Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) announced on June 22, 2019 that they were seeking written comments on a proposal to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations to allow the issuing of occupation-specific work permits under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for the purpose of providing greater labour mobility to foreign workers. These changes will enable foreign workers to leave their employer for a new one without having to obtain a new work permit.

After consulting with migrant workers and other partners, the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Canada made the following submission.
A submission to the federal government

Introduction

Jobs performed by workers in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) Stream for Low-wage Positions are permanent so the workers who do them should have the option to do them as permanent residents of Canada.  Permanent Residency is good for migrant workers and for the overall Canadian economy. 

While the proposed Occupation-specific work permit is a slight improvement over the current Employer-specific work permit, there are several significant weaknesses which can be addressed properly only by creating a path to permanent residency for all workers in the TFWP.

We welcome the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot announced July 12, 2019.  By offering a new pathway to permanent residence, this pilot program is a step in the right direction.  It needs to be quickly expanded beyond meat processing and mushroom production to include all workers in the TFWP.

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Occupation Specific Work Permit Concerns

Many of the migrant workers with whom we spoke felt there was too much vulnerability in leaving a job, even one in an abusive situation, without knowing that another job would be immediately available.  They find the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process itself to be problematic:

  • There are not enough LMIA-approved job vacancies for easy worker-movement from an abusive job situation to a better situation.
  • The Occupation-Specific work permit will have a negligible positive impact on the mobility of migrant workers if it is narrowed to the specific NOC code.
  • In many instances the LMIA processing fee of $1000 is downloaded to the workers. Since the LMIA process is maintained under the proposed change, the Occupation-specific work permit merely gives the appearance of greater worker mobility while creating little actual change.
  • Lengthy LMIA processing times are leaving migrant workers in extremely vulnerable situations. Workers simply cannot afford to be out of work for weeks or months while they try to secure another position, given that they are not legally allowed to work or receive Employment Insurance or other social protections.
  • Migrant workers were also concerned they would be going from one unsafe situation to another, especially since the Occupation-Specific Work permit does nothing to address the problem of unregulated contractors/third-party recruiters who exploit migrant workers.
  • As noted by the Auditor General in his 2017 Spring Report, labour market information provided by the employers is not enough to assess the labour needs and ensure protection of Canadian jobs. These assessments are better achieved by using broad markers such as annual job vacancy data and employment insurance data including specific regional and sectorial labour market variations.
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Safeguards

  • Register and regulate contractors/third-party recruiters. The registry should be publicly accessible, and the legislation should create joint and several financial liability between employers and recruiters.
  • Create an Online Job Bank listing current job possibilities available in the worker’s preferred language. This would help to create multiple doors for employees to contact employers about job possibilities and allow workers to negotiate directly with prospective employers.
  • Work with provincial counterparts to strengthen labour laws and labour inspections so that migrant workers are not going from one bad employment situation to another.
  • Provide Support Services. Migrant workers pay taxes and have a right to services such as health care, language-training, access to EI and provincial social assistance, education, legal aid, rights workshops, interpretation and other settlement services.
  • Fast track access for migrant workers to EI or provincial social assistance while waiting for a new LMIA. This would significantly reduce the instances where migrant workers are forced to stay with abusive employers or accept illegitimate job offers.
  • Create Hiring Halls as suggested by the labour union. Workers must have access to the information in the Hiring Hall and the ability to line up new jobs before making the decision to leave an abusive or unsafe situation.  This Hiring Hall should not be administered by government.  Where available, unions could administer this Hiring Hall.  Where unions are not present, government funding should support NGO administration of this job-seeking tool.  Ensure these halls are geographically spread to allow ready access to them.

Key Recommendation: Expand Path to Permanent Residency

Allow migrant workers to begin the process for permanent residency and family reunification upon arrival or, at the very least, give all workers in the low-wage stream of the TFWP a pathway to permanent residency and family reunification such as the pathway provided in the Agri-Food Pilot program announced July 12, 2019. 

We find the level of English required by the Agri-Food Pilot program to be unreasonable given the long hours of work which many migrant workers experience.  Such schedules do not allow for easy access to ESL classes.

We support the Pilot program condition which requires unionized employers to obtain a letter of support from the union to qualify for the 2-year LMIA as well as the requirement that non-unionized employers discuss worker protections with the union through a tri-partite working group.  These requirements should help reduce migrant worker vulnerabilities.

Permanent Residence ensures access to services such as health care, EI and continuing education.  Without this access, the government will need to provide these services through separate channels. 

Conclusion

Since its inception, the TFWP has aimed at assuring the availability of a migrant workforce for jobs that cannot be filled by Canadians. Low-wage migrant workers are performing essential tasks which benefit Canadian society.  When workers are forced into temporary status, it not only makes workers vulnerable to abuse but also functions to pull wages down in Canada, something government policy should work to prevent.  The best way to protect the rights of workers and to strengthen Canada’s economy is to begin the process for permanent-resident status and family reunification when workers arrive in Canada.  In lieu of this, the Agri-Food Pilot program is a step in the right direction.

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