Here’s how the federal election could change Canada’s immigration system

The Star’s take on the party platforms:

Jhoey Dulaca isn’t eligible to vote in the upcoming election, but the migrant worker from the Philippines is keeping an eye out for the political parties’ immigration plans.

The Toronto woman says she feels migrants’ voices have once again been muted and lost as the issue that matters most to them — ballooning backlogs and endless processing times as a result of the pandemic — have drawn little attention or debate from party leaders.

“No one is talking about the immigration backlog and long wait times,” says Dulaca, who came as a live-in caregiver in 2016 and just received her permanent residence in Canada on Aug. 18 after two long years of processing.

The 41-year-old single mother is unsure how long it will now take to reunite with her two daughters, Tess, 19, and Thea, 16, whom she has not seen for five years.

“All these parties are making policies that affect us and our families, but our voices are not heard because we cannot vote and we don’t matter.”

In recent election campaigns, immigration has rarely made headlines. The major parties’ platforms generally have more elements in common than those that distinguish them. The outlier was the 2015 election, when the Syrian refugee crisis dominated the campaign.

Experts say immigration has been a non-issue because parties — with the exception of the People’s Party of Canada under former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier — recognize the importance of minority votes and don’t want to appear racist or xenophobic.

“The parties try to focus on issues that are going to make them look good and will help them move up in the polls,” said Kareem El-Assal, policy director for CanadaVisa.com, an immigration information site run by a Quebec-based law firm.

“Most people that are being affected by the backlogs are not voters. There aren’t many votes to be won.”

But there are major issues that will determine the future of immigration in this country — not least among them Canada’s plans to deal with applications that have been piling up during the pandemic.

Digging out of a major backlog

To El-Assal, one of the biggest issues missing in the parties’ platforms is how they plan to manage growing backlogs as Canada’s immigration system slowly returns to normal in the wake of the pandemic.

“Immigration is going to be one of the most formative government policy areas over the next decade and beyond, especially amid the damage that’s been caused by the pandemic,” he said.

As a result of the pandemic, Ottawa closed the border with the U.S. with few exemptions. That has greatly reduced this country’s refugee backlog.

However, between February 2020 and this past July, the backlog of permanent residence applications skyrocketed by 70 per cent to 375,137, with the number of applications for temporary residence currently sitting at 702,660 cases. The backlog of citizenship applications has also ballooned to 369,677 people in the queue from 208,069 before the pandemic.

Experts and advocates have said Ottawa must prioritize and bring in the migrants who have already been vetted and approved for permanent residence but have been kept outside of Canada during the pandemic, while expediting the transition to online processing and eliminating red tape to quickly reduce backlog as new applications continue to flood the system.

In its 2021 budget, the Liberal government announced plans to invest $429 million over five years to modernize its IT infrastructure to manage and process immigration applications, but its campaign platform mentions none of that or its plan to streamline processing.

The Conservatives vows to address “administrative backlogs” by simplifying and streamlining processes, investing in IT infrastructure and tech to speed up application vetting, letting applicants correct “simple and honest” mistakes instead of sending back their applications.

The New Democrats say they would “take on the backlogs that are keeping families apart.”

Both parties’ plans lack details and specifics.

Beyond the numbers

None of the parties mention what they plan to do with Canada’s annual immigrant intake of 401,000 for 2021; 411,000 for 2022; and 421,000 in 2023 — except for the People’s Party of Canada, which proposes to reduce the annual intake to between 100,000 and 150,000.

However Andrew Griffith, fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Environics Institute, says Canada is in need of a “more fundamental re-examination” of what the immigration level should be: “What the mix should be, how the integration process works, how do we actually reduce hate and racism, and all of those things.”

Griffith proposes the establishment of an immigration commission to investigate those issues and the related policies.

“They can’t really be addressed by Parliament in an effective way because of the partisan nature.”

While debates about immigration are important, some say they can also open the door for all sorts of racist views around newcomers, further polarizing public opinion.

Robert Falconer, a research associate at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy who focuses on immigration and refugee policies, said parties and voters need to discuss what objectives immigration is going to serve and what the composition should look like.

“Sometimes,” says Falconer, “we have dumbed immigration down to just immigrants as economic agents — all they do is contribute or detract from our economy; when there is cultural, spiritual, religious, demographic considerations that are very, very important.”

Trying to maintain a labour market growth amid an aging population and low birth rate is part of the challenge, he said, but how to manage the demographic makeup and ensure newcomers from diverse background are welcomed is often overlooked.

“What are the parties saying about issues not directly stemming from immigration, but (that) strongly relate to it, which is issues of anti-racism, hate and multiculturalism?” Falconer asked.

In tackling anti-racism and hate, the Liberals are committed to a national plan on combatting hate, new legislation to police online content and strengthening the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code against perpetrators.

The Conservatives say they will protect Canadians from online hate while “preserving free speech” and celebrating Canadian heritage, including a $75-million fund to municipalities for the repair and restoration of historical monuments, statues and heritage buildings.

The NDP would ensure all major cities have dedicated hate-crime units within local police forces, and convene a national working group to counter online hate.

The Bloc includes “Quebec bashing” in relation to its platform on racism.

New ideas from the Conservative party

While there is much in common when it comes to immigration policies of the major parties, Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives have some “innovative” ideas, Griffith said.

Among them:

  • The introduction of a fee for those who would like to have their immigration applications expedited, with the revenues directed toward hiring additional staff to streamline processing time;
  • Replacing the current lottery system for immigration sponsorship of parents and grandparents with a first-come, first-served model that prioritizes applicants on criteria such as providing child care or family support, and language proficiency;
  • Replacing government-assisted refugee spots with private and joint sponsorship places, so all refugees resettling in Canada will do so under private or joint sponsorship programs, with exceptions in cases of emergency or specific programs.

“There are some interesting ideas in the Conservative platform that merits some discussion and debate. I mean, some I don’t think will go anywhere, but others may,” said Griffith, who has studied and compared the immigration platforms of all six parties in this election.

The proposed expedited processing fee, for instance, could create a two-tiered system between rich and poor applicants. A sponsorship of parents and grandparents based on an applicant’s ability to babysit may not sit well with the spirit of family reunification.

What to do with the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement?

In the 2019 federal election, a major issue was the surge in asylum seekers via the U.S. land border as a result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-migrant policies. The development prompted a fierce debate over the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement.

The bilateral pact, which has been in place between Ottawa and Washington since 2004, is not mentioned in either the Liberal or the New Democrat platform.

That accord allows Canada to turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry on the basis they should pursue their claims in the U.S.

Like the People’s Party, the Conservatives propose a complete ban on migrants from the U.S. seeking asylum in Canada and recommends joint Canada-U.S. border patrols similar to what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Green Party and Bloc Québécois, meanwhile, want the pact revoked altogether.

Refugee claimants and advocates have taken Ottawa to court over the constitutionality of the bilateral pact and the case is now before the Supreme Court of Canada, after the Liberal government successfully challenged a lower-court decision that found claimants’ charter rights were being breached.

Critics say the agreement, implemented under both the Liberal and Conservative governments, has not helped deter would be refugee claimants from crossing through unguarded parts of the border.

“I don’t know why the Liberals don’t take a position on it, but everything I’ve seen the Liberals do tells me that they actually align with the Conservatives’ position,” Falconer said.

“There are much more humane ways to address concerns in surges of asylum seekers that would again address the backlog that the Liberals and Conservatives tear their hair out over.”

Queen’s University immigration law professor Sharry Aiken said both parties understand patrolling the world’s longest shared border requires massive government resources. It would also likely encourage people to seek help from traffickers to sneak through the border and move underground for lack of access for asylum once inside Canada.

“That’s the exact problem in the United States, where there’s millions of undocumented people because there hasn’t been a way for them to actually make a claim through legal channels because of all of the different barriers in place that preclude access,” Aiken noted.

Temporary resident to permanent resident pathway

During the pandemic, the recognition of migrant workers doing essential work on farms, in nursing homes and driving food-delivery trucks prompted Ottawa to introduce one-time immigration programs for migrant workers and international students to become permanent residents.

The Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats all are in favour of expanding those pathways.

The Liberals categorically said the party would expand the pathways to permanent residence for migrant workers and former international students while the Conservatives would do it by offering a path for “low-skilled workers,” whose demand is “justified by concrete labour market data.”

All the NDP has to say about this issue is: “If someone is good enough to come and work here, then there should be a path for them to stay permanently.”

Expanding these temporary-to-permanent pathways, say migrants’ advocates, is wrong-headed because they reinforce, legitimize and justify Canada’s increasingly two-tiered immigration system, which exploits vulnerable temporary residents by dangling before them the prospects of permanent residency in the country down the road.

Political parties can’t adopt a Band-Aid approach and create a new pathway each time a group is falling through the cracks — Canada currently has more than 100 different skilled worker immigration programs, said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

Leaders and policymakers need to be bold and ensure equality and equity for migrants from the get-go, which can only be achieved by granting them permanent residence in Canada upon arrival, he noted.

“The term pathway to permanent residence misrepresents what it is,” said Hussan. “It’s really a pathway to precariousness.”

His group estimated there are half a million work permits issued in Canada today, up from 60,000 two decades ago, but only a fraction of the migrant workers will get a chance to become permanent residents.

“The entire immigration system has been turned into a system of temporariness. It has created a fundamentally divided society. The natural progression of a system of temporary migration, which we now have, is more people who are undocumented and more people who are being even more exploited,” Hussan said.

“We have turned this country’s immigration system into a revolving door temp agency run by employers that profits from it. Instead, we want to ensure equal rights for everyone in the country. And to do that, we must ensure that everyone has the same citizenship rights.”

‘More migrants are falling through the cracks’

Dulaca said she has had her share of owed wages and unpaid overtime from her Canadian employers, and she put up with it because she needed the jobs to support her daughters back home and, more importantly, to meet the employment requirement for her permanent residence.

“The politicians are creating more and more pathways, but these pathways are not the solutions and more migrants are falling through the cracks,” said Dulaca, who runs a support group on Facebook to help other migrant caregivers.

“We all come to Canada so we can give our children a better life, a better future. I can’t vote now and you bet I will exercise my voting rights when I become a Canadian citizen three years from now.”

Source: Here’s how the federal election could change Canada’s immigration system

Canada trumpeted its special, one-time immigration program for international grads and essential workers. But did it work in the end?

Some lessons here more broadly, both with respect to policy and service delivery:

Has Ottawa’s latest immigration pathway for international graduates and essential migrant workers been a success or a missed opportunity?

After much fanfare in April to announce the first-come, first-served program to grant permanent residence to temporary migrants in Canada, officials released details about the process and requirements less than 24 hours before applications opened a month ago on May 6.

The cap of 40,000 applications for international graduates here on postgraduate work permits was filled within a day, while intake for the two migrant worker streams in health and non-health sectors — with a cap of 50,000 applications — has been slow.

As of Friday, only 1,700 applications had been received under the stream for health workers out of a quota of 20,000, and just 11,900 of the 30,000 vacancies for those in non-health related jobs were filled.

That shortfall has prompted some critics to question whether the special pathway only favours those with Canadian education credentials and in higher-skilled jobs, but excludes the essential workers who don’t meet the strict language and job criteria and who really need the help.

“It’s a missed opportunity to provide a pathway to permanent residence for other ‘low-skilled’ workers who don’t qualify. … They had an opportunity to finally give all low-skilled foreign nationals pathway for permanent residence that they’d been talking about for years,” says Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens.

“There are so many people here in low-skilled jobs for such a long time. It’s not clear to me why they didn’t just expand it to all low-skilled workers who are here but don’t have an (eligible) immigration program.”

International graduates who lost their jobs during the pandemic and had their postgraduate work permits expire are already eligible to renew their permits for up to 18 months due to the pandemic, said Meurrens.

“The government sold the pathway as a COVID program. They could’ve sold it that ‘these people have been working during the pandemic and we’re going to let them stay permanently,’” said Meurrens. “They could have the political will to do that. I don’t think any opposition party would attack the government for it.”

Excitement — followed by disappointment, for some

In April, Ottawa’s announcement of the new pathway made for a good news story and the pathway was well received. It came as Canada was struggling during the peak of the third wave of COVID-19 pandemic, with daily new infections averaging more than 8,500 cases.

“This new pathway to permanent residence recognizes Canada’s need for educated and experienced workers as we work toward our economic recovery,” the immigration department said in a news release.

“It also acknowledges the extraordinary service of so many essential workers during the pandemic, many of whom are newcomers to our country and have played critical roles as we fight COVID-19.”

The pathway created a frenzy among many temporary migrants with precarious status in Canada, who were faced with the uncertainty over the impact and disruption of the pandemic toward their pursuit for permanent residence here.

Jose, a failed refugee claimant from Mexico with diabetes, has braved the exposure to COVID-19 while working in a restaurant and house cleaning through the pandemic. He said he was excited when he first heard about the program, but that excitement quickly turned to disappointment when he learned the pathway wasn’t opened to all essential workers.

“I felt sad when I found out more about the new program. We have been working to support Canadians who are staying at home during the pandemic,” said Jose, who asked his last name be withheld because he has been undocumented in Canada since his asylum claim based on sexual orientation was refused in 2009.

“Many of us have no other options to stay. We have worked hard during the pandemic and we are the ones who need a special program for permanent residence,” added the 41-year-old Montreal man.

The new pathway stipulates that all applicants must be legally employed with valid work permits in Canada at the time of their application and when they are granted permanent residence. Some applicants may end up being disqualified if they fail to keep their jobs or work permit while waiting out the process.

There are also minimum English proficiency requirements based on language test results. The migrant worker streams are limited to 40 health-care occupations and 95 other essential jobs across a range of fields, such as caregiving and food production and distribution.

Communication around program falls under criticism

Ottawa lawyer Betsy Kane said immigration officials did a poor job in communicating about the specifics of the program as they rushed to roll it out.

“The execution was very poor because people didn’t even know what the requirements were. People had to prepare in real time as they were changing what actually had to be submitted. Their guide came out the day before the application was due to open,” she pointed out.

“For somebody who is unable to appreciate what the requirements are, one of the challenges is using a portal. Expecting all documents to be scanned in a beautiful fashion and uploaded in a timely basis under the gun of a quota for low-skilled workers is not realistic.”

Although the new government portal did not crash as many observers expected it to, the immigration department’s system was so overwhelmed by the number of applicants trying to pay the $1,050 application fee that it stopped working for hours on May 6.

The pathway for international graduates would have been a godsend for Sunshine Pardinan, who was laid off as a technical assistant at a dental office and unemployed for seven months at the onset of the pandemic.

The 41-year-old Filipina missed the cap for that stream because she was unable to secure the birth certificates of her four children back home as required in the application.

Fortunately, she still qualified for the nonhealth essential worker stream.

“I was blessed that I had another chance to apply or my family’s immigration dream would be crushed,” said Pardinan, who has a degree in education from Cebu and graduated from Centennial College’s one-year business foundation program in April 2020.

“I was lucky that my former employer called me back in October so I have a job and can still qualify as an essential worker. We all have been helping the economy and I hope the government can give all temporary residents a chance.”

Kane, the lawyer, said she was not surprised the cap for the international graduate stream was filled quickly, as there’s a huge demand to keep attracting international students here and the 40,000 quota accounts for less than 10 per cent of the international student population already here.

While health workers are in huge demand, many of those are tied up helping to fight the pandemic and are not in a rush to apply because they are likely going to qualify or may have already applied through a regular immigration program.

‘A mad rush’

Daniel Lantin, who just completed a two-year program in business marketing from Centennial College this spring, was already preparing to apply for permanent residence under the skilled immigration class before Ottawa announced the new pathway.

With his work experience in social media marketing for a software company, the 30-year-old from the Philippines was able to obtain all the documentation he needed, such as proof of completing his school program and police clearances. He even managed to register and take the mandatory English test before application opened.

“This pathway is a bonus. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they’re taking in international students who basically just graduated and have full-time work,” said Lantin, who already had an undergraduate degree and worked in marketing in the Philippines.

“We weren’t sure whether this was going to open up again. This is an opportunity that’s not given to everyone. It’s a blessing.”

However, Lantin couldn’t get his application photos professionally done because studios were closed. Instead, he included in his file a note to explain why he didn’t have a photo and hopes immigration officials will accept the reasoning.

His lawyer, Lou Janssen Dangzalan, said people were bound to miss documents and make mistakes in their submissions as they were rushed to complete applications online, sometimes without even looking at their eligibility.

“Based out of my consultation that I’ve had, a lot of people are saying that ‘I’m going to take my chances and maybe they will adjust the policy.’ They were planning to apply anyway,” said Dangzalan, who was approached by a couple of dozen applicants for help and only 14 had valid language test results.

“The 40,000 international graduates that they’ve got. They’re not going to get all of that,” he added. “It’s such a mad rush and mistakes will be made.”

‘There will be opportunities above and beyond this pathway’

Experts said it all comes down to how forgiving and flexible immigration officials are in handling that and if they would just refuse those applications outright.

During a parliamentary immigration committee meeting, officials appeared to have moved the goalpost of the new pathway when they were asked what they would do if many ended up not being qualified.

“One single application can allow two or three people (family members) to ultimately come to Canada. We can therefore hit the target of 90,000,” said Daniel Mills, assistant deputy immigration minister in operations. “It does not necessarily depend on the number of applications, but the number of people involved.”

And for those who don’t meet this program’s criteria, Marian Campbell Jarvis, assistant deputy immigration minister in policy, said, other “pathways still exist alongside this special temporary public policy that was put in place, so there will be opportunities above and beyond this pathway.”

Jarvis expects the uptake for the essential worker streams will ultimately pick up as in the case in most new immigration programs.

In an interview Friday, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino praised the new pathway as the “broadest and most inclusive” pathway to permanent residence for essential workers in the history of the immigration system.

He said the details of the program were clearly communicated before it opened to applications and that the feedback to the pathway has been overwhelmingly positive.

“By publishing the guideline before the program even opened, we began to inform, educate and give access to clear transparent guidance, so that as people began to prepare to submit, they have the benefit of clear instructions,” Mendicino told the Star.

“The doors are still open to this program. There are spaces. There is still time.”

Mendicino also did not rule out the possibility of another, similar pathway as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc to global migration.

“We are going to make the greatest success out of this program. Once this program has concluded and we have a really clear understanding of how it has landed, we’ll be in a better position to decide. There may be other similar pathways that we should create,” he said.

A system that needs ‘overhaul’

Karen Cocq of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change said the problem with the new pathway is that it was designed for the people who don’t need a special program to get permanent residence.

It’s evident, she said, the program privileged those who were already the most well placed to access permanent residency with the money to pay for lawyers and fees, or may already be preparing their applications with documentations handy.

“The immigration minister trotted out these highly qualified hardworking workers in health care as examples of front-line heroes the program was built to thank. But the vast majority of people the minister called out don’t need this program,” said Cocq.

“And we know so many people who work in health care in other job classifications who do need access to permanent residency simply can’t get it through the program because so many of them are working undocumented.”

She said these are just symptoms of the fundamental tenet of Canada’s current approach to immigration that’s based on transitioning temporary residents such as international students and migrant workers to become permanent residents.

“Until the immigration system stops producing temporariness, we will continue to require partial, piecemeal and inadequate solutions. This is a historic opportunity that the government has where there’s public awareness in how the system puts people in vulnerable positions,” Cocq explained.

“I think there’s public support and public appetite to see fundamental change coming out of the pandemic to see the reorganizing of the economy and of the immigration system. The government is missing an opportunity to do the overhaul of the system that’s required.”

Source: Canada trumpeted its special, one-time immigration program for international grads and essential workers. But did it work in the end?

Advocates rally in Toronto to call for permanent immigration status for migrant workers

Hard to know where their assertion that more than 1.6 million non-permanent residents comes from when 2016 Census shows 506,625, which largely match IRCC operational data.

And important to understand the differences between the various categories of temporary residents, with some (students and higher skilled) having reasonably pathways to permanent residency. Vulnerability issues moe with respect to agriculture workers and caregivers:

Dozens of people rallied in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square on Sunday to demand permanent status for all migrant workers in Canada.

The rally, organized by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, comes days before the Sept. 23 throne speech, in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to outline how the federal government will continue to help people and parts of the economy still affected by COVID-19.

The group said it wants federal COVID-19 recovery efforts to include full and permanent immigration status for all.

Similar rallies were expected to take place in Hamilton, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Montreal and St. John’s on Sunday.

Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, told reporters that the pandemic has made it more difficult for migrant workers in Canada and they do not enjoy essential rights.

“We believe that a fair society is one with equal rights. And equal rights is only possible if all of us have full and permanent immigration status,” Hussan said.

“We don’t want a society in which some people are treated like second class citizens.”

According to the group:

  • At least 1 in 23 people in Canada, or more than 1.6 million people are non-permanent residents.
  • Migrants are in Canada on various study, work or humanitarian permits, or without documentation at all.
  • Many migrants are excluded from universal healthcare, access to emergency income supports and decent work. Many are separated from their families.
  • Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, refugees, students and undocumented people have lost their lives and livelihoods during the pandemic.
  • Migrants are unable to fully protect themselves during the pandemic because of lack of emergency support, and because speaking out about unsafe work and housing conditions can result in deportation, homelessness, or not being able to return.
  • The federal government announced a “pathway to permanent residency for some asylum claimants working in the health-care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic” on Aug. 14.

“COVID-19 does not differentiate between people, and neither should the government response,” the group says.

Source: Advocates rally in Toronto to call for permanent immigration status for migrant workers

International students call for COVID-19 immigration changes in Toronto

Some of the calls are worthy of consideration (e.g., post-graduate work program permit renewals), others divorced from reality (e.g., eliminating higher fees for international students, given that universities depend on the higher fees):

Current and former international students called for changes to Canada’s immigration rules on Saturday as they face a job market still recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered at Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office in Toronto in the first of two events scheduled this weekend. A second event in Mississauga, Ont., is planned for Sunday.

The students say the requirements for graduates to gain permanent residency in Canada are too strict, and economic disruption from the COVID-19 crisis has made those requirements essentially impossible to meet.

Sarom Rho, an organizer with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change who leads the Migrant Students United campaign, said the pandemic has compounded the difficulties international graduates face when entering the job market in Canada.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, millions of people in Canada have lost work and wages, but for migrant students there is an added cost,” Rho said by phone ahead of Saturday’s rally.

“Without jobs, students can’t apply for permanent residence.”

Post-graduate work permits are not currently renewable and Rho said this puts graduates who have been laid off or unable to find work during the pandemic at extra risk.

Graduates experiencing unemployment face deportation if they do not complete continuous, high-wage work before their permits expire, she noted.

The group is calling on the provincial and federal governments to make post-graduate work permits renewable so graduates struggling in the COVID-19 job market will not be deported or become undocumented.

An online petition calling on the federal government to address the issues international students face had attracted more than 18,000 signatures as of Saturday afternoon.

It reiterates the key demands in the Migrant Students United campaign, including making work permits renewable.

“We call on the federal government to make immediate changes that support students during the new global reality we are in,” the petition reads.

It also says families of international students should be able acquire work permits, asks that tuition fees be lowered to be on par with domestic rates and says all migrants should be granted permanent status.

Rho noted returning home is not an option for many graduates who come from countries that have been destabilized by economic devastation and other crises during the pandemic.

She said delays in immigration processing times have also left current international students on study permits without social insurance numbers, leaving them unable to find work.

These pressing concerns about students’ futures could be avoided simply, Rho said.

She said the weekend’s demonstrations call for simple fixes to a “punitive” system that sets students up to fail as they work to stay in Canada after their studies.

“This could all be fixed if there were a simple fix like making the work permit renewable, and even simpler, granting status for all migrants,” she said.

Neither Freeland nor Immigration Minister Marco Mendocino immediately responded to a request for comment.

Source: International students call for COVID-19 immigration changes in Toronto

Advocate warns new agri-food pilot is inaccessible for many critical migrant workers

I would reserve judgement until we see how the program works or doesn’t work in practice. As a pilot, it allows the government to test the approach and adjust as necessary, as it did with The Atlantic Immigration Pilot (now no longer a pilot)”

The federal government’s new agri-food pilot program gives too much power to employers and won’t be accessible for labourers hoping to gain permanent residence status, migrants workers’ advocates say.

Applications for the long-awaited pilot opened on Friday, after being delayed for some months amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Syed Hussan, the executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said the pilot is a “slap in the face” to migrant workers who have been deemed essential during the coronavirus shutdowns, and now can’t access a pathway to citizenship due to the program’s stringent requirements.

“By and large, it’s not a program that’s designed to work for the people,” Hussan said in an interview with iPolitics. “It’s an employer-driven program that the vast majority of workers won’t be able to access.”

The three-year pilot was presented by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as a way to help employers in meat processing, mushroom and greenhouse production, as well as livestock-raising, by providing a pathway to permanent residence for temporary foreign workers who are already in Canada. The department said a total of 2,750 applications will be accepted annually throughout the pilot.

But Hussan pointed to the education and language testing requirements for the program, which he believes that migrant workers won’t be able to access.

The program requires applicants to have either a Canadian high school diploma or an educational credential assessment report, from a designated organization or professional body, that shows they’ve completed a foreign credential at the secondary school level or above. The workers must also meet minimum language requirements: a level four in the Canadian Language Benchmarks of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The test must be considered approved, and no older than two years.

Keith Currie, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, acknowledged the language and education requirements may need to be adjusted as the pilot is studied. Unlike the Temporary Foreign Workers program, which is another avenue for migrant workers to access employment in Canada, he noted that the pilot requires the same language and education testing necessary for those seeking full citizenship.

“We just want to make sure that things, rules aren’t too stringent to make it viable for workers to stay,” he said.

Applicants also must prove they have enough money to settle in Canada, eligible work experience, a minimum of 1,560 hours of non-seasonal, full-time work in the past three years, and a job offer letter.

Hussan told iPolitics that many migrant workers come in and out of Canada, and therefore may not be able to meet the hours requirement, which are to be counter over a total period of at least 12 months. As well, he said the job offer requirement will exacerbate employers’ power, claiming that the measure hasn’t been used in federal immigration programs before. Such criteria exists in some provincial regulations though, he said, adding that they’ve proven problematic in some instances.

“We’ve seen multiple examples of employers use these job offers to stop workers from speaking out,” he said.

Currie said he hadn’t heard any complaints about the requirement to have a job offer letter, and said it made sense that the federal government would want to ensure applicants had employment waiting for them. Agriculture producers, he said, were welcoming the program and had advocated for its introduction. Many seasonal workers returned year after year, he said, or sent their children or grandchildren.

“They’re beginning to almost be like family to some of these operations,” he said.

Currie also said the program will help shore up the agriculture sector’s labour needs, where tens of thousands of labour jobs go unfulfilled each year.

In June, the Senate committee on agriculture and forestry released a report forecasting a worsening of farmers’ difficulties with finding workers.  The report referenced testimony from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council in saying the country’s agriculture sector was short 59,000 workers in 2019 — a figure that could reach 114,000 by 2025.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino said in a release that the pilot aimed to attract applicants who could establish themselves in Canada, while supporting the labour needs of farmers and processors.

“It’s very important that we support our farmers and food processors to make sure they have the workers they need to help strengthen Canada’s food security,” he said.

But Hussan stressed that migrants who make up a critical part of Canada’s agricultural workforce should be valued for the contribution they made to the sector — and claimed the government had skipped over migrant advocates’ organizations in their consultations and assessments within the agricultural realm.

“Canada clearly needs these workers,” Hussan said. “The program should be designed with them in mind.”

Source: Advocate warns new agri-food pilot is inaccessible for many critical migrant workers

Federal guidelines for temporary foreign workers aren’t enforceable, says advocate

Of note. Legitimate concern although the associated position by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change for the government to “extend EI benefits to workers who chose not to travel to Canada this year due to coronavirus concerns” and some other demands are largely non-starters:

The federal government’s new guidelines for employers of temporary foreign workers coming to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic won’t offer substantial protections for critical agricultural labourers, says a migrant workers advocate.

Syed Hussan, the executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, says the federal government must create enforcement mechanisms for these new guidelines to ensure the rights of workers are upheld.

“We need proactive enforcement,” said Hussan, who’s also a member of the Migrant Rights Network, a coalition of self-organized groups of refugees and migrants.

“We are very far away from instituting actual protection for essential migrant workers.”

Employment and Social Development Canada published the guidelines late last month, which include instructions that workers must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival to Canada and employers must pay workers for the time they spend in self-isolation.

Hussan, though, said many workers aren’t aware of their rights because the guidelines are only available in English. He said organizations like MWAC created education materials to share with workers so they could understand employment rights and social distancing.

“What is the point of a guideline if the workers who it’s supposed to protect doesn’t know [the guideline],” he asked.

Hussan said some members have been told to work by their employers, despite the self-isolation guidelines, and then were refused pay when they declined, to adhere to self-isolation measures. He also said some workers are in quarantine and employers aren’t providing groceries or medication they’ve requested, with local churches instead stepping in.

He said the federal government should create calling and internet hotlines for foreign workers to file complaints about their employers anonymously, as well as to have regular spot checks at farms where migrant workers are hosted.

“We need proactive enforcement,” he said.

Keith Currie, first vice president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said despite some frustration among members about not having access to labourers during their self-isolation period, farmers are prepared to do whatever is necessary to maintain Canada’s foreign labour force — including following the protocols set in place by the government.

“The government made it very clear that [migrant workers] are to be paid for these two weeks, so [farmers] will do what they have to do,” he said.

Currie, who’s also president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said farmers would like the government to include migrant workers under the employment insurance benefits that have been announced for Canadian workers rather than paying them out of pocket. Meanwhile, he said proper payment to foreign workers will be documented through a businesses’ tax filing.

“[Famers] will build that unto their business case, and they will pay [migrant workers] for the 30 hours a week while they’re in isolation,” he said. “It’s all on the record.”

Hussan also said migrants workers deserve to be treated like permanent workers as a permanent part of Canada’s labour force. As a part of this, he said the government should extend EI benefits to workers who chose not to travel to Canada this year due to coronavirus concerns. Workers who grow ill from COVID-19 should be covered under Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), but Hussan said some workers don’t have access to valid SINs because they just arrived in the country and Service Canada offices are closed. He said the federal government should make CERB available on the basis of expired SINs for workers that can’t renew their number this year.

Hussan said quarantine measures are showing the necessity of “urgent immigration reform,” including a national housing strategy, noting that workers with temporary status can’t enforce their rights “even when facing a deadly pandemic.”

He pointed to a COVID-19 outbreak in a Kelowna B.C. nursery, where 14 migrants workers have tested positive for the virus, with a total of 63 in self-isolation.  The migrant workers arrived in Kelowna from outside Canada on March 12, before any travel restrictions were in place.

“Worker lives are being put into danger because of inaction by the federal government,” Hussan said.

Marielle Hossack, press secretary for Employment and Workforce Development  Minister Carla Qualtrough, said all employees coming to Canada to help secure our country’s food supply deserve a safe working and living environment. She said employers have an an important role to play in helping prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19.

“Our government has provided guidance to employers of temporary foreign workers to ensure they meet public health requirements regarding accommodations, hygiene and working conditions,” she said in an emailed statement to iPolitics. “We continue to engage with key stakeholders to ensure this program supports the Canadian economy and protects the health and safety of Canadians and workers.”

Currie urged that farmers are willing to do “whatever is necessary” to maintain the foreign worker’s program, noting that 16,000 agriculture jobs went unfilled last year.

“It’s desperately needed because we just can’t get Canadians to fill those jobs,” he said. “We just want the public to know, there still are jobs available should they choose to work on a farm, but these foreign workers are key to food production in Canada.”

Source: Federal guidelines for temporary foreign workers aren’t enforceable, says advocate