Changes not felt on the ground
Changes not felt on the ground
Advocates critical of policy changes on migrant workers, international students
“We need policies that are proactive rather than reactive”
By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter
[Read full interview here] https://philippinereporter.com/index.php/2020/12/18/minister-hussen-on-supporting-canadians-during-the-pandemic/
As the effects of COVID-19 stretch into 2021, those without permanent status in Canada continue to find themselves living in limbo.
In a December 2020 interview with The Philippine Reporter, Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development discussed the government’s economic growth plan to support Canadians during the pandemic. He also talked about government efforts to address workplace safety for temporary foreign workers, as well as ways to help foreign students and care workers. We interviewed immigrant-serving organizations for their take on these policies.
On Internatonal Students and Temporary Foreign Workers
Hussen emphasized that extension periods are now longer for people like foreign students whose legal status in Canada are expiring. In addition, temporary foreign workers with new job offers can start working while their work permits are being processed.
However, Leny Rose Simbre, chairperson at Migrante Ontario, said extensions alone aren’t enough.
“It doesn’t really address [migrants’ needs] to ensure permanent immigration status for the new immigration program,” she said. “Many international students are also workers who work in essential services, but their work is not valued and treated as ‘low-skilled.’”
While these extensions can help some people, Mithi Esguerra, program coordinator at Migrant Resource Centre Canada, said that the situation of foreign workers are not as straightforward.
“We have cases of workers finding potential employment but run into the problem of the employer not being willing to pay the fee to process the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA),” said Esguerra. “When this happens, the worker loses the opportunity to get the job. If their working visa is about to expire and they don’t find another job in time, then they lose their status. In other cases, the cost of the LMIA is placed upon the worker and the worker is forced to comply just so they can secure the job.”
Worker safety is also a main concern.
“We’ve also invested to protect temporary foreign workers (TFW) on farms,” Hussen had stated. “With the investment of $58.6 million, the Government is strengthening the TFW Program and making further investments to safeguard the health and safety of Canadian and temporary foreign workers from COVID-19.”
Esguerra pointed out that while it’s a step in the right direction, it has “not translated into concrete changes on the ground.” In fact, Conestoga Meat in Kitchener, Ontario recently reported an outbreak that affected several migrant workers. In addition to increased ministry inspections, Esguerra said, “Measures such as additional resources to government agencies should be met with policy changes that are proactive rather than reactive.”
Ethel Tungohan, PhD, is the Canada Research Chair in Canadian Migration Policy, Impacts and Activism (Tier 2) and assistant professor at York University’s Department of Politics. She said that in a study that she conducted with Migrante-Alberta, the Alberta Workers Association, she discovered that due to COVID-19 “migrant workers face tremendous housing challenges.”
“Some have gotten laid-off temporarily and thus do not have the funds to pay for rent,” Tunghohan said. “Yet, others who live with their employers find that they become even more vulnerable to employer abuse.”
She added that there are still no formal housing policies in place to protect migrant farm workers. The combination of outbreaks in farms and meatpacking plants also begs the question about where workers stand in terms of being prioritized for the vaccine.
“There hasn’t been any indication of when temporary foreign workers – especially those working in essential industries that place them at higher risk of getting COVID – will get the vaccine,” she said.
On Reuniting Families
Hussen previously stated that after consulting with the caregiver community, “they told us loud and clear that they don’t want to be separated from their families as was the case under the previous conservative program.” “This is why we’re now keeping families together and allowing family members to work and study in Canada,” he said. Simbre argued that rather than removing barriers, the government has increased restrictions. “Many caregivers are unable to meet the criteria in language and educational assessment,” she said. “Offering open work permits for spouses and study permits for dependent children are not solutions for family reunification – these permits only place additional burden on many families, especially financially, when applying to come to Canada.” “Permanent status allows workers to assert their rights, access immediate government services and entitles them to equal pay and benefits,” said Simbre. “Migrant workers have been integral in running the Canadian economy by risking their lives working in essential services.” Tungohan stated that policies that give migrants permanent status due to their contributions during the pandemic already exist. “For example, if refugee claimants are getting permanent residency for working in long-term care homes, why can’t caregivers?” she asked. “Why can’t temporary foreign workers?”