Migrant workers have paid their dues and should be given a path to permanent residency

In looking at the issues related to migrant workers, it is important to unpack the different categories of these workers, ranging from the more specialized and higher skilled under the International Mobility Program to the smaller group of lower wage more vulnerable agriculture and related industry workers as shown in the chart below.

So while there is a need for stronger and higher regulation of agriculture workers and other vulnerable groups, including better and safer living conditions, the needs are lower for those coming in under the IMP (about 40 percent of IMP are from Europe and USA, in contrast to TFWP where less than 10 percent are).

Some questions. Does one need to grant permanent residency for what is essentially seasonal work in agriculture, or should the focus be on working and living conditions? If granted permanent residency, would agriculture workers remain in the sector? Do we have data on language fluency as an indicator of ease of integration or surveys that give a sense whether some workers prefer the seasonal nature of the work or not?

Canada has expanded its temporary migration system to bring in a steady supply of exploitable and interchangeable migrant workers who are coerced into accepting low wages and miserable working conditions below standards that Canadians would accept. Now, exposure to COVID-19 has been added to the terms of the bargain.

As scholars, researchers, and teachers of immigration in Canada, we urge our government to adopt long overdue measures to end the vulnerability and exploitation of migrant workers—many of whom are now deemed essential. A litany of studies and reports have long documented the adverse health, human rights, economic, and living conditions experienced by migrant workers, particularly among those in “low-wage positions” and in agriculture.

Contracting COVID-19 is just the latest price these essential workers have paid for sustaining Canada’s economy. Since March 2020, in the agricultural sector alone, more than 1,000 migrant workers have contracted COVID-19, and three workers have died. Migrant workers are also heavily represented in meat-packing plants, and long-term care facilities. Migrant workers do not bring the virus to Canada; the virus infects them here, because the system fails to ensure that workers live and work in safe environments.

Canada’s economy has hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs that depend on temporary migrant workers—harvesting crops, caring for children and the elderly, working in construction and meat packing, and a host of jobs across the service sector. Yet, the numbers of “temporary” migrant workers have skyrocketed—driven, unchecked, by employer demand, while governments and sectors spend little resources on protecting the health and safety of migrant workers. And, the system remains unchallenged, in part because workers do not have universal protection of collective bargaining rights, and employers vote; migrant workers do not.

Under numerous temporary worker program streams, Canada has annually rendered some 300,000 migrants a permanent underclass. Most come from the global south. Many are required to leave families behind, and must leave Canada when their visas expire. As a racialized workforce, their precarious position in the country is a marker of systemic racism. Despite their essential contributions to the Canadian economy, most have no direct pathway to permanent residency.

Migrant workers understandably fear retribution if they complain, try to improve their working conditions, seek health care, or attempt labour organizing. For doing so, precarious migrant workers can face abuse, termination of employment, loss of earnings and future employment, loss of status, and deportation.

Now is the perfect time to rectify this wrong. Canadians recognize, as never before, the essential contribution immigrants and migrant workers make to this country. Further, Canada will fall far short of its annual immigration targets due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada aimed to admit 340,000 immigrants this year as permanent residents. Only about half that number will actually arrive. Future intake will also lag.

Canada needs permanent resident immigrants to address the challenges of its socio-demographic realities. Low birth rates, an aging population, and rural depopulation mean long-term skills shortages and labour market gaps across the country. Continuing to fill these gaps through temporary intake programs hurts not only migrant workers but also deprives hundreds of smaller communities of revitalization from the immigration advantage of permanent settlement.

It is a popular misconception that Canada does migrant workers a favour by allowing them to work hard, for little money, in hazardous and degrading conditions. The truth is that we are in their debt. We can no longer continue treating this work as essential and the people who do it as dispensable.

Migrant workers have paid their dues to Canada. It’s time for Canada to reciprocate by offering them permanent residency.

Dr. Harald Bauder is a professor and director of the Immigration Settlement and Studies Program, Ryerson University. Dr. Jenna Hennebry is an associate professor, International Migration Research Centre, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University. Audrey Macklin is a professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto. Dr. Myer Siemiatycki, is a professor emeritus and past founding director, Immigration Settlement and Studies Program, Ryerson University.

Source: Migrant workers have paid their dues and should be given a path to permanent residency

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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