‘This is not what we came to this country for, to live and work like animals’: Migrant workers say they endured modern-day slavery in Simcoe County

The Globe had a similar more in-depth story on this abuse (Investigation False promises: Foreign workers are falling prey to a sprawling web of labour trafficking in Canada):

For more than a month, Francisco Urbina Contreras shared an infested house in Barrie with 30 other Mexican men and women who were drawn to Canada by the promise of jobs.

The former small business owner from northern Mexico could live with the bedbugs underneath his foam mattress, the unheated attic he shared with four others and the long wait for one of two bathrooms at the Dunlop St. home.

What he couldn’t put up with was the meagre $113 in cash he said he was handed for two full weeks of work — cleaning toilets, vacuuming carpets and making beds at Simcoe County hotels. Instead of the $800 he was expecting from the temp agency that had recruited him and put him up in the rooming house, he said his take-home pay had been whittled down by hefty deductions: $5 for each trip to a work site, $17 for daily job placement and $400 a month for rent.

“We felt we were in jail because we were too afraid to leave the house. We got picked up to the hotels and dropped off at the house. We only went out for groceries,” the 41-year-old man told the Star through an interpreter. “This is not what we came to this country for, to live and work like animals, with no dignity.”

Contreras was one of 60 foreign workers allegedly exploited in what police have described as a case of “modern-day slavery.”

At a news conference in February, Barrie police revealed that a joint investigationwith the Ontario Provincial Police and Canada Border Services Agency had uncovered a labour trafficking operation that housed and hired people from Mexico who had been lured by promises of jobs, work visas and possible permanent residency.

The news conference came just a week after pre-dawn police raids at several houses in Simcoe County. At the time, officials rescued 43 people, ranging in age from 20 to 46, from squalid conditions. Since then, some 20 more people have come forward to police with stories of having recently worked for the recruiter.

The Star reached out to the owners of the temp agency but, through their lawyer Bruce Daley, they declined to comment on the allegations.

Police say the investigation is ongoing and no one has been charged to date.

Contreras was not among those freed in the sweep; he had already escaped, he says, from the “horrible” situation last December with help from a stranger he met on a Facebook page group for Mexicans in Toronto, who offered to give him shelter.

The workers caught up in the raid were transported to a church and later to an area hotel for temporary shelter before they were issued temporary residence in Canada to assist the investigation. They were advised by police not to speak with the media.

“I have dreamed to be many things in my life, but not a slave,” said Contreras, who is now trying to obtain temporary residence in Canada while working in construction in Toronto to support himself.

Human trafficking has exploded in Canada: Between 2010 and 2016, the annual number of cases has increased 11 fold, according to a parliamentary report published in December. The majority of incidents — 66 per cent — happened in Ontario, with 14 per cent in Quebec, 8 per cent in Alberta, and the rest spread across Canada.

In total, 1,099 incidents were reported during the period, with 32 per cent involving foreign nationals being brought into the country. Although Statistics Canada does not differentiate between sex trafficking and labour trafficking data, the report said the majority of reported incidents involved women being forced into the sex trade.

Migrants’ advocates say Canada’s growing reliance on foreign workers — the number of temporary foreign workers has almost doubled in the past decade, to 300,000 in 2017 — has greatly contributed to the surge of labour trafficking because precarious immigration status makes people vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

With poor English, little money and threats by traffickers, workers are reluctant to come forward out of fear for the safety of loved ones back home and their own possible deportation from Canada, making investigation and prosecution difficult for officials, said the advocates, who believe labour trafficking is grossly under-reported for those reasons.

“Foreign workers are recruited overseas and often tied to the people who bring them here. They have no permanent status and are ineligible for community services,” said Loly Rico of Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre, which is part of the Toronto Counter Human Trafficking Network, a six-year-old grassroots umbrella group that meets regularly to share information on trafficking and advocate for victims.

“These workers do jobs that most Canadians do not want to do. They are just cheap labour and don’t get the same attention as victims of sex trafficking.”

February’s rescue operation was among the largest labour trafficking raids in Ontario. Investigation officials collaborated with advocates to take a “victims-first” approach, making the safety and well-being of the migrant workers a priority over arrests of suspects.

Since the raids, the rescued workers were sheltered at no costs at the Living Water Resort in Collingwood, which also hired some of them full time.

Living Water owner Larry Law said the community has come together to help the workers by organizing English classes and Spanish church services, while the town has offered them two months of free public transit. So far, half of the workers are working at Living Water while the rest have moved out after taking jobs offered outside of the community.

“We are just so happy to see them turning over a new leaf in Canada,” said Law.

Authorities said complaints by the workers in Barrie first surfaced in 2015. In addition to Contreras, the Star tracked down two other workers who had lived in the houses arranged by the temp agency. Their stories share common threads: promised jobs, betrayals, desperation, debts and threats.

Rodrigo Jesus Vazquez Medina ran a small garage in Merida, a city off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. After he fell behind on a loan to purchase equipment for his shop, an acquaintance in Mexico gave him the phone number of the recruiter in Canada who “offers lots of jobs.” Medina borrowed $3,000 from family for his trip to Canada.

“I was making $300 a month in Mexico, and I was told I could earn as much as $1,000 every two weeks here, at $13 an hour. That’s good money. They said I wouldn’t need a visa and they could find me jobs once I’m here,” recalled Medina, 31, who has two teenage children back home.

Upon arriving at Pearson airport last November, he waited hours to be interviewed by immigration. “I was told by the recruiter to tell them that I wanted to come here to see the CN Tower, Niagara Falls and the (Ripley’s) aquarium,” he recalled. “They even made a fake hotel reservation for me.”

After leaving customs at midnight, he called a number he was given by the recruiter. A driver picked up Medina and another worker who was on the same flight, and dropped them off at the Dunlop St. house, charging each $150 for the trip.

Medina said he slept on a couch in the living room that night. When he got up the next morning, he was shocked by what he saw.

“We had about 30 people living there, some staying in the attic, some sleeping in the hallways. People put their mattresses on top of used tires, cardboard and forklift wood platforms because it’s too cold on the floor,” said Medina. “It wasn’t what I had expected.”

Work placements and other communication by the recruiters were arranged through the group messaging tool WhatsApp. On Medina’s fourth day in the house, he was finally assigned to work at one of six hotels, including Nottawasaga Inn, Hockley Valley and Living Water resorts, according to work schedules sent to them by the recruiter on the app.

Police have said the hotels were not aware of the alleged human trafficking operation.

Nottawasaga and Hockley Valley did not return the Star’s repeated requests for comment.

Medina said he and his housemates didn’t work every day, but sometimes shifts were 12 hours long. Due to his background in mechanics, Medina said he was also sometimes sent to do light construction jobs. He said he was paid about $400 in cash for two weeks of work.

“I wasn’t making any money at all. I had no money to pay off my debt or send to my kids. I was just making enough to stay in this horrible house,” Medina said.

Iran Yesmin Lazeano Cabrera, who fled from a Livingstone St. residence operated by the same Barrie recruiter, shared a similar experience.

The 42-year-old mother of three said coming to Canada was her esa era mi ultima carta — “my last card” — after her husband left her with three children and a huge debt to a Colombian loan shark that she couldn’t repay.

Last fall, her sister heard about a lawyer in the Mexican port city of Veracruz who could help people find jobs in Canada. They went to the storefront law office and were asked to pay almost $2,100 “to start the process” — money that her sister paid by selling her car.

“I sat my children down over our dining table. I told them I tried everything to pay off the debt and I needed to take a gamble. This is our last card. This is our only way out,” recalled Cabrera, who arrived Toronto from Puebla last November.

“My eldest one, only 17, said she would look after the two little ones,” she recalled, sobbing. “My kids were expecting to come and join me once I got a steady job and settled.”

When Cabrera arrived at Pearson, a pre-arranged driver took her to the three-bedroom house on Livingstone St. in Barrie, where she immediately had to hand over $400 rent. There were already 13 tenants there, all from Mexico.

“I just remembered seeing a lot of men in the house. There was one bedroom for the women, but there was just one bed. I asked them where my bed was. They told me they would buy me a mattress and it would be deducted from my paycheque,” said Cabrera, who was left with just $50 in her pocket after paying the driver and the rent.

The next morning she met with the recruiter.

“The recruiter said only hard workers could stay and my future depended on my behaviour. She told me that I work for her but I can’t tell anyone,” said Cabrera, who was later taken shopping to get a blanket, a foam mattress and two black T-shirts as uniforms — the costs of which were all to be deducted from her pay.

Three days later, she says she was placed at a job and moved to another house in Wasaga Beach, which she shared with six men and one woman.

“There’s no Wi-Fi at the house and I couldn’t talk to my children. I started to feel really bad. I was depressed and anxious. There were other workers coming and going. I did not feel safe there,” said Cabrera, who at that point had yet to be paid and only had $3 left.

“I borrowed another worker’s phone and called the driver who picked me up at the airport. I told her I needed to leave. She came to get me and I ended up staying with her.

“It just felt like a very bad dream,” said Cabrera, who had tried unsuccessfully to retrieve her owed wages. (She says the recruiter told her that, after deductions that included a $175 fine for abandoning her job, there was nothing left).

“I came here for work. If I had known it’s going to be like this, there’s no way I would have come to Canada. But it’s too late. I have no money. I have a debt to pay in Mexico. I can’t go back to my kids with nothing.”

Contreras, a native from Tabasco who met Medina at the Dunlop St. house, said the two decided to leave Barrie when they went eight days without a work assignment. When they posted on a Facebook page for Mexicans in Toronto looking for jobs in the city, they were offered temporary shelter. After doing day labour jobs in demolition and renovation, a Mexican man hired them for a month to clear snow on construction sites in Muskoka, and offered them room and board.

“It was the first time in Canada where I could sleep in a real bed, with sheets and pillows,” said a smiling Contreras, who ran a small business in Mexico making and installing awnings to support his daughter through university.

“People treat us differently because we have no (immigration) paper. We have no English and others take advantage of us.”

Both men have recently found jobs in construction in Toronto, with Contreras working on insulation and Medina as a welder. Like Cabrera, the pair are hoping to obtain a temporary residence permit to stay and work in Canada until they save up enough money to return home.

Source: ‘This is not what we came to this country for, to live and work like animals’: Migrant workers say they endured modern-day slavery in Simcoe County

Tata Immigration Case Could Shake IT Companies to ‘Very Core’

Similar to the 2013 controversy in Canada when RBC replaced some of its IT workers by temporary foreign workers (RBC replaces Canadian staff with foreign workers | CBC News – CBC.ca):

A class action accusing Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. of bias against U.S.-born workers could make big waves in the information technology staffing industry.

The case is one of seven asserting that IT staffing companies prefer foreign workers from South Asia over qualified Americans. All of the companies being sued are heavy users of H-1B guestworker visas, which go to skilled professionals in “specialty occupations.”

Should a court rule that Tata Consultancy’s and other consulting firms’ use of those visas violates anti-discrimination laws, it could force the companies to change their long-standing hiring and business models. If there aren’t enough U.S. workers to take the place of H-1B visa holders, as the companies say, that could force them out of business.

Daily Labor Report® is the premier resource that the nation’s foremost labor and employment professionals rely on for authoritative, analytical coverage of top labor and employment news.

Tata Consultancy is the second largest H-1B user, with 14,697 visa petitions approved in fiscal year 2017, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data. By contrast, the company recruited about 3,000 U.S. workers last year, and 12,500 over the past five years, a spokesman told Bloomberg Law.

Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., a defendant in one of the other class actions, led the H-1B pack with 28,908 approved petitions last year.

The case against Tata Consultancy is one of “straightforward pattern and practice of discrimination that violates federal discrimination laws,” Daniel Kotchen of Kotchen & Low in Washington said in an email to Bloomberg Law. Kotchen’s firm is acting as lead or co-counsel in all seven class actions.

“Plaintiffs are confident in their case and look forward to trying the issues,” he said.

Outsourcing More Common

As more and more U.S. companies outsource their IT functions, that work has been absorbed by the overseas staffing companies, Allen Orr, second vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told Bloomberg Law. It’s much cheaper for a company with a temporary IT project to contract it out than to hire an H-1B worker directly, he said.

IT staffing companies have high numbers of H-1B workers because the work that otherwise would’ve been spread out among their clients is concentrated in those organizations, said Orr, who practices with the Orr Immigration Law Firm in Washington.

A finding of discrimination could put those companies out of business, but that wouldn’t end the dominance of H-1B workers in the IT industry, he said. It just “shifts the market demand” back to direct hiring of H-1B workers, he said.

IT staffing companies’ use of the H-1B program has been under fire by various government officials since a pair of high-profile cases in 2015 in which U.S. tech workers at Southern California Edison and Walt Disney World were laid off and required to train their H-1B replacements. The H-1B workers were employees of the IT staffing companies that SCE and Disney contracted with in lieu of retaining their own IT departments.

The Trump administration also took aim at the specialty visa program with an April 2017 executive order requiring employers to prioritize hiring of U.S. workers.

Big Shakeup

The class action cases take aim at seven different companies, each with roots in India or Sri Lanka. They include: Koehler v. Infosys Techs. Ltd., E.D. Wis., No. 2:13-cv-00885; Buchanan v. Tata Consultancy Servs., Ltd., N.D. Cal., No. 4:15-cv-01696; Palmer v. Cognizant Tech. Solutions Corp., C.D. Cal., No. 2:17-cv-06848; Phillips v. Wipro, Ltd., S.D. Tex., No. 4:18-cv-00821; Sugg v. Virtusa, D.N.J., No. 3:18-cv-08036; Grant v. Tech Mahindra (Americas) Inc., D.N.D., No. 3:18-cv-00171; and Voll v. HCL Techs. Ltd., N.D. Cal., No. 5:18-cv-04943.

Wipro “will vigorously defend against these meritless allegations in court,” the company said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law. It added that Wipro “is committed to the principle of equal employment opportunity and provides all our employees with a work environment that is free from discrimination and harassment of any kind.”

“Tech Mahindra denies the allegations and is challenging the matter in court,” a company representative said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law. “Tech Mahindra does not discriminate against any group or individual on the basis of race, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age or national origin,” the representative said.

“HCL is an equal opportunity employer and does not tolerate discrimination or harassment based on national origin, age, gender, color, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy, disability etc.,” the company said in an email to Bloomberg Law. “We take great pride in our employment practices, including diversity at workplace.”

Representatives for the other IT staffing companies couldn’t be reached for comment about the national origin bias allegations.

A win for U.S. workers “would shake those corporations to the very core,” said David North, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports lower immigration levels.

The IT staffing industry in the U.S. is dominated by companies and workers from another part of the world, said North, who served as assistant for farm labor to the secretary of labor in the Johnson administration. “You cannot imagine a parallel situation to what we have with the Indian outsourcing companies,” he told Bloomberg Law.

A representative for NASSCOM, the trade association representing Indian IT services companies, declined to comment on the cases.

Tata Case Could Set Standard

The Tata Consultancy case is the furthest along, with a trial date set for Nov. 5 in federal district court in California. That makes it the most likely to set the standard for other cases to follow.

The judge presiding over the case last year refused to throw out the lawsuit and allowed it to go forward as a class action. Last month, she also rejected Tata Consultancy’s “hail-Mary effort” to restrict the workers’ remedy to just monetary damages.

That means the company could be subject to a court order requiring it to change its hiring and employment practices.

The company, however, denies the allegations.

“TCS is an equal opportunity employer, and as such, bases its employment decisions—including recruiting, hiring, promotions, retention, and discipline—on legitimate non-discriminatory business reasons without regards to race, national origin, color, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state or local law,” a Tata Consultancy spokesman said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law.

The company believes the allegations are “baseless,” he said.

But Kotchen said the company “has a corporate preference to predominantly staff U.S. positions with South Asians, including visa holders from India.” As a result, employees who aren’t South Asian aren’t given work to do and are fired at “strikingly disproportionate rates,” he said.

“It’s hard to show that there’s discriminatory intent,” especially when a company can’t be certain which employees it can hire in a given year, Orr said. For the past several years, demand for H-1B visas has outstripped supply, resulting in a lottery to determine which employers can access the visas.

Employers filed 190,098 applications this year for a total 85,000 H-1B visas.

Many employees of IT staffing companies also wind up getting green cards, a process that requires a labor market test, Orr said. “If U.S. workers had those qualifications, then they’d be filling those jobs,” he said.

‘Niche’ Discrimination ‘Gets Ignored’

The Justice Department’s Immigrant and Employee Rights section launched an initiative to combat discrimination against U.S. workers, but it only has jurisdiction to prosecute national origin claims against small companies.

“It’s hard for government officials to get their minds around the concept that maybe a minority is being discriminated for as opposed to against,” North said. On the political left you have the feeling that you shouldn’t attack a minority group, and on the right you have a reluctance to attack corporations, he said.

It’s a “niche situation” that often “gets ignored,” North said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has jurisdiction over large companies, but it’s prohibited by law from confirming or denying the existence of specific discrimination charges, or from providing information about ongoing investigations, agency spokesman Joseph Olivares told Bloomberg Law.

He did point to an EEOC report finding that the tech industry in general employs a higher share of white, Asian, and male workers than the private sector in general.

Business Model

Sara Blackwell, a Florida-based attorney who represented former Disney tech workers in a lawsuit that was later dropped, said a class action win “would open the doors for a lot of these American workers.” She said “their opportunities are really small.”

But “unless you change the business model, this isn’t going to fix” the problem for many U.S. workers, Blackwell told Bloomberg Law.

Congress needs to change the law to have a meaningful impact on the practice, she said.

Source: Tata Immigration Case Could Shake IT Companies to ‘Very Core’

StatsCan Study: How temporary were Canada’s temporary foreign workers?

Spoiler alert – apart from Agricultural Workers program – is that the overall trend is temporary workers staying for longer periods with most temporary workers in Canada for 10 years or more transitioning from temporary to permanent residency status:

Temporary foreign workers are admitted to Canada through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program (Government of Canada) with the objectives of addressing short-term labour shortages and advancing Canada’s broad economic and cultural interests. The number of temporary foreign workers present in Canada increased from 52,000 in 1996 to 310,000 in 2015. Given the growing presence of temporary foreign workers, their rate and length of stay in Canada are relevant to national immigration and labour market policies.

This Statistics Canada study documents the length of time that temporary foreign workers remain in Canada and the extent to which longer durations of stays are the result of extended use of temporary residence permits or transitions to permanent resident status.

In the study, temporary foreign workers are defined as individuals who were aged 18 to 64 at the time of their arrival in Canada, who received a work permit between 1990 and 2009, and whose first admission to Canada was primarily for work purposes. These individuals were followed for at least five years, and for up to 15 years, after their first admission to Canada. The study is based on the Temporary Residents File.

Durations of stay among temporary foreign workers became longer through the 2000s. Of the 264,000 temporary foreign workers first admitted to Canada from 1995 to 1999, 13% (or 35,000) were still in Canada five years after their initial arrival. This was the case for 37% (or 187,000) of the approximately 500,000 temporary foreign workers first admitted to Canada from 2005 to 2009. The same pattern was evident 10 years after arrival among earlier cohorts. Specifically, 11% of temporary foreign workers first admitted to Canada from 1995 to 1999 and 18% of those first admitted from 2000 to 2004 were still in Canada 10 years after their initial arrival in Canada.

Almost 90% of temporary foreign workers who were still in Canada after 10 years had obtained permanent resident status, having made the transition from temporary foreign worker to landed immigrant. This was the case among temporary foreign workers in virtually all ongoing programs, with the exception of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. Temporary foreign workers in this program were unique in that almost one-quarter continued to receive work permits for seasonal employment 10 years after their initial arrival in Canada. Temporary foreign worker programs, such as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, have been associated with different options for transitioning to permanent residence status.

via The Daily — Study: How temporary were Canada’s temporary foreign workers?

Why Canadian meat plants want permanent residency for migrant workers

Doing jobs most Canadians don’t want to do (currently reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle about the horrors or early 20th century meat packing plants in Chicago):

Doing his rounds on the floor of the meat processing plant, Tony Morreale points to the “empty holes” on the production line, where positions are unfilled because of the meat cutter shortage.

Outside Conestoga Meats, a huge hiring sign has become a fixture in front of the 115,000-square-foot facility located in this community near Kitchener. The plant processes more than 30,000 hogs a week, slaughtering the swine, derinding, deboning and slicing them into primo cuts for Canadian grocery chains and for export to China and Japan.

“The hiring sign has become part of the grass for me,” said Morreale, Conestoga’s vice-president of operations, zigzagging around the conveyor belts carrying carcasses to be cut by butchers wearing helmets, earmuffs, goggles and white robes.

“We just can’t find enough Canadians to do the job,” said Morreale, whose company has 950 employees, including 70 temporary foreign workers.

“The industry is such that we have difficulties attracting and retaining individuals,” said Morreale. “We have temporary foreign workers, but these are year-round jobs and we want them to stay permanently.”

Morreale and Canada’s $6 billion meat processing industry are just the latest to call on Ottawa to ease the access to permanent residency for their migrant workers. Earlier this fall, Canadian mushroom growers, who employ 4,330 people and generate $1 billion in sales a year, issued a similar plea.

Both industries have experienced perennial labour shortages because they are located primarily in rural Canada, which has been plagued by an aging population and outmigration of youth. Migrant workers have become a lifeline — a complement to the work force that keeps those operations running.

Those calls follow a recent Toronto Star series, The Hands that Pick Your Food, which found Canada has been increasing its reliance on migrant workers in the agri-food sector and that the lack of access to permanent residency can expose workers to abusive and exploitative working conditions.

The meat industry currently employs 66,330 people, and Ron Davidson, a spokesperson for the Canadian Meat Council, estimates some 2,000 of them are migrant workers. A recent survey of 15 of the country’s largest meat plants identified a shortage of 1,500 workers. The industry, mostly unionized, has the same pay scale for both foreign and Canadian workers, who earn between $14 and $18 an hour.

Davidson said meat-cutters, the majority of them unionized full-time positions, also have medical, dental and eye care coverage as well as retirement pensions.

But, he says, the labour gap persists

“Canadians don’t want to move to a rural environment and we can’t put a slaughterhouse in a city. It is arduous work and many Canadians don’t find it pleasant,” he said.

Even offering skills development programs haven’t worked. “We tried to put together a college diploma program to train Canadians, but we had to cancel for the lack of interest,” said Davidson. “Not everybody can do it. You need the skills to do the right cuts. You need food safety knowledge. It takes months of training.”

Raising wages is also not an option.

“There is no tariff and quota for the import of meat,” said Davidson. “We have to stay globally competitive or we are not going to have a domestic meat industry at all.”

Jennefer Griffith, executive director of the Food Processing Human Resources Council, said the temporary foreign worker program is just a band-aid fix to the meat industry’s labour gap and Ottawa must change its policy to bring in the so-called “low-skilled” blue-collar workers as permanent residents as a long-term solution.

“The meat industry is not a sexy industry,” said Griffith. “Because of the perception of the job and its physicality, Canadians just aren’t interested.”

Blanket changes made by the former Conservative government to restrict the migrant worker program have not made things easier for the sector, Griffith said.

In response to reports of employers in the IT and mining sectors using migrant workers to replace Canadians, the Harper government raised the application fee employers have to pay for migrant workers from $200 to $1,000 — and capped the proportion of foreign workers at up to 10 per cent of a company’s work force.

To make the situation worse, the Liberal government changed the immigration selection system and made it more difficult for butchers to become permanent residents.

Under the old system, butchers could qualify as long as they had a job offer in Canada and possessed minimum proficiency in English or French. Now, the job offer doesn’t give them an edge.

Mauritian retail butcher Michael Marjolin came to work at Conestoga in 2015 under the low-skilled foreign worker program and applied for permanent residency in early November.

Serhiy Levytskyy, left, and Michael Marjolin are working as retail butchers at Conestoga Meats, but uncertain of their future.
Serhiy Levytskyy, left, and Michael Marjolin are working as retail butchers at Conestoga Meats, but uncertain of their future.  (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE/TORONTO STAR)  

He scored 420 points under Canada’s Express Entry program for skilled workers because he got 100 bonus points from having French as his first language and have a brother in Canada. (His score is close enough to the 439 passing mark in the latest selection draw.)

“I love this job and I want to stay here and continue to work for Conestoga,” said the 36-year-old, who has nine years of experience in meat cutting.

His colleague Serhiy Levytskyy, came here from Ukraine in October 2016 after working as a retail butcher in Italy for nine years, just before the federal government removed the 600-point advantage he had had prior to the changes.

“I came because I would be able to become a permanent resident with the job offer,” said the 34-year-old, who can do all the cuts, but now specializes in the highly-skilled loin carving. “Now I’m screwed, because I will have to leave Canada if my work permit cannot be renewed. It’s a stressful situation.”

It is also a stressful situation for Canadian employers such as Alberta-based Sunterra Farms, which has 1,000 employees and processes 3,500 pigs a week.

Mark Chambers, Sunterra’s production manager, said the company has to submit a new labour market impact assessment application to renew the work permit of a migrant worker, which expires every year. The process is tedious and involves advertising the jobs to Canadians and filling out page after page of forms, he said.

“We would love to add another new plant if we could find the workers.

“The (permit) extension can be turned down and the decisions are arbitrary,” noted Chambers, who also co-chairs Canada’s Agriculture and Agri-food Labour Task Force. “That’s what’s preventing us from growing.”

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen would not comment for the story.

Pauline Zwiers, vice-president of human resources at Conestoga Meats, said the company has tried repeatedly to attract and retain Canadian workers: relocation assistance, busing in workers from urban centres, reaching out to newcomer communities for recruitment, expanding the human resources department to improve service and introducing leadership development training.

At one point, she said, Conestoga hired Canadian workers indiscriminately and the turnover rate hit 39 per cent. Now, their turnover rate stands at 25 per cent, compared to just 4 per cent among the foreign workers.

“The foreign workers are supplementing our workforce,” said Zwiers. “We need the stability to facilitate our growth. It’s not a temporary need. They are already here in Canada and deserve the opportunity to stay.”

via Why Canadian meat plants want permanent residency for migrant workers | Toronto Star

Transition from temporary foreign workers to permanent residents

Former Minister Alexander’s asserted before CIMM during its study of C-24 that:

…it’s very important to distinguish between the two different broad categories of status that non-Canadian citizens can have here. One is temporary resident status and the other is permanent resident status. We are saying that the time that will count toward citizenship is permanent resident status. We don’t want those lines to be blurred. (28 April 2014)

This latest Statistics Canada belies that dichotomy, as do IRCC’s Open Data data sets (my chart below based upon this series – Transition from Temporary Resident to Permanent Resident Status.

There were 310,000 temporary work permit holders on December 31, 2015, accounting for 1.7% of the national employed workforce. The number of TFWs has more than quadrupled since 2000 (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada 2017).

Over the 2000s, immigration to Canada was increasingly drawn from TFWs. For instance, the proportion of newly landed adult immigrant men already holding a job in Canada rose from 16.3% in 1999 to 28.9% in 2010. Most of this increase consisted of immigrants who had high-paying jobs in Canada before attaining permanent resident status.

About 9% of TFWs who came to Canada between 1995 and 1999 became permanent residents within five years of receiving their first work permit. This was the case for 13% of those who came to Canada between 2000 and 2004, and for 21% of those who came between 2005 and 2009.

Most transitions from TFW status to permanent resident status occurred within the five years following receipt of the first work permit. The rate rises another 1 to 3 percentage points by the 10th year, with little increase observed thereafter.

Transition rates

The rate of transition to permanent residence varied by type of work permit. Among those who came to Canada between 2005 and 2009, the five-year transition rate was highest among those in the Live-in Caregiver Program (LICP), at 56%, and the Spouse or Common-law Partner category, at 50%. The lowest rates for transition to permanent residence were among those in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), at 2%, and the Reciprocal Employment category, at 9%.

A large difference in the transition rate by type of work permit is a result of government policy. For example, while all those in the LICP are allowed to apply for permanent residence after two years of full-time work as domestic workers, SAWP workers have no dedicated stream for transition, and may only be employed for a maximum of eight months per year. Their SAWP permits, however, can be renewed over many years.

Source: Transition from temporary foreign workers to permanent residents

Temporary foreign worker program rife with oversight problems, says auditor

Which program has the OAG not found problems with?

Highlights oversight and enforcement capacity issues within government. Above chart shows both temporary workers under the TFWP and the International Mobility Program:

Canada’s temporary foreign workers program is rife with oversight problems that appear to have allowed lower-paid international workers to take jobs that out-of-work Canadians could fill, the federal auditor general says.

Some companies have effectively built a business model on the program that could be having unintended consequences that the government doesn’t know about, including wage suppression or discouraging capital investment and innovation, said Michael Ferguson’s report on the program, part of a fresh batch of federal audits tabled Tuesday.

Ferguson’s report says the government approved applications for temporary foreign workers even when employers had not demonstrated reasonable efforts to train existing employees or hire unemployed Canadians, including those from under-represented groups, such as First Nations.

Nor did officials effectively crack down on companies that were found to have run afoul of the rules; few on-site inspections or face-to-face interviews with the foreign workers themselves were conducted, the audit found. Even when corrective action was recommended, it took months for all the necessary approvals.

Ferguson is calling for better oversight of the program and more pushback from federal officials to ensure companies applying to hire temporary foreign workers are doing so for the right reasons.

The department overseeing the program, Employment and Social Development Canada, says it plans to implement all of Ferguson’s recommendations.

Ferguson’s report comes months after a Commons committee recommended an overhaul to the program, and three years after the previous Conservative government made changes in a bid to ensure the program worked as intended: to help companies fill job vacancies only when qualified Canadians couldn’t be found for the work, and only when it didn’t negatively affect the local labour market.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada dropped from 163,000 to just over 90,000, a result of the 2014 changes and the economic downturn.

Despite the drop in numbers, the audit team said it found numerous cases where employers gave dizzying reasons for needing a temporary foreign worker that departmental officials failed to challenge in 40 per cent of the cases reviewed as part of the audit.

Source: Temporary foreign worker program rife with oversight problems, says auditor – Macleans.ca

Businesses applaud changes to allow temporary foreign workers to stay as long as permits renewed

Yet another reversal of the previous government’s policy but partial  -the caps on company numbers remain with priority to be given to under-represented groups in Canada:

The government announced Tuesday afternoon it will allow migrant workers to continue filling jobs in industries ranging from meat-packing to tourism for as many years as their employers continue to renew their permit – in effect, making the presence of these temporary workers more permanent.

“Many people who fell under this category are people who would return to Canada, again and again and again, year after year,” said Michael Burt, director of industrial economic trends at the Conference Board of Canada. “It’s a positive thing in a sense that, broadly speaking, both employers and TFWs were looking for opportunities to stay in Canada to keep that relationship going.”

After four years of working in Canada, most migrant workers in occupations requiring little or no post-secondary education would then be unable to return here for another four years unless they secured permanent residency through a provincial immigration program.

That “four-in-four-out” policy was created by the Conservative government in 2011 to ensure that jobs filled by temporary foreign workers were truly temporary. It led to thousands of foreign workers remaining in Canada undocumented, and thousands more leaving while employers in industries like agriculture, food processing and hospitality complained of persistent labour shortages.

“It uprooted people who had lived and worked in the country for many, many years,” said Syed Hussan, an organizer with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, which is calling for permanent residency for temporary foreign workers upon landing.

In many cases, employers proved no Canadians were available for the jobs these workers were leaving behind so they could hire new temporary foreign workers to fill the roles. In others, the four-year limit, combined with other restrictions on the temporary foreign worker program, meant that jobs went unfilled even though employers increased efforts to recruit Canadians.

“It has had the effect of forcing a lot of people to go home that we should really be pursuing to stay in Canada permanently, as opposed to giving them the boot,” said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Kelly and other industry representatives are hopeful the Liberal government will soon follow through on its promise to develop pathways to permanent residency for lower-skilled workers, who are currently shut out of federal immigration programs.

…Some economists, such as Armine Yalnizyan at the left-wing Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, also support granting permanent residency to more migrant workers. Relying on a permanent stream of temporary workers destabilizes local labour markets by suppressing wages and opportunities for young Canadians, Yalnizyan said.

But others say the removal of the four-year limit blurs the distinctions between permanent and temporary immigration programs, raising questions about the future of Canada’s immigration system.

“What distinguishes the two streams now, when the idea of ‘temporary’ is taken out of the equation by removing the amount of time they can spend in Canada?” said Colin Busby, associate director of research at the C.D. Howe Institute.

It is unclear how Canada will balance taking in a large number of temporary foreign workers permanently with the permanent immigration system’s traditional focus on high-skilled workers to meet Canada’s long-term economic needs, Busby added.

But, for many in the agricultural sector, including Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council, long-term economic and social integration of temporary workers is precisely the point.

“There should be opportunities for them and pathways to become Canadian citizens,” she said.

Number of federal inspections under foreign worker program on rise

As the Liberal government considers relaxing some of the requirements for the Temporary Foreign Workers program, it will be important to maintain an active investigation program both to combat misuse as well as ensure public confidence in the integrity of the program:

The number of federal inspections under the temporary foreign worker program is up dramatically this year and two businesses have been added to a public blacklist.

In response to complaints of poor working and living conditions, federal officials investigated Obeid Farms in Vanessa, Ont., where they concluded that 20 temporary foreign workers were consistently working seven days a week.

Officials also took issue with how the travel costs of workers were handled by AYR Motor Express, a New Brunswick-based trucking company.

Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk personally signed off on the decision to publicly ban the two companies from the program temporarily.

The minister’s move comes as the Liberal government is weighing options for a further update to the temporary foreign worker program that will be announced later this year. In spite of sluggish economic growth, Canadian firms from coast to coast and across many sectors and skill levels continue to report labour shortages and insist that there is a genuine need for the controversial program.

Regarding Obeid Farms, a note to the Employment Minister submitted in Federal Court said this is the first time a public ban has been invoked in relation to the seasonal agricultural worker section of the temporary foreign worker program.

“Such determination would therefore have broader implications for this sector. It is likely that a determination of non-compliance will garner significant public and stakeholder attention,” deputy Employment Minister Louise Levonian wrote in a June 17 memo.

The threat of being named and shamed is a major source of anxiety for employers who hire temporary foreign workers. Many firms have hired lawyers in order to manage what are viewed by some as excessive requests for documentation.

Data obtained by The Globe and Mail reveal that in 2014, when the federal government launched a new inspection regime, no inspections were conducted under the new rules. That figure rose to 586 the following year.

However, officials have already conducted 1,537 inspections as of Aug. 15 of this year.

The spike in inspections is a result of sweeping reforms announced in 2014 by the then-Conservative government in response to high-profile cases of abuse in the program, including companies hiring foreign workers when Canadians were available. The 2014 reforms split the program in two, maintaining a smaller temporary foreign worker program while carving out areas like intra-company transfers and student exchanges into a new international mobility program.

The reforms raised the fees for obtaining a permit, called a labour market impact assessment, from $250 to $1,000. The added revenue was meant to cover the cost of increased inspections, with a goal of “thousands” of inspections a year.

Liberal Immigration Minister John McCallum recently told The Globe that those 2014 changes went too far and that the new government will be announcing further updates to the program later this year.

Source: Number of federal inspections under foreign worker program on rise – The Globe and Mail

ICYMI: Ottawa poised to ease rules for temporary foreign worker program

Getting rid of the LMIA, if followed through as the Minister indicated, is significant:

The federal government is setting the stage for a loosening of temporary foreign worker rules after vocal complaints from Canadian employers that recent Conservative changes went too far.

A Liberal-dominated House of Commons committee has completed a report on options for altering the controversial program and will make the recommendations public next month when Parliament resumes.

The report is expected to acknowledge the need for temporary foreign workers in specific sectors and will stress the importance of providing foreign workers with options to become permanent Canadian residents. The number of foreign-worker approvals has been on the decline in recent years in light of a softer jobs market in some regions and tighter rules brought in by the Conservatives after high-profile allegations of abuse in the program.

The report by the human-resources committee was completed in June but wasn’t made public in time for the summer recess. The government has said it is waiting on those recommendations before moving ahead later this year with changes to the program. However, Immigration Minister John McCallum tipped the government’s hand this week in an interview with The Globe and Mail in China when he said the Liberal government will make it easier for companies to bring in foreign workers.

“We’re also going to reduce some of the barriers and the silly rules … in order to give companies freedom to bring in the best and the brightest,” said Mr. McCallum. “We’ll get rid of many of these [required] labour-market impact assessments which slow things down enormously.”

A spokesperson in Mr. McCallum’s office said the minister’s reference to silly rules relates to some of the restrictions that apply to visiting professors. The spokesperson also noted that the minister has said the government is looking at waving labour-market impact assessments in certain cases where that would help attract top talent to come to Canada.

“What the minister wants to do is just find a middle ground,” said the spokesperson.

A labour-market impact assessment is a government screening process designed to ensure there is a legitimate need for a temporary foreign worker and that no Canadian is available to do the job. The minister said the Conservative changes went too far and the Liberals are trying to strike an “intermediate” position. Government officials stressed Wednesday that no final decisions have been made.

Opposition MPs on the committee said Wednesday that the minister’s comments reflect the view of the Liberal majority that worked on the report.

Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, the committee vice-chair, said Mr. McCallum’s comments are “absolutely” in line with the conclusions of the yet-to-be-released study.

“The government was wanting to go in one specific direction and wanted the report to back them up,” he said. Mr. Zimmer said he agrees with the Liberals that there are some legitimate industry needs for foreign workers, but that requests need to be constantly weighed against economic realities.

“The conditions in our economy simply have changed,” he said. “He can’t just say broadly that we need them absolutely. We always need to be looking at what our economy is doing.”

Source: Ottawa poised to ease rules for temporary foreign worker program – The Globe and Mail

Canada’s uncomfortable reliance on migrant workers

The dark side of temporary foreign workers (the film maker introduced her latest film – not sure if it was shown – at the Metropolis Conference in Mexico City last year):

Min Sook Lee read all those headlines in February and March. A documentary filmmaker, she had been busy chronicling another side of the ketchup frenzy, an angle nobody bothered to mention: the migrant, temporary labourers—thousands of them—who toil in the vast greenhouses of Leamington, picking and packaging the vegetables we eat every day, tomatoes included. “I am keenly aware of how Leamington has been drumming up a lot of nationalist fervour,” Lee says. “I think that myopia has to be interrupted.”

Her latest project, Migrant Dreams, will do just that. Premiering at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival on May 1, the film explores the dark side of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), a controversial federal initiative that allows companies—from hotels to fast-food restaurants to slaughterhouses—to hire out-of-country employees when they can’t find willing Canadians to do the work. A story of abuse and exploitation in the heart of tomato country, the documentary evokes anything but national pride.

“When people talk about buying organic, buying local, I think it’s a really shortsighted viewpoint because it doesn’t factor in who is doing the work,” Lee says. “Yes, it’s important to buy local, but also to think about labour issues. Are the people in the local farms and local work sites being treated properly?”

The film raises many other uncomfortable questions, at a time when Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have promised to launch a review of the TFWP. Why are most of these employees denied the chance to pursue permanent residency in a country defined by immigration? Why are they tied to one company while they’re here, barred from switching jobs? Who is checking to make sure their workplaces are safe and their accommodations humane? “This is a very critical, necessary public dialogue that we need to have,” Lee says. “There has been almost no political will or national interest in the situation of migrant workers. This isn’t new.”

In existence (in one form or another) for more than four decades, the TFWP was created to address critical labour shortages in particular sectors. Simply put, if an employer cannot find a Canadian to do a certain job, it can ask Ottawa’s permission to contract a provisional worker from abroad, for a maximum stint of four years. The government will then conduct a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to confirm that a Canadian can’t be found to fill the opening. At this moment, more than 60,000 foreigners are working in Canada under the TFWP.

When the program does make news, the theme is usually the same: Are these foreign workers stealing paycheques from hard-working Canadians? In 2012, Vancouver-based HD Mining came under fire for hiring 200 people from China for a coal mine project, triggering a court challenge by organized labour groups. A few months later, RBC was forced into full damage-control mode amid allegations that the bank was replacing some IT staff with temporary foreign workers. Although the original story was slightly torqued, perception became reality. (An internal government document, leaked to a newspaper at the time, confirmed people’s worst fears. Some employers may be using migrant workers to address “long-term structural labour gaps” instead of short-term needs, it said.)

In 2013, Stephen Harper’s government announced major changes, giving the feds more power to suspend work permits if employers abuse the program, and requiring companies to have a “firm plan” to eventually transition to a Canadian workforce. Further reforms followed, including fines ranging from $500 to $1 million for “misuse” of the TFWP. “Our government is committed to ensuring that Canadians are always considered first for available jobs,” the Tories proclaimed.

But so often lost in the debate are the foreign workers themselves—and how the system treats them. “They perform what I sometimes think of as invisible work,” says Jody Brown, a Toronto lawyer who represents some TFWs. “It is not good to paint the entire industry with the same brush, because I know there are some employers out there who recruit temporary foreign workers and do treat them appropriately. But there is definitely a dark side to it.”

Lee’s film follows a group of Indonesian women who are essentially prisoners to their greenhouse employers in the Leamington area, constantly afraid of losing their jobs and being deported before their contracts expire. It also reveals the shady world of international recruiters, some of whom charge foreign workers thousands of dollars in illegal fees—and show up every week to collect their payments. (In December 2014, the Ontario Provincial Police laid extortion charges against three alleged recruiters in the region, saying they charged illicit fees ranging from $1,400 to $11,500. The trio’s next court date, in Windsor, is scheduled for Aug. 3.)

Source: Canada’s uncomfortable reliance on migrant workers