Block: A huge upside to recognizing rights for migrants living in Canada

More advocacy than balanced analysis on the pros and cons.

The argument that this will increase Canadian productivity is more wishful thinking as no studies that I am aware of demonstrate that (nor for the overall large and increasing numbers of immigrants):

“Papers, please.”

In Hollywood movies, these two words never fail to inject fear, tension and high stakes into any scene. A character whose documents are not “in order” faces serious consequences, from job loss to family separation to arrest to deportation.

For some 500,000 people in Canada, this scenario is no movie scene — it’s real life. For various reasons, they have no legal status in this country. Another 1.2 million people are here on permits that allow them to work or study, for now, but with no right to stay permanently. They have limited access to the benefits most citizens take for granted.

For these residents, this lack of status is a source of constant worry. Life without status means life without health care. It means working without the workplace protections that all workers deserve. It means no rights to minimum standards like the minimum wage, or overtime pay, or statutory holiday pay.

Undocumented workers are more likely to face wage theft, injury and sexual exploitation.

Further, the existence of a large pool of workers with few rights gives employers a ready source of cheap labour — one that is unlikely to complain for fear of job loss or worse. There are no minimum standards for workers without rights. This has a negative impact on the labour market as a whole, dragging down wages and working conditions for low-wage workers generally.

So it is good news that the federal government is looking at ways to “regularize” more migrants and undocumented workers to bring them into the mainstream of Canadian society. It is hard to overestimate the benefits of doing so.

The humanitarian benefits to individuals, families, and communities are obvious. The economic benefits to the country as a whole should not be overlooked.

First of all, Canada needs workers: we are currently facing a historic labour shortage. The number of job vacancies hit a record 997,000 in the second quarter of 2022, with significant worker shortages in health care, construction, manufacturing, retail, and other sectors. We need to increase the productive capacity of our economy, and there is no time to waste.

Canada’s population was aging long before COVID-19 came along, and if we do not take action the number of unfilled jobs can only increase as the share of the population over age 65 continues to grow. We need to increase the current and future working-age population, including the number of children and youth. A tidal wave of retirements is coming — indeed, it has already begun. As our nurses, teachers, construction workers and others leave the workforce, we need people to replace them.

Without an increase in the working age population, we will see a sharp drop-off in the productive capacity of our economy. While regularization alone will not solve this problem, it can be part of the solution.

Regularization holds the potential to provide a rapid upgrade to overall skill levels in the Canadian workforce and a corresponding boost in overall productivity. That’s because undocumented workers often have no choice but to work in jobs that use only a fraction of their skills, knowledge and abilities.

Without the threat of deportation hanging over them, undocumented workers will have the capacity to work more, to work more productively, and to participate more fully in the labour market and economy. This can only be good for all of us.

Regularization will also benefit the public purse. Undocumented workers already pay various taxes (sales taxes, for example), but with regularization they will contribute more, and so will their employers. More money for public services and infrastructure will be essential if we hope to meet current and future challenges.

Our country faces many urgent problems these days, but having too many people is not one of them. Regularization of the rights of migrants is a win for them and a win for Canada.

Let’s make sure everyone’s papers are in order.

Source: A huge upside to recognizing rights for migrants living in Canada

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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