On April 1st, 2015, federal government regulations regarding temporary foreign workers caused what many are calling one of the largest deportations in Canadian history. According to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, an estimated 70,000 workers will have to leave Canada. Workers employed for four years of service are barred from attaining another work permit for another four years.
Migrant advocates across Canada wrote blogs and articles, protested in rallies, and held press conferences. But for those who aren’t as certain about their position on the deportation of Temporary Foreign Workers, there are generally three questions that come up. Here are the answers gathered from advocates nationwide.
1) Good riddance. Aren’t migrant workers taking away jobs from Canadians?
According to Diwa Marcelino of Migrante Manitoba and Sarah Zell in the Winnipeg Free Press, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is nothing new. Established in 1973, it shifted from a program targeting engineers and IT specialists to include workers in “lower-skilled occupations.” They emphasized that while the number of TFWs almost tripled in the last decade, they merely constitute less than two per cent of the total Canadian labour force.
University of Alberta Grant Notley Postdoctoral Fellow and community activist Ethel Tungohan emphasized that before hiring migrant workers, every Canadian employer attempts to hire Canadians first. “While this process can and has been abused, the checks that have been put into place make sure that employers really did try to hire local workers. Talk to small business owners in big cities and small towns and they’ll say the same thing: that they’ve put job ads up for months with no responses; that the folks they have hired from their cities and towns leave after a few weeks; that problems of declining populations (especially true in small towns) mean that there simply aren’t workers.”
“And though I completely agree that better wages and better working conditions would make these jobs more attractive to Canadian workers – and thus eliminate the need to hire temporary foreign workers – the simple fact remains that even improved wages and working conditions are not enough to incentivize Canadian workers to be part of these industries.”
2) But these workers are part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. What part of ‘temporary’ don’t they understand?
Citizenship and Immigration Canada has stated that foreign workers and employers have been aware of this deadline since 2011, and that they had plenty of warning.
However, Syed Hussan, Coordinator of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, emphasized that since these programs have existed for years, there is nothing temporary about them. “Over the last four decades, immigrants in low-paid jobs have had no choice but to come in on these so-called temporary programs, as they have no access to permanent residency.”
The four-in-four-out rule is the government’s entrenchment of a “revolving door immigration system,” said Hussan. “A well-trained workforce will be replaced by people who are new, and less aware of their rights. The real solution is permanent residency on arrival, now.”
With advocacy groups estimating that 70,000 workers across Canada will be due for deportation, many migrant workers are trying to apply for permanent residence. But as Marcelino and Zell state, in Alberta alone, there are 10,000 workers are on the waiting list, with little chance that they will meet the program requirements.
3) I’m an established Filipino-Canadian, and I’ve been a citizen for decades. Why should I care about migrant workers?
“Filipinos must remind themselves that they did not all arrive in Canada in the same fashion,” said Hessed Torres of Migrante BC.
“Some of us came here as landed immigrants. Some came through a family sponsorship or through a student permit. Although those streams of immigration have its own difficulties, one must remember that the caregiver and foreign worker programs are among the most brutal streams of immigration that Filipinos have braved engaging into. All in the name of employment. All in the name of permanent residency.”
For Jesson Reyes, Regional Coordinator of Migrante Ontario, migrant workers are necessary for Filipino progress in Canada.
“Caregivers, like Juana Tejada back in 2008, have lent their voices to raise awareness on the difficulties and precariousness faced by Filipinas on the path to permanent residency, in hopes of improving the conditions for future participants in the LCP program. Uprooting temporary foreign workers and replacing them with new temporary workers will have a negative effect on the progress of our still growing communities.”
And for Reyes, every wave of Filipino migration is more connected than we realize.
“For many, our migration to the North is predicated on the idea that we can permanently settle and “petition” our families to come to Canada,” said Reyes. “As early as the 60s, Filipino migration to Canada included working professionals with adequate work and education credentials, which is true for those of us who become landed immigrants today.”
“Temporary Foreign Workers and Live-In Caregivers are no different and are also degree holders and professionals back home. They were simply coerced into taking on ‘low skilled’ work in order to have a chance of migrating to Canada. In essence, we are all migrant workers here in Canada.”
This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on April 10, 2015.