Status on Landing!

A unified cross-Canada framework for action on migrant workers

Status on Landing means that:

  • People in low-waged occupations currently coming into Canada in the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, Caregiver Program, Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and other programs with work authorization permits will be able to come to Canada as permanent residents, if they so choose, including being able to sponsor their families.

Calling for Status on Arrival is pragmatic, possible and necessary. Here is why:

(1) Status on Arrival is what migrant workers want.

Since at least 1968, migrant worker rights groups organizing with domestic workers, caregivers, seasonal agricultural workers, and temporary foreign workers (then the Non-Immigrant Employment Authorization Program) have unified around a single demand, full immigration status on landing for migrant workers.

Today, members of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, Canada’s largest migrant worker rights coalition, Migrante Canada, the Temporary Foreign Workers Coalition in Alberta, groupings in British Columbia and Temporary Foreign Workers Association in Quebec are all unified on this demand.

(2)  Immigration Status on Arrival ensures rights for all workers.

We know that most low-waged workers are tied to a single employer and bad bosses are mistreating migrant workers. This mistreatment includes paying workers lower wages than workers with Canadian citizenship. Migrant workers are either directly excluded from labour protections, or labour laws are not responsive to their vulnerability to abuse and deportation. Access to healthcare, post-secondary education, pensions, employment insurance and other social entitlements is only available to those with permanent status.

Ensuring permanent residency status on arrival removes the differential treatment of migrant workers, and thus removes the possibility of overall decrease in wages and working conditions in any industry. It ensures equal access to healthcare and social protections for migrant workers, and because of their preventative nature, ensures better public health for all residents, and saves money to the public purse in the long run.

(3)  Status on Arrival is a consistent policy direction.

Canadian federal immigration policy divides workers coming in to the country in to two categories: those that arrive with permanent immigration status, and those that don’t. Those who don’t are temporary foreign workers who are in large part racialized and low-waged. Status on landing is a policy position that refuses to separate racialized and low-waged workers from other kinds of immigrants coming in to the country. It creates a unified framework that can more easily be operationalized in the long-term.

But…

Is it winnable?

Yes. Status on landing already exists for high-waged workers immigrating to Canada; it is the simplest policy and political solution. We also know that there are at least 25 million migrant workers around the world, and every one of the 16 richest countries in the world (OECD) has foreign worker programs. It is going to be hard to turn the tide towards permanent status and away from temporary work. We need short-term goals as we work towards status on arrival. These goals can include ensuring that migrant workers:

  • are not tied to one employer;
  • have equal access to all social programs, including Employment Insurance, health care, settlement services, social services and workers’ compensation;
  • have a right to a fair appeal process prior to a removal order;
  • have full protections under the provincial employment standards act and regulations currently enjoyed by Canadian Citizens and Permanent Residents, including no fee for any work placement. A comprehensive recruiter regulation program is also needed;
  • who have become undocumented have access to a comprehensive national regularization program to regularize their status.

For more detailed provincial and federal reform proposals, please get in touch with us at info@migrantworkersalliance.org.

Why not just call for shutting down the Temporary Foreign Workers Program?

Once status on landing is implemented, the temporary foreign workers program would effectively end. Calling for status on landing is important and different because:

  • Currently there is no other path for low-waged, racialized people to come to Canada. Shutting down the program would mean the mass exclusion of those communities. Not only is it not fair, it makes no economic sense. The Parliamentary Budget officer recently showed that the number of Canadian citizens and permanent residents with the skills to work in industries that migrant workers usually do has dropped by 26%.
  • If we call for shutting down the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, it would be almost impossible to organize with workers who are already in the program, and who have friends and family members planning to come in through it.
  • It’s also a question of what happens first. We would need to call for permanent programs, and only when they are implemented, would we be able to call for closure of the temporary programs. Status on landing moves it from a two-step ask, to a simpler one-step demand.

Does this mean anyone will be able to come to Canada?

The immigration system has its internal controls, including overarching laws, regulations and case law. Ensuring status on landing won’t change that. These immigrants would face the same scrutiny as immigrants’ parents being sponsored, or someone with a economics degree.

High-wage workers, even if they are coming under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program right now, have the option of applying to come in permanently through one of the Express Entry pathways. Status on landing won’t give high-waged workers an added advantage; it will give low-waged, racialized, workers, many of them women, access to dignity and stability.

MWAC Submissions on regulatory proposals to enhance the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program compliance framework.

MWAC Submissions on regulatory proposals to enhance the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program compliance framework.

The proposed compliance framework may be able to lead to real implementation steps that ensure the principle of equal protections for migrant workers is met. However, three critical changes are needed to ensure that these regulations do not end up doing the opposite:

1. The compliance mechanisms and sanctions must not in any way punish workers for their employers’ abuse. The regulatory mechanism should include open work permits, and access to permanent residency for migrant workers. Failure to do so would make these regulations extremely punitive for migrant workers.

2. There should be no exceptions to workplaces that are being inspected or sanctioned. All migrant worker employers, that is those who are part of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, Live-In Caregiver Program and the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, should be equally and comprehensively assessed for abuse.

3. These regulations will result in a convergence, and possible confusion between provincial and federal jurisdictions. MOUs on information sharing, and specific protocols to ensure that migrant workers are able to gain lost wages, or have access to other entitlements under provincial jurisdiction, must be developed.

For our full submissions, click HERE.

The Great Tory Rip-Off of Migrant Workers

First published on the Huffington Post on December 18, 2012

Today is the International Migrants Day. On Dec 18, 1990, 22 years ago, the UN passed the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. No migrant-receiving country, including Canada, has ratified this convention.

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Just last week, Federal Human Resources Minister Finley took away special E.I. benefits from migrant workers through a quiet Thursday afternoon regulatory change. She did this assuming that most people wouldn’t notice. Just to add insult to injury, she cut these benefits that were won after years of protest by the women’s movement, on December 6 — the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

This isn’t just a mean-spirited move, or a lump of coal as a Christmas gift to migrant workers as theToronto Star notes, it is part of a long-term strategy to take away basic support from all unemployed workers, irrespective of immigration status. Migrant workers, seen as the most vulnerable, are just the test case. If these benefits aren’t restored, and E.I. not expanded for migrant workers now, the axe on all E.I. benefits for all workers will fall far more swiftly and painfully then it already has.

Just in 2008, migrant workers and their employers paid an estimated 300-million dollars in to E.I. but were only able to access some paternal, maternal and compassionate benefits. Now even that has been made off-limits. This while, the numbers of temporary workers contributing in to E.I. premiums has gone up by nearly 17 per cent since 2008.

This theft of migrant workers’ hard earned money takes place in a year where Canadians laws are already stacked up against them. In Canada, it is legal to pay migrant workers 5-15 per cent below the average — a total jettisoning of the age old consensus of equal pay for equal work. Recruiters run amok, charging migrant workers thousands of dollars while provincial laws do little to end this exploitation. Migrant workers are often unable to get full social services or access basic health, and safety protections. Those that fall sick or complain face deportations.

In a press release by MWAC member Justicia for Migrant Workers, Junior Sylvester a 12-year veteran of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program says

“The elimination of these special benefits violates the nature of the Employment Insurance act that was put into place to protect our families and our children from falling into poverty.”

Adriana Paz Ramirez, an organizer for Justicia for Migrant Workers agrees, adding “For over 40 years migrant workers have been subsidizing Canada’s E.I. fund yet have been ‘ineligible’ to receive full benefits, and now they are being completely stripped away from the few special benefits they were able to access. This is completely unjust and outrageous.” (See Justicia’s call for actions, including a vigil in Toronto today, here).

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (also a member of MWAC) launched a petition against these cuts, insisting “It is the Great Tory Ripoff of Migrant Workers. It is like being forced to buy mandatory auto insurance but you are excluded from coverage.”

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has noted how migrant workers were again being treated differently then workers with citizenship. The CLC noted: “The Minister did not mention that Canadians and permanent resident workers who pay into the E.I. system are able to access maternity/paternity benefits when they reside out of the country.”

The Canadian parliament isn’t exactly the pinnacle of democratic process right now (case in point: the massive budget bill that was pushed through Commons earlier last week despite immense opposition), but it must be noted that the banning of migrant workers from E.I. benefits they paid for happened without being discussed in the Commons.

Much of public policy is being set by press release and through decisions summarily announced on the government’s online website. Remember how tens of thousands of refugees had their healthcare cut — that was a regulatory change. You know how women are forced to stay in marriages for two years to get citizenship — regulatory change.

Harper’s Ministers have been summarily amassing powers for themselves. Jason Kenney, one of the key architects of our current temporary immigration system, has given himself unilateral power to decide which refugees should be indefinitely jailed and which shouldn’t. Trying to keep up with him, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley has amassed special powers for herself to define what constitutes “suitable employment” for E.I. claimants, and to define “reasonable and customary efforts” to find work.

Claimants can be cut off benefits if they decline “suitable employment” and do not make “reasonable and customary efforts” to find work. This includes taking jobs at wages 30 per cent below what they were previously earning. The expansion of the temporary foreign workers program, theft of E.I. benefits from migrant workers and Canadian citizens alike, are all part of one “cheap labour” strategy.

Diane Finley and Kenney think they can get away with this program, simply because no one is paying attention, the question is, are they right? Soon after the E.I. changes were announced, migrant worker organizing escalated. Migrant workers themselves organized an educational seminar for non-migrant workers about the impact of these E.I. cuts in Southern Ontario, while many MWAC members issued statements and organized actions. Migrant workers and their allies are demanding justice, status, dignity and full rights, and we are creating those as a reality in our communities.

As one migrant worker in Leamington said when the E.I. benefits were first announced,

“It doesn’t matter our race, our colour, or the country we come from. United we fight for our rights. United we are strong.”