Temporary Foreign Worker Program: A KAIROS Response
In May 2016, KAIROS participated in the federal government’s review of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) by making a submission to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
The Standing Committee released its report on September 19. While some of its recommendations are encouraging, KAIROS is concerned that the report does not address systemic flaws with the TFWP and issues such as access to permanent residence, access to support services, and the backlog of over 30,000 permanent residence applications. KAIROS reaffirms its commitment to educate and advocate on these issues towards a TFWP that upholds the dignity and rights of migrant workers.
“We work to feed the nation. Is the system being fair to us?” Gabriel Allahdua, a Caribbean migrant worker who called for permanent immigrant status for migrant workers.
KAIROS welcomed the Government of Canada’s decision to review the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. It was an opportunity to improve the lives of migrant workers and their families by ensuring their rights are protected. While two of the Standing Committee’s recommendations will alleviate some of the challenges, if implemented, overall the Committee’s report fails migrant workers by not addressing systemic issues and by once again focusing more on the interests of employers.
The Committee’s recommendations to remove the 4 in and 4 out rule and to “take immediate steps to eliminate the requirement of an employee-specific work permit” are two important steps that will improve the situation of many migrant workers in Canada, but only if they are acted upon by the federal government. Both these recommendations were in KAIROS’ submission to the Committee.
Overall, however, the Standing Committee’s report is deeply disappointing.
First, it proposes a “band-aid” or patch-work approach instead of a long-term strategy that addresses systemic problems. For example, the report recommends another review of the current pathways to permanent residence. This means further delays in resolving one of the most important issues for migrant workers. Another review is unnecessary. The information is there. What’s needed is action.
Second, once again migrant workers’ messages and concerns have been overshadowed by those of other stake holders, especially employers. The voices of migrant workers are inadequately reflected in both the recommendations and the conclusions. The report makes 21 recommendations to the Government of Canada. More than 60 per cent, or 13, of those recommendations apply to and will benefit employers. These include recommendations to reduce employer costs and expedite processing times to bring in migrant workers. In contrast, only two recommendations (9.5 per cent) are favourable to migrant workers. Some recommendations call for changes that appear to favour migrant workers but in fact even these are designed to keep the workers “permanently temporary”, without the possibility of ever being able to apply for permanent residence. One example involves the issuing of multiple entry work visas for migrant workers employed in seasonal work.
Third, the Committee failed to adequately address the heart of the issue – the temporary immigration status of workers that make them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Until this issue is resolved, Canada will continue to rely on temporary labour programs to meet labour market demands that in most cases are not temporary.
Finally, the Committee failed to put forward any recommendations related to the backlog of 38,000 caregivers’ applications for permanent residence. The government must act on this very important issue which, among other things, is keeping mothers and fathers separated from their children and spouses.
Canada’s TFWP is flawed. It separates workers from their families for extended periods of time, makes them vulnerable to abuse, undermines their rights, favours employers, and clearly contradicts Canadian values which emphasize strong families, family reunification and the protection and promotion of human rights. While the Standing Committee’s report addresses some of these problems it does not do enough to move the country away from an increased reliance on temporary labour programs and back towards permanent immigration as a strategy for nation building, and for meeting labour market demands. KAIROS is committed to continue working on this issue to achieve the changes needed to ensure equity and fairness for all.