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Journal article

Immigrant and migrant workers in Canada: Labour movements, racism and the expansion of globalization




Nandita Sharma


On January 1, 1973, the Canadian government introduced an expanded and consolidated "migrant worker" recruitment program under the rubric of the Non-Immigrant Employment Authorization Program (NIEAP). Prior to this, Canada historically had put in place various programs to recruit people as "migrant workers" for specific parts of the labour market, such as agricultural work. The NIEAP was "new" in that it provided an overarching frame in which to bring in people temporarily to fill certain, employer-identified "shortages" in the labour force. The NIEAP also represented a major shift in overall Canadian immigration policy, for following its introduction, the overwhelming majority of (im)migrants recruited for the Canadian labour market came to enter as "migrant workers" rather than as "landed immigrants" with permanent residency rights.

The result is that federal-level bureaucrats often enforce the migrant workers contract on behalf of employers by ensuring the indentured employment relationship. However, provincial bureaucrats do little, if anything, to ensure the employer meets the wage rates and living and working conditions promised to "migrant workers" before they arrive in Canada. "Migrant workers" are largely made ineligible for social programs and services that citizens and most permanent residents have access to, such as health care insurance, unemployment insurance (UI), social assistance and workers' compensation packages. Thus, the NIEAP also works to lessen state expenditures on workers.(1) The NIEAP thus operates as a system of indentured labour recruitment that allows both the Canadian state and employers in Canada to exploit the legislated vulnerability and lack of entitlements of those placed in the state category of non-immigrant.

Examining the cultural level in which the category "migrant worker" is socially organized helps to explain how it is that the Canadian government can create a category of "non-citizens," such as "migrant workers," with relatively little outcry, even tacit support, from much of the population living and working in Canada. My site of investigation is the Canadian House of Commons and the discursive practices of parliamentarians. Specifically, I conduct a textual analysis of their debates from 1969 to 1973. Although the NIEAP was introduced at the beginning of 1973, I look at debates occurring prior to this time in order to contexualize the construction of the migrant worker category and relate it to other developments taking place.

Journal title

Canadian Woman Studies



File Attachments


Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers, Occupations in services - Domestic work, and General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups


Geographical focuses

National relevance

Spheres of activity

Cultural and ethnic studies, Economics, Gender and sexuality studies, and Sociology