Spirited Reflection: It comes down to status
Teresa (not her real name) is a single mom from Baja California, Mexico. Since 2012, she has been supporting her parents and two daughters by spending up to eight months each year on Canadian farms through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP).
In 2014, Teresa was attacked by her boss on his farm. Teresa was concerned that speaking up about the sexual assault might hurt her and her female co-worker’s future job chances. She says Mexico’s Secretariat of Labour and Social Welfare verbally warns SAWP workers each season before they leave Mexico: “You’re coming to Canada to work, not to cause problems. If you complain about something, they kick you out of the program.” The structure of the SAWP heightens the power imbalance between workers and employers, amplifying women’s vulnerability to sexual assault. Work permits are tied to a specific employer, so getting fired typically means getting deported. Workers in abusive workplaces often have difficulty transferring to a new boss. To be rehired the following season, a farm worker must receive a positive evaluation from their employer. (Weiler, Anelyse. “Migrant Farm Workers Vulnerable to Sexual Violence.” The Conversation. May 1, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.)
Canadian citizens and landed immigrants enjoy many rights and services in Canada, from health care and education to legal aid or government assistance. Migrant workers who pick or process the food we all eat or care for the children and elderly in our neighbourhoods do not enjoy the same rights and protections.
Access to support services and other amenities all come down to status. A student or visitor visa is different than a work permit, which is different than being a refugee; this is referred to as status. Each of these different statuses has unique limitations. Many migrant workers seek permanent residence status because of the freedom and security it offers. The worst position is to become undocumented. This is your designated status if your temporary residence visa or work permit expires or is cancelled. In such a situation you have no guarantee of any services whatsoever.
KAIROS advocates that all migrant workers should be granted permanent residence as assurance of their protection, security and freedom from exploitation, sexual violence and deportation. In a 2014-2019 Pilot Project, caregivers had a pathway to permanent residence, but it was fraught with unreasonable requirements and a quota system that gave no individual any assurance of receiving status after a long, costly application process. Others in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program have no possibility of even applying for permanent residence.
As one worker explained,
Migrant workers have no rights to apply for status. In Canada status means rights. We have no right to apply for rights. The Federal government of Canada sees it fit to review the program without consulting the migrant workers.
Our hope is for Canada to extend this welcoming hand of permanent residence to those who come to help us.
Liberating God, you sent your son Jesus to proclaim release to the captives and let the oppressed go free, and yet so many in our world are not free. Borders, visas, work permits, and temporary status mean that many lack the freedoms enjoyed by citizens of Canada. God of justice, you have given us good and perfect laws to guide our life in community. Guide our human lawmakers in establishing fair and compassionate immigration laws.
Draw us into your ministry of liberation that seeks freedom for all. Amen.
This reflection was a compilation from the some of the Epiphany team of writers: Rev. Dr. Sarah Travis, Rev. Laura Sauder, Carolyn Pogue, Connie Sorio, Elena Tkacheva, Anna Jacobs, Rick Garland and Shannon Neufeldt.