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The St. Paul Journal
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David Nelson is a bright, educated young man, trained as an industrial mechanic and with an associate degree in computer science. But despite his background, his vision of moving from Jamaica to live and work in Canada has been through some bumpy patches, even though the road ahead finally seems to be smoother.
“It was a horrible story, but I survived,” he said of his original experience with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, in what turned out to be a duplicitous and illegal use of the system.
Through a friend in Fort McMurray, Nelson found work in Ontario and left Jamaica under the assumption that he would be working as a mechanic. Instead, he found out he would be doing farm work and ended up being taken around the country and working without paying taxes, with the person he worked for violating and abusing the program, in his view. From his own experience, he acknowledged that there were abuses of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which the government had pointed out when announcing the phasing out the program.
Some people, he said, are “there to work you, get their money and send you home,” while for other business owners, the program is a vital service that enables them to keep their businesses staffed and running.
As part of the changes, companies can keep 20 per cent of their foreign workers this year, and on July 1, 2016, that limit will be reduced to 10 per cent.
As businesses grapple with the changes to the program and potential labour shortages, foreign workers like Nelson are looking for ways to adapt. While some are leaving the country, others are finding other ways to stay.
After his initial negative brush with the program, Nelson moved on to find work in St. Paul’s McDonalds in July of 2013. But with the franchise fast food store unable to get a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) that would enable them to keep as many foreign workers, Nelson was facing the possibility of having to go home.
To find another way to stay, he ended up accessing the help of Christine Warkentin, a registered agent with New Canadian Immigration Services, which has offices in Vancouver, Manila and El Salvador and one in Alberta – here in St. Paul.
Warkentin works under an immigration consultant who is regulated by the Immigration Consultant of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), and explains she helps foreign workers or students with their permits, sponsoring family members, and working towards permanent residency, while also helping employers get labour market impact assessments. Several of those she helped attended an open house NCIS held in St. Paul last Monday.
Each person’s situation is different, and Warkentin says her job is to help people find the best scenario for themselves.
Even though the Temporary Foreign Worker program has been downgraded, she notes, “There are still ways and means for people to obtain their permanent residency.”
For Nelson, he had already applied for permanent residency and had been turned down under the old system. Although he could have applied again, Warkentin notes there are new criteria for the express entry program, which works on a point system that prioritizes highly skilled workers, Canadian experience, education and English language proficiency.
“There’s certain aspects he doesn’t meet,” she said of the new system, adding she and Nelson worked together to find the right path for him.
Nelson decided he would continue with further studies, and will be attending Portage College’s natural resources technician program in the hopes of finding work and being able to stay in the country.
He credited Warkentin for her efforts in helping him, saying, “She has done an awesome job.” When he finishes his studies, he will still use Warkentin’s services to help him qualify for a postgraduate open work permit.
As for the appeal of staying in Canada, Nelson explains that his home of Jamaica lacks opportunities for its educated young people - university-educated youth end up just staying at home after finishing their studies.
“The driving force is my son back home,” says Nelson of his nine-year-old boy, adding he is always trying to do the best he can for his son.
It’s a familiar story of separation for Warkentin, who says lower skilled workers cannot bring family members to come with them to Canada.
“A lot of women and men, they leave their children to make a better life for their families. It rips at my heartstrings many times.”
But Nelson says he keeps his eyes on the goal, of giving his son the opportunity to move to Canada if he wants it. “If I can establish myself here . . . he can have something better than I had growing up.”
For sisters Lydia and Sadia Mansouri, they too are familiar with the drive and desire to find better opportunities for themselves, which brought their family from Algeria to Canada, as their father got a work permit to work in the oilfield through his company.
Twenty-two-year-old Lydia was working at the Dollar Tree and the local French Canadian Association, and was going through the work of renewing her work permit, when she learned that her application was denied because of an error made when it was filed.
“She was denied a work permit and was told she had to go back home,” said Warkentin.
For a while, Lydia was scared at the prospect of leaving her family, her work and friends. However, she approached Warkentin, who helped her re-file her paperwork and get her status restored.
“I’m so satisfied by all the work she did for me and my family,” said Lydia.
Like Nelson, she sees a better future for herself and her siblings in this country, and more opportunities than there would be in Algeria.
She and Sadia would like to see more foreign people having the same opportunity as them, and take issue with restrictions to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
“I think it’s not right,” says Sadia. While she’s glad things worked out for her family, she says, “I wish it will work for everyone else.”
When asked how it feels not to have to worry about having to leave Canada, Lydia is momentarily lost for words.
“It’s like…” she says, stops, and breathes a big sigh of relief. “Finally – freedom.”
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