer Vanessa Routley, meanwhile, sternly warned "Jimmy" against his plan of action.

Earlier this month, several immigration consultants — many of them in Western Canada — were advertising offers to help temporary foreign workers find employers, rather than the other way around.

"Are you looking for an LMO (labour market opinion) employer?" asked one ad placed by an Edmonton-based company.

"I have access to 800 LMO jobs right now. Also, I have the complete list of ALL companies with LMOs in Canada. Over 50,000 employers. Do you have friends and family who want to come to Canada to work? I can help."

On Thursday, there were similar ads still up on the site.

Employers must first make an attempt to find qualified Canadian workers before applying for a labour market opinion in order to hire someone from abroad. Companies are required to place ads on the job bank and prove they've made other attempts to find Canadian employees.

The Conservatives have pledged to crack down on unscrupulous immigration lawyers and consultants.

Rezel, an information technology specialist, said he established NTFW not only to highlight abusers, but also to protect migrant workers who are often victimized by the program. Nonetheless, he says he receives emails daily that accuse him of being "a racist white supremacist."

"That's pretty weird," sad Rezel, who was born in Sri Lanka.

"Our objective here is to make the system fair for Canadian workers, migrant workers, consumers and businesses. I am hardly racist; that is the furthest thing from the truth."

Follow Lee-Anne Goodman on Twitter at @leeanne25

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