Spirited Reflection: Seeking justice and building a community
After Arlene came to Canada, she realized she was under a pilot program and couldn’t possibly meet the post-secondary education and language requirements necessary to apply for permanent residence before the program ends in November 2019. Caught between impossible regulations, she is not allowed to study while working under the Caregiver Pilot Programs, but if she applied for a student visa, she would have to work part-time hours that don’t count towards her permanent residence requirement. Her dream has been shattered; all her own sacrifices were for nothing. Arlene observed:
The work we do is important, and it contributes to the Canadian economy. Many Canadian women are able to go back to work and practice their careers because we are taking care of their children, their elderly parents, and their family members with high medical needs. Canadians are able to go to work every day with a peace of mind knowing that their loved ones are in capable hands and are well taken care of. They come home to a clean house, happy kids and a hot meal ready for them. Yet our work is not valued. Our vital economic role and contributions are not recognized. The need for Caregivers in Canada is not going away. -Arlene
Migrant workers offer themselves to help meet the needs and demands of Canadians. Canada could celebrate the gifts migrants bring and honour these workers with the dignity they deserve. Instead, we see the Temporary Foreign Worker Program focussed on meeting labour market demands, irrespective of the responsibility to protect people’s or workers’ rights and welfare. Hopeful applicants bring abundant skill and dedication to their work— often to discover that the program is very tight fisted with the benefits others in Canada enjoy – and some workers find themselves in unacceptable working conditions.
Unfortunately, extensive requirements and elaborate quota systems limit the number of people eligible to become permanent residents. Equally complicated documents spell out exactly how migrant workers can access services such as healthcare, housing, education and legal aid. A simple way to continue building up our communities with labour from abroad while respecting human rights would be to provide permanent residence status to all workers as soon as they arrive in Canada. Then migrant workers would enjoy the same rights and support services as any other Canadian.
Migrant workers make huge contributions to the Canadian economy. Agricultural workers do backbreaking, often dangerous, physical labour that no one else will do. Caregivers allow Canadians to be in the workforce by caring for the children or elderly in their family. These gifts are vital to the integrity of communities, yet all too often the people behind this vital work are considered disposable – deported at the whim of an employer or the random regulation of the government.
Corinthians 12:12-13: 12 There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. 13 We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. – New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)
As Paul, in this letter to the Corinthians, celebrated a role for every member of the body, let us celebrate the unique and invaluable contributions migrant workers make to our common future and to our communities.
KAIROS is concerned for Temporary foreign workers, particularly those working in the areas of caregiving (like Arlene), agriculture and food processing. These workers face barriers and challenges in safeguarding their status and in protecting their own health, rights and access to support services while in Canada. The Epiphany Resource for Justice Seekers helps explore these challenges and how we can take action to help bring justice to our workers.
Spirit of Compassion, help us to welcome newcomers more fully and equitably into the life of our community.
Spirit of Creativity, help us to see the ways in which migrant workers can be an integral part of building up the best parts of our communities.
Keep us mindful of our history. We give thanks for the times when we have received welcome and commit to offering a gracious and loving welcome to others.
This reflection was a compilation from the some of the Epiphany team of writers: Arlene (caregiver), Rev. Dr. Sarah Travis, Rev. Laura Sauder, Carolyn Pogue, Connie Sorio, Elena Tkacheva, Anna Jacobs, and Shannon Neufeldt.