Canada’s temporary foreign workers are facing repercussions as of last week from a rule implemented four years ago.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program “four-in-four-out” rule, enacted April 1, 2011, requires temporary foreign workers who have been working in Canada for four years or more to leave the country, and also bans them from returning to work in Canada for an additional four years. Previously, workers could reapply for another work permit to remain in the country and continue their employment.

The organization Migrant Workers Alliance for Change estimates the regulation affects approximately 70,000 low-waged workers in the TFWP and live-in caregiver program.

“These laws aren’t good for workers or employers,” said Syed Hussan of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “It doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose to remove a trained workforce, and replace it with new workers that are less aware of their rights. Why does holding down a job for four years result in deportation? Our communities need migrant workers to have permanent status. This mass deportation is classic economic mismanagement and is frankly irrational.”

But Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and Employment and Social Development Minister Pierre Poilievre said employers and foreign workers have known about the four-year time limit since policy was announced in 2011.

“Employers have had four years to find alternative employees. Similarly, temporary foreign workers have had four years to pursue pathways to permanent residence,” Alexander and Poilievre said in a statement. “The purpose of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is exactly that — to be temporary. Canadians rightly expect to get first crack at available jobs.” Alexander and Poilievre encouraged temporary workers to explore pathways to permanent residency through Express Entry and Provincial Nominee Programs.

“But let there be no mistake: We will not tolerate people going ‘underground.’ Flouting our immigration laws is not an option, and we will deal with offenders swiftly and fairly,” they stated.

A statement from Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan called for the federal government to shut down, or scale down, the TFWP. McGowan said Canada now brings more people into the country each year as guest workers than as permanent residents and citizens.

“The reality for the vast majority of the 350,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada — and the 85,000 TFWs here in Alberta — is that, despite the promises made by politicians and many employment brokers, they will never become citizens,” McGowan said. “Instead, their status is more akin to the indentured servants or the so-called ‘coolies’ of the 19th century.”

Read McGowan’s statement in full.