Refugee, undocumented health-care workers demand access to permanent resident program

Of note given unsubscribed slots in the permanent resident pathway program for the healthcare stream:

Refugees and undocumented health-care workers are demanding they be allowed to apply for a government program that would grant them permanent status in Canada.

The temporary resident to permanent resident pathway program was announced in April as a way to keep skilled essential workers in the country, with a focus on retaining 20,000 hospital and long-term care workers.

While the government has already received the maximum number of applications for recent university graduates and other essential workers, there have been few applicants accepted to the health-care stream.

The program is set to close on Nov. 5 and has so far accepted only 5,421 applications.

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change says that’s because refugees and undocumented people are barred from applying and many health-care occupations are excluded.

“I felt humiliated when the eligibility requirement excluded me,” said Fasanya Kolade, a Nigerian refugee and developmental support worker in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Kolade works primarily with seniors and adults with physical, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and said he pulled 65-hour weeks throughout the pandemic to care for his patients.

Despite meeting most of the criteria, he could not apply.

“The only criteria that excluded me was just that I am a refugee claimant,” he said in an online press conference Wednesday.

The program is only open to workers with temporary status in Canada, so even undocumented people with work permits cannot apply.

The program also requires applicants to meet language requirements, and have recent experience in an approved health-care occupation.

Those requirements can also limit eligibility for people who don’t have time to take the proper language tests, the Migrant Workers Alliance said.

The federal government launched a similar pathway program specifically for health-care workers with pending or failed refugee claims late last year, which closed to applications on Aug. 31.

Now with nearly 15,000 spots for temporary residents set to expire in just two weeks, the alliance is calling for the criteria to be expanded.

“Changing these rules, ensuring access for migrants, refugee claimants, undocumented people without economic, occupational restrictions and language restrictions is a no-brainer,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

“Otherwise these spots will just evaporate.”

Several people have applied, hoping the criteria would be amended, but have been denied.

“When I first heard of the health worker pathway I knew God had finally heard, not only my cries, but also other people in my situation,” said Jane, a Ugandan refugee and personal support worker in Hamilton, Ont. Her full name has been protected because of her lack of immigration status.

She fled her country after leaving an abusive and homophobic relationship and was disowned by her family when they learned she was a lesbian.

She applied for the pathway program with the help of a lawyer and waited, hoping the criteria would be expanded to include people with failed refugee claims, but she was denied.

There are many people with similar stories said Florence, a Ugandan asylum seeker who works in a Toronto residential home for young adults with complex developmental and physical disabilities. Her full name has also been protected.

She was denied because she had filed an asylum claim in the United States.

“Our hands are tied up. I cannot get a steady permit to pursue my dreams,” Florence said Wednesday. “I know there are very many of us like me who need papers.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Source: Refugee, undocumented health-care workers demand access to permanent resident program

Government urged to speed up foreign-worker applications by farms and meat plants

No surprise. Some administrative bottlenecks likely can (and should) be reduced (e.g., reintroduction of online forms, more streamlined application and renewal applications):

Canadian farmers and meat processors are urging Ottawa to quickly bring in more foreign workers to help ease a labour crisis that is hurting the country’s agriculture industry.

They want the federal government to raise caps and speed up applications for the temporary foreign worker program to allow them to increase production.

Agriculture is one of many sectors struggling to add staff as the Canadian economy tries to recover from the damage caused by the coronavirus.

Although farms and plants were not subject to the sorts of lockdowns faced by restaurants or retailers, the pandemic made travel to rural sites difficult and slowed or stopped international travel. As well, COVID-19 outbreaks in some facilities put migrant workers’ health in danger and hampered operations.

But, agricultural business leaders say, the flow of foreign workers to Canada is integral to keeping the sector functioning as it has struggled for years to retain domestic employees.

Groups, including the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), Mushrooms Canada and the Canadian Meat Council, say application processing times have grown exponentially during the pandemic, which is making it more difficult for farms and plants to maximize their production.

“When we talk about unfilled jobs, what we’re talking about is lost opportunity,” said Mary Robinson, CFA president and partner of a family farm operation that produces soy, barley and hay in Prince Edward Island. The CFA estimated the agriculture industry lost about $2.9-billion in revenue in 2020 because of low productivity, or about 4.5 per cent of overall sales.

Canadian agriculture has increasingly relied on bringing in workers from overseas to make up for shortfalls in domestic hiring. According to a Statistics Canada analysis from 2020, 27.4 per cent of all workers on crop production in Canada were temporary foreign workers (TFWs).

Meat processors have fewer foreign workers because, by law, there is a cap of 10 per cent or 20 per cent of their work force that can be TFWs. The percentage depends on the amount of a plant’s historical use of the program.

Marie-France MacKinnon, vice-president of public affairs at the Canadian Meat Council, said her group is calling for the cap to be raised to 30 per cent, which is where it was before the Ottawa lowered it in 2014. That year, the Conservative government tightened the rules to the TFW program, responding to reports that it was being overused and abused by some Canadian businesses.

“Our labour shortage is critical right now,” Ms. MacKinnon said. “It’s over 4,000 empty butcher stations from across the country.”

The federal government said in a statement Thursday that adjustments to the program are made on a continuing basis, depending on changes in labour-market conditions.

Mark Chambers, vice-president of Canadian pork production at Alberta-based Sunterra Farms, says his production runs below capacity because of a shortage of workers. He said his pork-processing plant has 120 stations, 20 of which are empty because there is no one to work them.

Mr. Chambers said he has had difficulty attracting new domestic workers to the company’s farms and plants, which he attributes to the low population of the rural communities, the reluctance of urban Canadians to work in the country and the nature of the work.

“You can’t completely fill every position with Canadians,” he said.

As part of the application to bring in a temporary foreign worker, employers first have to fill out a Labour Market Impact Assessment to show that no Canadians want the job. The federal government unveiled a new online form last year to speed up applications. But the website went down in August and has remained offline in the months since then, forcing employers to once again file by e-mail or fax.

Mr. Chambers said using the online portal, the turnaround time on an application was two to seven days – but now that he’s back to old methods, it’s lengthened to two to four weeks.

A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said some “technical issues” emerged on the website after an update, and department officials are still working on a fix. The government was not able to provide a timeline for when it would be online again.

The government also said processing times have increased because of an increase in the number of applications.

Representatives of the meat industry say their goal is to bring workers into Canada under the TFW program and then sponsor them for permanent residency, because their ultimate aim is to create a long-term work force in the sector. Ottawa made that easier with the launch of the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot in 2020, which allows agricultural employers to sponsor non-seasonal, full-time employees for permanent residency under some conditions.

Syed Hussan, the executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance of Canada, said if Canada’s economy requires an influx of new immigrants, those people should be brought in through permanent-residency programs and not work permits that are tied to individual employers.

He said migrant workers who have to rely on their employers’ good graces to stay in the country are open to exploitation and abuse, such as having to endure unsafe working conditions. He said he has worked with TFWs who feared lodging labour complaints because they could lose their work permits if they did.

“Our members say this isn’t a pathway [to permanent residency], it’s a minefield where very few of us will survive to get to the other end,” Mr. Hussan said. “And most of us will be injured or hurt or forced to leave the country.”

Mr. Hussan said one solution is for TFWs and their sponsorship status to be protected under collective bargaining agreements, which helps shield those workers from employer reprisals.

One such agreement covers about 2,000 workers at the Maple Leafs Foods’ pork-processing plant in Brandon. That agreement requires all TFWs to be sponsored for permanent residence, which they can qualify for under the provincial nominee system after working two years.


Migrant worker groups critical of Ontario’s new farm outbreak plan

It would be helpful to have some independent analysis rather than just quoting the various stakeholders on either side:

A new strategy to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks on Ontario farms does not go far enough to protect vulnerable employees, migrant worker groups said Tuesday, as the province and farmers pledged to do more ahead of the 2021 growing season.

Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman launched the strategy Monday, promising millions in funding and issuing 35 recommendations aimed at helping the sector whose workers were hit hard during the first wave of the pandemic.

The strategy aims to prevent and contain farm outbreaks, protect workers and secure Ontario’s food supply chain.

Several migrant worker groups said workers themselves were not consulted in the development of the plan and none of its safety recommendations are mandated by law.

The executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance said without any binding enforcement, the plan will offer little protection for workers.

“What is the enforcement mechanism?” Syed Hussan said. “What is the complaints mechanism for workers when things are not happening? And what protections do they have when they raise their voices and about complaints?”

Justice for Migrant Workers spokesman Chris Ramsaroop called the document “biased” towards the agri-food companies and said the government is putting business profits over the health of workers.

“The government does not have workers’ interests as their foremost priority,” he said in a statement. “The decades of systemic discrimination and oppression of migrant farm workers which are the causes of the COVID outbreaks are not addressed.”

Development of the strategy was launched earlier this year by Hardeman in partnership with the agri-food sector when COVID-19 outbreaks infected hundreds of farm workers, highlighting problems with their cramped living and working conditions.

Hardeman acknowledged that he had not consulted any migrant worker groups during the development of the document, but stressed that industry compliance with the recommendations will be high because the strategy was largely created with ideas from the agri-food sector itself.

“I can’t emphasize this enough, everyone’s number one interest is to keep the workers safe,” Hardeman said. “With safe workers, we have a productive industry, with sick workers, we don’t have an industry at all.”

The province and federal government will direct $26.6 million towards health and safety measures to bolster pandemic workplace protections.

Ontario will also spend $25.5 million over the next three years to help farms increase infection control practices, worker screening, and cover equipment costs under the plan.

The strategy also recommends limiting workers to one job site and increasing communication with workers about their access to health care and employment services.

The document establishes a steering committee to continue to investigate a number of key issues, including addressing housing for workers.

During the first wave of the pandemic crowded bunkhouses where many workers live together were cited as a reason why the virus spread so easily.

The strategy says the province and industry need more data on available housing stock on farms and must do more to harmonize standards across the province and access additional space before next spring.

The president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture said it will be a challenge to ensure adequate housing is secured before the next growing season.

“I don’t think we can get it all right for the spring of 2021 but we’re going to try,” Keith Currie said.

“It’s a plan towards the best case scenario. Do we need to look at renting more hotel rooms (or) keep fewer people in the same area for housing, those kinds of things.”

Currie dismissed the criticisms of the migrant worker groups, saying the temporary foreign worker program that brings them to Canadian farms has been around for 55 years and helped farmers establish relationships with employees who return to work every year.

“If you and I were treated like what the Migrant Workers Alliance is accusing us of treating workers, there’s no way in heck I’m getting on a plane and leaving my country and going to a foreign one to work,” he said. “Certainly, if anyone knows of an employer who’s not doing things right, we want to know because we want to deal with them.”

Source: Migrant worker groups critical of Ontario’s new farm outbreak plan