Lange, Skuterud and Worswick: The economic case against low-wage temporary foreign workers

Good and needed commentary:

Canada is unique in its broad public support for high immigration levels, and for good reason. A world with fewer migration barriers can boost living standards in all countries by moving workers where they are most productive. But easing employer access to low-wage temporary foreign workers, a key piece of the federal government’s recently announced Workforce Solutions Road Map, risks undermining real wage growth and increasing income inequality.

Proponents of increased immigration levels argue that immigration is essential to grow the economy. But what matters is not the total size of the economic pie but the size of the average slice and how it is divided. Increasing low-skilled immigration to increase the overall size of the economy risks driving down average living standards in Canada. The economic growth literature is clear: raising GDP per capita through immigration requires prioritizing skilled immigrants to raise the average skill level of the labour force and harness capital investments, especially in new technologies.

The high-skill streams of Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs, such as the global skills strategy, have much potential to strengthen Canada’s position in the global war for talent. These programs allow employers to identify foreign talent and provide growing businesses with a fast and responsive system for recruiting foreign workers. By temporarily binding temporary foreign workers to employers, businesses are ensured that they will retain this talent over a period of time, thereby incentivizing them to invest in talent search, while migrants are assured fast and seamless transitions to permanent residency through the express entry system. The benefits to Canada’s economy have the potential to be broad.

The same benefits do not arise from low-wage temporary foreign worker streams. Published lists of employer approvals in the low-wage stream of Canada’s temporary foreign worker program reveal that these are overwhelmingly jobs requiring no more than short periods of on-the-job training. Low-wage temporary foreign workers are therefore not filling skill gaps and they compete for jobs with Canada’s most vulnerable workers, especially recent immigrants, including refugees. Evidenceshows that binding temporary workers with limited marketable skills to specific employers creates a power imbalance, which opens the door to abuse.

For these reasons, Canada’s low-wage temporary foreign worker program has been controversial. Media coverage in 2013-2014 documented reports of employer program misuse, including by Tim Hortons and McDonald’s franchises in areas with high unemployment rates. The federal government’s response in 2014 to this controversy was twofold. First, it curtailed growth by imposing a fee on the labour market impact assessments businesses are required to undergo to ensure adequate efforts have been made to fill jobs domestically. It also limited the share of temporary foreign workers to 10 per cent of employers’ workforces, and it restricted hiring of temporary foreign workers in areas where the local unemployment rate exceeded six per cent. Second, it broke off the component of the program not requiring labour market impact assessments and renamed it the international mobility program.

Figure 1 provides our best estimates of how employer reliance on temporary foreign workers has become entrenched in Canada’s labour markets. After briefly declining following the 2014 reforms, the program has continued to grow, which almost entirely reflects growth under the less-scrutinized international mobility program. This persistent growth is evidence that the program has grown beyond its objective of being a temporary measure for businesses to fill temporary labour shortages to becoming a permanent business strategy to minimize labour costs.

The true temporary foreign worker employment share is no doubt bigger as the data does not include foreign students, who have the right to work in Canada and have increased five-fold since 2000. However, neither the government nor Statistics Canada tracks the employment of foreign students. The simple and troubling reality is that we don’t know what percentage of Canada’s low-wage jobs are currently being done by foreign students, but an analysis of census data performed by one of us suggests it has increased. It is likely that the imperative for foreign students to work has increased along with the tuition fee premiums they are required to pay.

A recent study of a policy change in the United Arab Emirates shows that allowing temporary foreign workers to move to other firms when their initial contracts expire improves their initial wage outcomes.  Migrants’ willingness to accept substandard wages and working conditions is further exacerbated by the dream of obtaining permanent residency status. Despite much rhetoric about lessons learned during the pandemic and the need for expanded permanent residency pathways for temporary foreign workers, evidence reveals that low-skill temporary foreign workers have always been, and continue to be, more likely than higher skilled temporary foreign workers to obtain permanent residency status because they are more likely to seek it. Of course, when temporary foreign workers make the transition to permanent residency and their job opportunities open up, they are likely to be just as unwilling as other Canadians to accept the low wages and unappealing working conditions of these jobs, leading to continuous pressure to bring in more temporary foreign workers to replace the prior group.

There is no question that Canada’s low-wage labour markets are now exceptionally tight. Figure 2 shows that the number of vacancies per job seeker in late 2021 and early 2022 far exceeds the level seen prior to the COVID recession. In January 2022, there were  7.1 job vacancies for every 10 job seekers (0.83 million job vacancies and 1.16 million job seekers) down from a peak of  8.4 in December 2021 (see figure 2). Increases in job vacancies requiring a high school diploma or less have been especially acute – 74-per-cent increase between the fourth quarter of 2020 and 2021 compared to a 63-per-cent increase overall.

Strong demand for low-wage workers has led Canada’s business lobby to push for eased access to temporary foreign workers, to which the government responded on April 11 by announcing its Workforce Solutions Road Map, which will see a reversal of the 2014 temporary foreign worker program restrictions. Most notable, as of April 30 this year, the workforce cap on low-wage temporary foreign workers will increase from 10 per cent to 30 per cent in seven sectors: food manufacturing; wood product manufacturing; furniture and related manufacturing; accommodation and food services; construction; hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities. Positions in on-farm agriculture, caregiving, and fish and seafood processing will have no limit on the number of temporary foreign workers employed, making permanent an exemption introduced in 2015. For all remaining sectors of the economy, the cap will increase to 20 per cent.

In addition, the maximum permit duration will increase from 180 to 270 days for these low-wage positions. Labour market impact assessments will be valid for 18 months, up from nine months during the pandemic, and six months before the pandemic. Finally, the government will end the moratorium on the hiring of temporary foreign workers in regions where the unemployment rate exceeds six per cent.

For economists, labour shortages are an opportunity to be embraced. Competition for scarce workers forces employers to use existing workers more efficiently, by, for example, offering longer hours for those willing, introducing new technologies that may be complementary to the tasks of workers, and investing in employee training, thereby raising skills and labour productivity. To compete for workers, employers will be pressured to enhance their wages, benefits, and working conditions, thereby making the least desirable jobs less odious.

Increased competition also compels employers to be less selective in their recruitment efforts and to offer opportunities to job seekers who would otherwise have difficulties getting a toehold in the labour market, such as recent immigrants and workers with disabilities.

Finally, the combination of a tight labour market and pandemic interruptions appears to be increasing worker mobility out of low-wage sectors, such as from the retail and food-accommodations industries toward sectors with better pay and more opportunities for career advancement.

No doubt some low-margin employers will be unable to compete, but business failures are a necessary reality of a healthy well-functioning economy. Thirty-seven per cent of Canadian businesses fail within the first five years, and 57 per cent by 10 years, according to a recent Industry Canada analysis. In the food and accommodations industry, only 31 per cent survive 10 years. This continuous flow of business creation and destruction ensures all production inputs, including workers and capital, are employed where they are most efficient and contribute most to the economy. There is good reason to believe that Canada’s $100-billion public expenditure for the Canada emergency wage subsidy has interrupted this competitive process. Allowing it to return is an important step in easing the current labour crunch.

Despite exceptionally tight labour markets, Canadian wage growth remains lethargic. Statistics Canada’s most recent estimate suggests a 3.4-per-cent year-over-year increase in average wages over all employees, less than the 4.3-per-cent average increase recorded in the second half of 2019. In the seven sectors targeted for enhanced temporary foreign worker expansions in the Workforce Solutions Road Map, job vacancies increased 89 per cent between the fourth quarter of 2020 and 2021 but the average wage being offered to fill these vacancies increased by only 3.6 per cent (holding the sector mix of the vacancies constant). Over the same period, consumer prices in Canada increased 4.7 per cent, suggesting declining real wages, which, of course, is entirely at odds with labour shortages.

Does relying on foreign guest workers to fill low-wage job vacancies make sense in this environment? Is a justifiable rationale for the low-wage stream of Canada’s temporary foreign worker program to support businesses that fail in the absence of a ready source of cheap labour that is contractually tied to them?

What is the solution?

Optimal policy in high-wage labour markets is not optimal policy in low-wage markets. We need to think more clearly about what economic objectives we are seeking to achieve when easing access to low-wage temporary foreign workers.

Abruptly ending the low-wage temporary foreign workers stream might unduly disrupt businesses that have become reliant on this program. An alternative proposal, which deserves more consideration, is a “cap and trade” system in which Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada issues a fixed number of permits to satisfy current demand, but gradually lowers the number of permits issued in subsequent years. Employers may respond to this rationing of permits by trading unused permits to other employers whose willingness to pay for permits is higher. The cap ensures certainty in the number of permits issued, while the market for temporary foreign workers is left to determine the competitive market price for permits. In this way, temporary foreign workers will be employed by firms where they are the most productive, thereby improving the economic efficiency of the system and the wages and working conditions of Canada’s lowest-wage workers.

Source: The economic case against low-wage temporary foreign workers

Ottawa expands access to temporary foreign workers to ease labour crunch

As others have noted, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” as the government is likely to discover as did the previous government in 2014 (see So who is to blame for the temporary foreign worker mess?).

The federal government is allowing Canadian employers to hire significantly more temporary foreign workers as part of changes to its immigration rules, a move aimed at easing labour shortages that have aggravated businesses during the recovery from the pandemic.

The federal employment ministry announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program on Monday that will ultimately increase the number of TFWs allowed into Canada, both in low- and high-wage jobs. The changes will also streamline the application process for employers.

The loosened restrictions deliver a boon to businesses just days before the release of the 2022 federal budget, which corporate Canada will be watching closely for measures aimed at growing Canada’s economy after two years of market gyrations and massive public spending.

Starting on April 30, employers will be allowed to increase the number of low-wage TFWs they hire, from 10 per cent to 20 per cent of their total workforces, until further notice. For seven key sectors that have suffered from particularly acute labour shortage issues over the past few years – such as food manufacturing; hospitals, nursing and residential care; and accommodation and food services – the TFW cap for low-wage workers will be raised to 30 per cent for one year.

The government is also planning to remove a cap on the number of low-wage positions that employers in seasonal industries, such as fish and seafood processing, can fill through the program. Employers will now be able to keep TFWs in these positions for 270 days, instead of the current 180 days.

In addition, the government is expanding the duration of time that a foreign worker hired through the Global Talent Streams program (which is geared at high-wage foreign workers) can be employed in Canada, to three years from two. Technology leaders in Canada have continually lobbied Ottawa to loosen immigration rules for high-skilled workers, because the battle for tech talent often pits domestic firms against deep-pocketed Silicon Valley giants.

Many businesses in Canada, particularly those that were impacted by on-and-off lockdowns over the past two years, have been struggling to find domestic workers willing to be employed on the front lines of an ongoing pandemic, and have been calling on the government to allow them to access the TFW program.

Canadian employers were recruiting for roughly 915,000 positions in the fourth quarter of 2021, an increase of 80 per cent over the number of openings two years prior, according to Statistics Canada. In December, the labour need was particularly acute in three industries, each of which had more than 100,000 open positions: accommodation and food services, retail, and health care and social assistance.

Even as demand for labour has increased, employment in Canada has jumped above prepandemic levels. The national unemployment rate is 5.5 per cent, putting it just shy of a record low – a sign that worker availability is waning.

“As we begin to recover from the pandemic and look to fill remaining job vacancies, we will continue to make our Temporary Foreign Worker Program more accessible, efficient and agile to support employers who are looking to staff up and grow their operations,” Sean Fraser, the federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said in a statement.

TFWs are allowed into Canada on temporary visas, and they usually face legal restrictions on where they can work and the types of labour they can perform. A TFW can try to gain permanent residency in Canada, but those who aren’t granted permanent status are required to leave the country when their visas expire.

The expansion of the TFW program was met with mixed reactions. Employers and business lobby groups applauded the changes, while labour advocates cautioned that increasing the number of TFWs effectively increases the number of precarious workers with fewer rights than Canadians.

“We feel like the business community has been heard around labour shortages, particularly in the short term,” said Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies and inclusive growth at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The TFW program changes are “going to go a long way to help address those issues in many sectors.”

For decades, the TFW program has been a focal point of criticism in Canada’s immigration system. Its opponents have said it is overused by companies looking to drive down labour costs. Another frequent criticism is that the program allows employers to exploit migrant workers.

Only 0.4 per cent of Canada’s overall labour force consists of workers from the TFW program, according to the government. Most end up working in low-wage jobs. Agriculture alone accounts for 60 per cent of all TFWs.

Seasonal agriculture workers often live in employer-provided bunkhouses. Those crowded conditions have been blamed for a rash of COVID-19 outbreaks among migrant workers over the past two years, resulting in thousands getting sick and some dying. Labour groups say inhumane treatment of agricultural workers is acute in Ontario, where they are barred from unionizing or entering into collective bargaining agreements.

“This is very concerning. When workers come into this country tied to an employer, it completely limits their ability to speak up about any unfair labour practices or health issues,” said Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Centre, a labour advocacy group.

Ms. Ladd added that allowing an influx of foreign workers to enter the country without a clear path toward permanent residency, which would give them full labour and health protections under the law, is regressive.

The government has said increasing the Global Talent Streams visa period to three years from two will allow this class of foreign worker to more easily find ways to qualify for permanent residency.

Jane Deeks, a spokesperson for Carla Qualtrough, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, said nearly 152,000 applicants transitioned from worker status to permanent residency between January and November of 2021.

Source: Ottawa expands access to temporary foreign workers to ease labour crunch

Québec tarde à simplifier la venue de certains travailleurs temporaires en demande

Of note, appears more with respect to Quebec changes than the feds:

Le gouvernement Legault peine à tenir ses promesses pour amener des renforts de l’étranger à un Québec en pénurie de main-d’œuvre. Le Devoir a appris que des métiers peu spécialisés mais faisant l’objet d’une forte demande ne se trouvent pas, comme cela était prévu, sur la nouvelle liste des professions ayant accès au traitement simplifié pour l’octroi d’un permis de travail temporaire, ce qui inquiète les employeurs.

Ainsi, 37 professions de niveau C, selon la classification nationale des professions, comme chauffeurs de transport, manutentionnaires et opérateur de machinerie lourde, ne figurent toujours pas sur cette liste publiée le 24 février dernier bien que Jean Boulet, ministre de l’Immigration et du Travail, eût annoncé il y a quatre mois qu’elles y seraient.

Soumises à une très forte demande, les professions de préposés aux bénéficiaires, aides-infirmières et aides-soignantes ne sont pas non plus sur la liste. Selon le site Internet du ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale, les « travaux [pour ajouter ces professions de niveau C] se poursuivent avec le gouvernement fédéral ».

Dans d’autres secteurs en forte pénurie de main-d’œuvre, certaines professions demandant un peu plus de qualifications (niveau B) ont carrément été retirées de la liste, ce qui suscite l’incompréhension tant chez les employeurs que chez les firmes de recrutement et spécialistes en immigration. « J’ai été surprise de voir que le poste de superviseur des ventes avait été supprimé de la liste », souligne Béatrice Lemay, avocate en immigration chez Immétis. Plusieurs de ses clients sont des entreprises dans le domaine du commerce au détail, un secteur où les postes de caissiers, de vendeurs et de commis aux ventes sont très difficiles à pourvoir. « Il y a de l’incompréhension des deux côtés. C’est pourtant un secteur avec une grosse pénurie de main-d’œuvre et on s’est retrouvés avec encore moins de solutions », note-t-elle.

La profession de boulanger-pâtissier devait être rajoutée à la liste, mais elle n’y est finalement pas, bien que plusieurs propriétaires de boulangeries aient dénoncé un grave problème de recrutement l’an dernier dans Le Devoir. D’autres professions de catégorie B, comme surveillant de transport routier ou dessinatrice de mode, attendent aussi d’être réhabilitées sur la liste.

Au total, tous niveaux confondus, 71 professions, considérées comme « en déficit important de main-d’œuvre » par Québec et la Commission des partenaires du marché du travail, devaient être ajoutées sur la liste du traitement simplifié, dont la moitié avait été retirée de la liste par le gouvernement Legault lui-même.

Délais trop longs

À l’heure actuelle, faire venir un travailleur étranger est un processus qui peut prendre jusqu’à un an. Il faut d’abord que l’employeur fasse une étude d’impact sur le marché du travail afin de prouver qu’il comble un réel besoin et qu’aucun Canadien n’est disponible pour l’emploi. Cette démarche, qui coûte 1000 $ par travailleur qu’on veut faire venir, peut prendre de quatre à cinq mois. Une demande de permis de travail met autant de temps à être traitée par le fédéral.

De plus, l’employeur doit aussi avoir préalablement affiché pendant au moins un mois le poste et démontrer que personne ici n’a répondu à l’appel. Cette dernière démarche n’est toutefois pas obligatoire si la profession en question figure sur la liste de traitement simplifié. Celle-ci permet également à un employeur de faire venir autant de travailleurs qu’il veut et d’octroyer des contrats de 36 mois au lieu de 24, ce qui peut faciliter l’accès à la résidence permanente.

Ho Sung Kim, vice-président d’AURAY Sourcing Immigration, explique que la déception a été grande chez certains de ses clients qui attendaient impatiemment ces changements qui devaient contribuer à réduire les délais pour faire venir des travailleurs étrangers temporaires. « Je vois mal pourquoi on attend autant », estime-t-il. Selon lui, même si ça débloquait rapidement, il est déjà trop tard pour que les employeurs puissent faire venir des travailleurs pour la saison estivale. « Ça n’irait pas avant 2023. » Il aurait fallu que les changements à la liste soient faits à l’automne dernier, a-t-il ajouté.

Problèmes informatiques

Le ministre Jean Boulet dit avoir été informé que, si la trentaine de professions de niveau C tarde à être ajoutée à la liste, c’est qu’Emploi et Développement social Canada, qui est responsable du Programme des travailleurs étrangers temporaires, « a rencontré des enjeux informatiques » [sic]. Il demeure vague sur l’échéancier, indiquant qu’Ottawa devrait être en mesure de respecter « au cours des prochaines semaines » l’entente de principe conclue en août dernier, et qui a été annoncée de manière plus détaillée par le ministre le 1er novembre.

Lors de cette dernière annonce faite il y a quatre mois, le ministre Boulet affirmait au Devoir que ces assouplissements représentaient « la plus grande avancée du Québec en matière d’immigration temporaire » depuis 1991. Des quatre assouplissements négociés, deux ont déjà été mis en œuvre : l’exemption de l’affichage pour certaines professions demandant peu de qualifications (niveau D) a été réalisée en décembre dernier, et la hausse du seuil de 10 à 20 % de travailleurs étrangers permis pour les entreprises de certains secteurs, notamment le commerce de détail, les soins de santé et hébergement, est entrée en vigueur un mois plus tard.

Selon Ho Sung Kim, le « vrai » problème demeure les trop grands délais de traitement du gouvernement fédéral, qui gère le Programme des travailleurs étrangers temporaires. « Même si on a des assouplissements et un traitement simplifié, c’est réduire le délai de traitement du permis de travail qui va aider les entreprises. Parce que leur besoin de main-d’œuvre est déjà pour hier. »

Interrogé sur ses « problèmes informatiques », Emploi et Développement social Canada s’est contenté d’indiquer qu’il « demeure déterminé à travailler avec le Québec pour aider la province à répondre à ses besoins en main-d’œuvre tout en garantissant les droits et la protection des travailleurs ».

Source: Québec tarde à simplifier la venue de certains travailleurs temporaires en demande

‘Half-baked’ Bill 27 won’t protect migrant workers from exploitative recruiters, say advocates

Valid criticism of low level fines and other issues related to recruiting agencies:

Ontario’s proposed changes to employment law would not protect vulnerable migrant workers from unscrupulous recruiters and employers, and need more teeth to work for the workers, say advocates.

Professional recruiters play a key role in the transnational recruitment of migrant workers for employment in Ontario’s agricultural sector, fisheries, food supply, transportation, tourism, as well as in-home personal care and support services.

Last month, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton introduced Bill 27. The omnibus legislation includes policy changes meant to remove barriers for immigrants to get licensed in a regulated profession; require temporary help agencies to be licensed; and compel businesses to let delivery drivers use their washrooms, among other things.

Dubbed the Working for Workers Act, the bill, currently under review by a provincial standing committee, would also require recruiters to be licensed in a public registry and be responsible for repaying workers any illegal fees charged here or abroad.

The consequence of non-compliance for the recruiter would be the revocation of their licence and a possible fine under $300 for a first offence, critics point out.

Although employers would be required to use licensed recruiters, they would only face a fine of $250 for using someone who’s not registered.

Advocates for migrants have been calling for the licensing of recruiters and recruitment agencies since 2008, but said the enforcement tools in the proposed legislation are inadequate because the fines for infractions are way too low to be deterrents.

Recruiters, agencies and consultants use the promise of jobs that don’t exist and work conditions that don’t exist to lure workers to come to Canada,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers’ Alliance for Change. “Once they’re here, they’re so indebted they’re unable to protect themselves and defend themselves.

“This has been a well-documented issue. Now, the rest of the country has moved forward. Ontario has frankly not created any effective legislation to protect migrant workers from exploitative recruiters. As the bill stands, this will simply be window dressing, half-baked.”

According to Hussan, six provinces — Alberta, Quebec, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia — have already adopted mandatory licensing programs, requiring a security deposit between $5,000 and $25,000 from recruiters; most also have a registry for employers who hire migrant workers. Fines for employers for using an unlicensed recruiter can go up to $50,000 in Manitoba. A registry would enable proactive inspections.

Deena Ladd of the Workers’ Action Centre said Ontario must follow the other jurisdictions to hold employers equally responsible to make sure they use recruiters that do not charge illegal fees.

“This would not compel an employer to use a licensed recruiter if all you are required is a $250 fine,” she said. “It’s really the employers who use the recruitment agencies in the first place that drive this whole business model. It is their demand for migrant workers that creates a supply chain.

“We need to make sure employers are jointly and severally liable so they’re responsible when they use these recruitment agencies.”

Advocates are asking for a minimum fine of $15,000 against employers who fail to use a licensed agency, as well as a security bond of no less than $25,000 against licensed recruiters.

Ladd said a mandatory registry of employers who hire migrant workers is crucial.

“In our experience, we see employers who violate employment standards and continue to hire workers, only to repeat the violations, such as unpaid hours of work, overtime and illegal deductions,” said Ladd.

“Mandatory employer registration would enable the Ministry of Labour to conduct effective, targeted, proactive inspections as it will have all the information they need to do so.”

Also under this bill, Hussan said the onus is on the migrant workers to prove they have paid a recruitment fee or have been exploited. But recruiters have become so savvy that they now leave little paper trail.

“We need to reverse the onus so that workers don’t have to prove that they are being charged illegal fees, but employers and recruiters must prove that the charging doesn’t happen,” he said.

Source: ‘Half-baked’ Bill 27 won’t protect migrant workers from exploitative recruiters, say advocates

Dutrisac: Le pis-aller (Temporary Foreign Workers and Quebec agreement and exception for their children to study in French)

More complaints regarding IRCC’s treatment of Quebec applicants. Not seeing much evidence in the data for Temporary Foreign Workers:

En août dernier, Québec et Ottawa concluaient une entente en vue d’alléger les exigences que le gouvernement fédéral impose aux entreprises qui recourent à des travailleurs étrangers temporaires (TET) dans certains types d’emplois. Le ministre québécois du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale, Jean Boulet, vient de dévoiler les détails des assouplissements qui découlent de cette entente et qu’il demande maintenant au fédéral d’avaliser.

Ces mesures, qui feront l’objet d’un projet pilote, sont particulières en ce sens qu’elles ne visent pas seulement des emplois qualifiés à 100 000 $ par an dont rêve François Legault, mais aussi des gagne-pain modestes dans des domaines toutefois frappés par des pénuries de main-d’œuvre.

À la fin octobre, la Commission des partenaires du marché du travail, un organisme qui regroupe patrons et syndicats, a dégagé un consensus et confectionné une liste de 71 métiers et occupations qui doivent faire l’objet d’un traitement simplifié des demandes. Le commerce de détail, l’hébergement, la restauration et la transformation alimentaire font partie des secteurs favorisés. On y trouve des caissiers d’épicerie, des manutentionnaires, des préposés à l’entretien, des manœuvres et des serveurs, mais aussi des opérateurs de machinerie, dont les postes sont mieux rémunérés.

Un des problèmes touchant ces travailleurs étrangers, c’est qu’ils se voient accorder par le gouvernement fédéral des permis de travail dits « fermés », c’est-à-dire liés à un seul employeur, ce qui les rend vulnérables et les expose à des abus de la part de patrons exploiteurs. Cette situation est exacerbée par le fait que ces travailleurs ne connaissent pas leurs droits et peuvent avoir de la difficulté à communiquer en français ou en anglais.

Le ministre s’est montré sensible à la situation. Il a fait adopter des modifications à la Loi sur les normes du travail assorties d’un règlement sur les agences de recrutement auxquelles les entreprises font appel. Ces agences, dont les pratiques, dans certains cas, étaient douteuses, doivent désormais détenir un permis. Elles sont dans l’obligation de fournir aux travailleurs une description des conditions de travail relatives à leur emploi ainsi que des documents d’information de la Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) qui portent sur leurs droits et les obligations de l’employeur. Ces documents existent maintenant en français, en anglais et en espagnol.

Comme il l’a fait pour les travailleurs étrangers agricoles, le ministre a formé au sein de la CNESST une escouade TET vouée à enquêter sur les plaintes concernant d’éventuels abus et contraventions aux normes du travail.

Sans que ce soit une garantie que les travailleurs seront toujours bien traités, il s’agit d’une nette amélioration. En outre, les employeurs se sont engagés, même pour les emplois moins rémunérés, à fournir aux nouvelles recrues le transport, le logement et la couverture de la Régie d’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ).

Cet afflux accru de travailleurs étrangers, dans la région de Montréal du moins, réjouira les commissions scolaires anglophones, qui trouveront sans doute, quand les travailleurs sont accompagnés de leur famille, un certain nombre d’enfants pour peupler leurs écoles. Contrairement aux immigrants, ces travailleurs temporaires ne sont pas soumis à la Charte de la langue française et peuvent envoyer leurs enfants à l’école anglaise.

C’est une anomalie qu’il faudrait corriger. Le gouvernement Legault voudrait d’ailleurs qu’Ottawa lui cède la gouverne du programme des TET, qu’il pourrait harmoniser avec ses responsabilités en matière d’immigration. À cet égard, Le Journal de Montréal nous apprenait que Service Canada ne répond plus à la demande en provenance des entreprises du Québec. Celles-ci doivent toujours produire une fastidieuse « étude d’impact sur le marché du travail » pour chacun des emplois offerts, tandis que les fonctionnaires fédéraux n’arrivent pas à traiter les dossiers en temps utile.

Le recours aux travailleurs étrangers temporaires est un pis-aller qui témoigne d’un système d’immigration grippé. Le programme québécois Arrima, qui consiste à lancer des invitations à des candidats à l’immigration en fonction des besoins du marché de travail, n’est pas fonctionnel. De toute façon, Immigration Canada, dont le dysfonctionnement est manifeste, ne parvient même pas à accorder la résidence permanente aux dizaines et dizaines de milliers d’immigrants détenteurs d’un certificat de sélection du Québec qui sont déjà sur le territoire québécois. En recruter de nouveaux par le truchement d’Arrima ne ferait qu’ajouter aux inexcusables délais, de 28 mois en moyenne, dont est responsable le gouvernement fédéral.

Source: Le pis-aller

‘We want you to stay’: Canada opens door to permanent residence for 90,000 international graduates and temporary workers with one-time program

One-time or a pilot? Addressing some long-standing equity issues. Doing so during a downturn when some sectors are unlikely to recover soon (e.g.., hospitality, travel, in person retail) is risky. Will be interesting to follow the economic outcomes of Permanent Residents that are admitted under this policy:

Canada is rolling out a one-time special immigration program to grant permanent residence to 90,000 recent international graduates as well as temporary foreign workers with work experience in essential occupations.

International students will qualify for the new program if they have graduated from an eligible post-secondary program within the past four years, after January 2017, and if they are currently employed. They do not need to be in a specific occupation to meet the requirements.

The program is also open to temporary foreign workers with at least one year of work experience in one of the 40 health-care occupations, as well as 95 other essential jobs across a range of fields, such as caregiving and food production and distribution.

This time-limited immigration pathway will take effect on May 5 and remain open until Nov. 5 or until the target is reached.

“The pandemic has shone a bright light on the incredible contributions of newcomers. These new policies will help those with a temporary status to plan their future in Canada, play a key role in our economic recovery and help us build back better,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said on Wednesday.

“Our message to them is simple: Your status may be temporary, but your contributions are lasting — and we want you to stay.”

The Liberal government has made immigration a critical part of Canada’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery with plans to welcome 401,000 permanent residents in 2021, after the annual intake of immigrants nosedived by 45.7 per cent last year to just 185,130.

The 90,000 intake under the new program will account for almost a quarter of this year’s overall immigration goal.

With the border remaining closed to non-essential travel, many would-be immigrants who have already been granted permanent residence have been unable to come to Canada. 

It has prompted officials to shift gears and focus more on prospective candidates who are already in Canada and normally would face a lengthier process to qualify.

In February, Ottawa raised eyebrows when it issued 27,332 invitations — five times more than its previous high of 5,000 people — to hopeful candidates already living in this country.

Mendicino said these are unprecedented steps taken to create “the fastest and broadest pathways” for permanent residency and toward achieving the 2021 immigration level plan through a series of “smart choices.”

“We need workers who possess a range of skills in a range of sectors within our economy to keep it going forward and accelerate our economic recovery,” he said.

“We value those who are highly educated, those who are highly skilled, but we also need people who work in the agriculture sector and in trades and construction sector who provide manual labour to build our communities. For too long, we haven’t been able to provide these pathways.”

Among the 90,000 spots of the program, 20,000 will be dedicated for temporary foreign workers in health care; 30,000 for those in other selected essential occupations; and the remaining 40,000 for international students who graduated from a Canadian institution.

All candidates must have proficiency in one of Canada’s official languages, meet general admissibility requirements; be authorized to work and be working in Canada at the time of their application to qualify. Migrants who are already out of legal status won’t be eligible.

To promote Canada’s official languages, three additional streams have also been created for French-speaking or bilingual candidates, with no intake caps.

The business community welcomed the new immigration pathways, saying the newcomers will strengthen Canada’s economy when they are needed most.

“They fill labour-market shortages, offset our aging population and broaden the tax base, thereby helping fund social and public services,” said Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, whose members represent all major industries in the country.

“COVID-19-related restrictions have hit Canada’s immigration system hard, significantly reducing the number of newcomers entering the country. The (immigration) minister’s plan addresses this challenge by welcoming urgently needed talent.”

Although the program opens up a short-term window for thousands of migrants who are able to meet restrictive criteria, advocates say it still maintains the fundamentals of the temporary immigration system that will continue to keep many migrants in limbo.

“This announcement is a start, but without fundamental change through granting full and permanent immigration status for all, it will simply not be enough,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change based in Ontario.

Mendicino said the immigration department has recently hired an additional 62 officers to boost its processing capacity and the new program will only accept applications online to allow remote processing by staff, most of whom are still working from home.

He said processing immigration applicants within and outside of the country are not mutually exclusive, and officials will continue to process applications of those who are abroad because Canada needs immigrants to fill labour market needs and replenish an aging population.

These special public policies, he said, will encourage essential temporary workers and international graduates to put down roots in Canada and help retain the talented workers in need in the country.

“Imagine you’ve been asked to bring in the greatest number of permanent residents in the history of the country. People could’ve said, ‘Put a pause on immigration.’ We said no, because we believed we need to continue to grow our economy through immigration,” said Mendicino.

“Newcomers create jobs. They create growth. They give back to their community. They are rolling up their sleeves and invested in Canada”


IRCC requirements and eligible occupation list:

Migrant workers need priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine

While some of the specific recommendations have merit (e.g., free access to tests and vaccines, not needing a health card to access vaccines), others are either unnecessary or raise broader policy issues.

For example, a cursory search of PHAC and other public health sites indicates COVID information being available in many languages.

Should vaccination be subject to consent for workers in vulnerable settings or not, given the risks to other workers?

While their advocacy for a number of paid sick days makes sense, other advocacy – permanent residency status, full coverage under labour and social protection laws, family reunification and an effective right to collective bargaining – raise broader policy issues that need more reflection and analysis:

Their general points, attentive information in migrant worker languages (some already being done

Last year, in the first COVID-19 wave, 12% of migrant agricultural workers in Ontario were infected with the virus after arriving in Canada, and three men died. Migrant agricultural workers’ incidence of infection exceeded other high risk occupational categories like front line health care workers. But as the 2021 agricultural season quickly approaches, Canada still has no plan to ensure these essential workers receive priority, free and safe access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

As of 31 January, 5,400 migrant agricultural workers were already in Canada. Over 50,000 more will be returning across the country soon. Media attention waned after the fall harvest season, but COVID-19 outbreaks have continued on farms every month since – including 53 since the end of October.

The virus spreads quickly on farms because migrant workers typically live in crowded employer-provided congregate living quarters. Without a plan to give these workers priority access to the COVID-19 vaccines, we stand on the verge of another season where essential workers will risk their lives to feed Canadians.

Governments promised to increase health and safety inspections for agricultural workers. However, a blitz by health and safety officers this month revealed that nearly one-fifth of Ontario farms are not compliant with COVID safety protocols. Action is required urgently to prevent further tragedy.

Agricultural workers are only the most visible of the 85,000 low-wage migrant workers who come to Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program each year. Other migrant workers perform essential jobs delivering in-home care to children, the elderly and people with disabilities as well as working in meat processing plants, warehouses, food preparation, grocery stores, cleaning services, delivery services, construction and many other jobs that keep the economy running. Tens of thousands more workers are undocumented.

Whether they have temporary or undocumented status, migrant workers need priority access to vaccines because most live in congregate settings and work in spaces or roles that preclude physical distancing, putting them at high risk for infection.

Vaccine access must be delivered with keen awareness of the imbalance of power that puts migrant workers at risk of coercion. Access to vaccines must be free, informed, consensual and safe. Migrant agricultural workers from rural Mexico report travelling a day or more into urban centres to take pre-departure COVID-19 tests for which they have been charged up to $350. They must then take another test after arriving in Canada. This is prohibitive for minimum wage workers. It puts them in debt before they start work in Canada which increases the risk of exploitation.

Here are four steps for government to take to protect workers in accessing the vaccine.

First, migrant workers need access to free COVID-19 testing and vaccines. Workers must also be able to receive both of the required vaccine doses while they are in Canada. Unless this is guaranteed, they may return to their home country not fully vaccinated and without access to the same or any vaccine to complete their immunization.

Second, public education about the vaccines must be delivered directly to migrant workers in their own language. Many racialized migrant workers come from communities that distrust the medical system because of longstanding histories of systemic racism in healthcare. Migrant agricultural workers in southern Ontario have particular reasons to be wary after they were subjected to mass DNA testing by police due to racial profiling in 2013.

Third, migrant workers must be able to access vaccines on the basis of informed consent and that consent must be real. Workers must be able to freely agree to or decline a vaccine. Migrant workers’ precarious immigration status and dependence on their employers due to their employer-specific work permits and housing arrangements must not be leveraged to coerce migrant workers into mandatory vaccination.

Fourth, migrant workers must be able to access vaccines in a way that is safe and attentive to their precarious status. Many migrant workers do not have health cards or coverage under provincial healthcare programs due to the nature of their work permit, being between contracts or being on implied status awaiting their permanent residency. Having a health card must not be a precondition for vaccine access.

At the same time, undocumented migrant workers must be able to access vaccines without fear that their immigration status will be disclosed to the Canadian Border Services Agency. Coming forward to protect themselves, their co-workers and the broader community during a global pandemic must not put them at risk of detention or deportation.

But vaccination alone will not eliminate the risks that migrant workers face.

Like 70% of low wage workers, most migrant workers do not have the right to paid sick days. Governments must move immediately to legislate, on a permanent basis, a minimum of 7 paid sick days with an additional 14 paid sick days during a public health crisis. Unless workers can stay home without penalty when they are ill, poverty and the risk of being fired will force them to keep working. At all times, going to work while sick increases the probability of disease spreading. During the pandemic, it means those who are already most marginalized will continue to become ill and die in disproportionate numbers.

Over the past year, the pandemic has laid bare the underlying structures that drive social and economic inequality in our society. While prioritizing migrant worker access to COVID-19 vaccines is of immediate urgency, real security won’t exist until governments address the laws and policies under Canada’s labour migration programs that make migrant workers exploitable. Permanent residency status, full coverage under labour and social protection laws, family reunification and an effective right to collective bargaining would go a long to more lasting security.


Foreign workers face a lack of safe conditions, abuse and exploitation: Ethnic and mainstream media coverage

Useful summary of ethnic media coverage and contrast with mainstream media:

Temporary foreign workers and undocumented migrants have been one of the most affected groups during the pandemic, as covered by ethnic media from May to December. “The fact that in 2020, people are dying on farms in Ontario in one of the richest and most socially and technologically advanced countries in the world, Canada, is truly cause for reflection,” an Italian outlet wrote in early July, after multiple reports of COVID-19 outbreaks at farms employing seasonal workers from Latin America and the Caribbean, and deaths of three Mexican workers.

Outlets carried stories by migrants who said they were forced to start working right after arrival (without the 14-day quarantine) or had to quarantine in rooms that had no food or inadequate space to allow for physical distancing. The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change was cited as saying that it had received complaints from more than 1,000 people that their working and living conditions were crowded, they were unable to maintain the two-metre distance and lacked personal protection supplies.

One of the prominent cases was that of a Mexican farm worker, Gabriel Flores, who won compensation from his employer, Scotlynn Farms, in front of the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Flores sued Scotlynn Farms after he had been fired for speaking to the media about insufficient protection at the facility, where almost 200 workers had gotten infected with COVID-19.

Live-in care workers were shown to be highly vulnerable as well. A lot of media attention was devoted to a report titled “Behind Closed Doors: Exposing Migrant Care Worker Exploitation During COVID-19,” based on a survey of 201 migrant care workers and released in late October. The report showed that nearly half of the respondents were forced to work longer hours without being paid overtime. Two out of three workers said they weren’t allowed to leave the house, send money back home or even go to the doctor for fearing of breaking family quarantine bubbles.

What clearly transpired in ethnic media coverage was the fact that temporary foreign workers are the backbone of Canada’s food supply and many other essential sectors, but they are not getting basic rights protection.

In fact, as one Filipino outlet observed, Canada has depended on “cheap immigrant labour” from “Chinese railway workers to the Japanese fishermen, to South Asian farmers and loggers, to the Filipino overseas workers.”

Domestic work, health care and hospitality are all sectors that “capitalize on cheap female labour from the Global South,” wrote another, reporting a story of a Filipino woman who was separated from her son for five years as she was working in Kelowna, B.C., as a housekeeper at a hotel and as sanitation staff at a hospital. The pandemic has cost her and her husband their jobs at the hotel, and she still owes a substantial sum to an immigration agency.

“Guardian angels” of Quebec get pathway to permanent residency

Substantial coverage was given to the precarious status of many asylum seekers working or volunteering at long-term senior care homes and in other health-care settings in Quebec, including the price they have paid with their health.

These workers, whom Quebec Premier François Legault called “guardian angels,” are largely Haitians who came to Canada irregularly from the U.S. According to Montreal’s Haitian community advocate Ruth Pierre-Paul, cited in Caribbean media, hundreds of them have sought out jobs in long-term care homes as a quick way to enter the workforce.

After weeks of advocacy, media attention and petitions to the federal government, in August, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced a pathway to permanent residency for asylum claimants working in health care during the pandemic. Several media outlets praised the move, but many also stressed that the program is closed to asylum seekers doing other essential jobs. This has left many people disappointed and triggered further protests.

International students treated like “cash cows”

International students have faced a lot of uncertainty, anxiety and financial pressure in the pandemic months, and ethnic media have covered these struggles closely. As reported, the main dilemma faced by students before the start of the new academic year was whether to attempt entering Canada at the risk of being turned back at the border (which happened to many) or stay in their home countries and study online.

Until October 20, only individuals with study permits issued before March 18 were able to travel to Canada, and solely for a “non-discretionary or non-optional purpose.” Other students were subject to a travel ban.

For students from China and India, who account for the bulk of international students in Canada, attending university online in their home countries has meant having to study at odd hours and cope with internet issues. As reported, students also missed exposure to local culture, which they thought might later affect their chances on the job market. Some consolation came with a July announcement that time spent studying online abroad would be counted toward a post-graduation work permit.

There has been no relief in terms of cost, however. Universities not only refused to give rebates to those studying online; some have even raised tuition fees for foreign students, prompting comments in ethnic media that international students were treated like “cash cows” by “shameless Canadian universities.”

International students already in Canada also struggled. According to Chinese outlets, many Chinese students decided to stay in the country despite classes going online, mostly because the flights were very expensive and hard to come by. They also did not want to risk being stranded back home. But with high costs of living, few summer job opportunities, almost no help from the federal government, and no social activities, students were reported to be feeling helpless, frustrated, anxious and homesick. 

Punjabi broadcast media noted that many students were under pressure to find work to support themselves and send money back to their families. Concerns were also expressed over “suicidal incidents among international students.”

Non-permanent residents in mainstream media coverage

Similar to the coverage offered in ethnic media, coverage by Toronto Star broadly reflected two major perspectives—conveying government policy and programs and also offering human interest stories reflecting the lived experiences of the newcomers, migrant workers, refugees and international students. 

The paper quite extensively explored how immigrants and newcomers to Canada have been affected by COVID-19 pandemic from the economic, social and health and well-being angles. Dozens of articles addressed the issue of temporary farm workers, highlighting their precarious situation as well as legal battles. Solid coverage was also devoted to refugees and asylum seekers and the processes related to their status, brought to readers’ attention via a number of human-interest stories.

The issues facing international students, whether stranded in Canada or overseas, also received attention. Among others, the Star carried discussion regarding tuition fees and opportunities for foreign students to change their status.

Among the Postmedia Network titles, the Windsor Star appeared to carry the most coverage relating to migrants and the pandemic — perhaps unsurprisingly, given that more than half of the local COVID-19- cases during the pandemic’s first wave were among the thousands of migrant workers employed in the agri-food sector in Southwestern Ontario’s Essex County. 

Another significant aspect of the coverage was the call on the government to create a new permanent residency program for migrant workers, including undocumented workers, in sectors facing labour shortages. Advocates were asking the government to allow migrant farm workers to apply for a 12-month open work permit that would maintain or regularize their status while their application for permanent residency was in process.

Insight from MIREMS media monitoring

“Ethnic media has been instrumental in reporting on and clarifying government policy, processes and programs. It has also documented the unique challenges different migrant constituencies face and has been part of successful lobbying efforts for concrete solutions,” summed up Silke Reichrath, Editor-in-Chief at MIREMS.

Of particular concern were temporary foreign workers, international students, asylum seekers, and undocumented workers.

In terms of immigration policy, a lot of coverage was devoted to the impact of COVID on immigration levels, border closures and travel restrictions, visa extensions for temporary residents stranded in Canada, work permit regulations, farm worker rights and COVID safety protocols, COVID-related accommodations for international students, modifications to the Express Entry draws, and the “guardian angel” program for front-line care providers. Ethnic media frequently aired interviews with immigration lawyers and consultants as well as with lawmakers.

Another concern reflected in the ethnic media has been around family reunification. The processing of spousal sponsorship cases has stalled, and ethnic media has reported repeatedly on protests organized to ask the government to resume processing sponsorships.

Methodology: This ethnic media analysis is based on a selection of 350 summaries of articles and broadcast segments in radio, TV, print and web sources between May and December, 2020. These summaries were selected from about 6,000 items on these issues found in 450 active ethnic media sources in Canada monitored by MIREMS.


Survey shows support for migrant workers getting more benefits and protections, as senators introduce motion for change

Good initiative by Senators Black and Omidvar in commissioning this poll:

Eight in 10 Canadians say temporary foreign workers should be entitled to the same benefits and protection as any other workers in this country, according to a Nanos Research poll.

The survey, commissioned by senators Ratna Omidvar and Rob Black, was released Thursday in the wake of a Star story that highlighted the plight of hundreds of Trinidadian seasonal migrant farm workers, who are stuck in Canada due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and unable to access employment insurance benefits.

The pandemic has shed light on the vulnerability of temporary foreign workers, who pay the same EI premiums as Canadian workers but who have difficulty accessing the benefits due to their precarious immigration status.

Trinidad and Tobago has closed its airports to international flights since March and the estimated 400 stranded workers are on the verge of losing their legal status in Canada as their work permits expire on Dec. 15. Many have been denied EI, with officials saying their “closed” work permit prevents the workers from looking for other employers, resulting in them being declared not “ready or available” for work.

The senators say that in addition to benefits, migrant workers should have “pathways” to obtaining permanent resident status in Canada, something that is currently very limited for these workers.

“The pandemic has highlighted the fact that temporary migrant workers and seasonal agricultural workers are essential to Canada,” said Black. “We are calling on the Government of Canada for pathways to permanency for essential workers, should they so desire.”

The poll of 1,040 Canadians was conducted in late October and independent from the Star story.

It found that 93 per cent of respondents said migrant workers are essential contributors to Canada’s agricultural sector and 81 per cent said they deserved a pathway to permanent residence.

Canada’s agricultural sector depends on the temporary migrant work force, which makes up 17 per cent of the total employment in the sector.

“We need more concrete and equitable improvements to our migrant workers program. Since the workers are essential to our well being and safety, then the safest … and the most human way forward is to provide them with more permanent residency options,” Omidvar said.

Both Black and Omidvar plan to introduce a motion in the Senate on Thursday calling on the Liberal government to create permanent residence pathways for migrant workers.

Source: Survey shows support for migrant workers getting more benefits and protections, as senators introduce motion for change

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