Yessy Byl and Jason Foster
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Rosalie (the names in this column are fictitious, the stories are not) came to Canada five years ago from the Philippines through the temporary foreign worker program to work as a “food counter attendant” at an Alberta fast-food outlet.
Her dream was to immigrate to Canada, which made the low wages, loneliness and separation from her family more bearable.
Unfortunately, as a “low-skilled” worker (even though she has a university degree), Rosalie was not permitted by the government of Canada to apply for permanent residency.
This spring she was excited to finally achieve a promotion to a supervisor’s position. She was now a “skilled” worker and eligible to apply for permanent residency after working as a supervisor for one year. Her dream was so close to being fulfilled.
Edgardo came to Canada from the Philippines and worked in a convenience store. Just over a year ago, he was promoted to “retail sales supervisor.” Having acquired his one year of experience in that skilled job, he was collecting the documents he needed to apply for permanent residency.
On Nov. 9, without notice or consultation, the federal government substantially changed the rules to the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) immigration stream under which most temporary foreign workers apply. No longer would temporary foreign workers with skilled work experience as a “food service supervisor” or “retail sales supervisor” (and four other specified jobs) be able to apply for permanent residency.
Rosalie and Edgardo are now ineligible to apply for immigration, despite promises that they could immigrate if they succeeded in getting promotions to skilled work.
But it is not only Rosalie and Edgardo who are affected. All temporary foreign workers are grievously impacted. In addition to prohibiting certain skilled occupations, the government has also placed a cap of a total of 12,000 applications under the CEC program, and individual caps of 200 applications on many job categories. In 2012, there were 338,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada, the highest number ever. Essentially the government is now saying to temporary foreign workers that they have almost no hope of immigrating.
It is useful to place the new rules in historical context. In the mid-1970s, Canada changed its immigration system to one based on points, which basically blocked lower-skilled workers from immigrating. However, with the need for domestic workers, the live-in caregiver program was created and allowed live-in caregivers to apply for permanent residency after two years of work. This has been the only federal immigration stream for lower-skilled workers.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program was first created for skilled workers who had no intention of immigrating to Canada. But in 2002, the program was expanded and the number of foreign workers in Canada exploded. For the first time we had a program for temporary foreign workers in low-skilled jobs other than seasonal agricultural workers and live-in caregivers.
Unfortunately, unlike with the live-in caregiver program, the federal government has not provided any opportunities for low-skilled temporary foreign workers to permanently immigrate.
Quite the opposite, in fact. In 2011, legislation was passed that temporary foreign workers could only stay up to four years and were then barred from re-entry for four years.
The deletion of the six occupations will affect many low-skilled workers as these jobs provided the most common pathways for lower-skilled temporary foreign workers to become eligible for immigration. But the severe restrictions of applications through this stream will have an enormous effect on all temporary foreign workers in Canada, many of whom came because they were promised they could immigrate.
Some lower-skilled foreign workers may still be eligible for provincial sponsorship through the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program. Unfortunately, the province can only sponsor up to 5,500 people through this program. In 2012, there were 68,000 foreign workers in Alberta. Again, the odds do not look good.
It is ironic that the process by which the federal government grants permission to hire a foreign worker requires an employer to prove no qualified Canadians are available for those jobs. Why then are the people filling those jobs now denied the ability to apply for permanent residency?
We have many temporary foreign workers who have worked very hard for many years, have contributed to our country’s economy and have become members of our communities. Their contributions are valuable whether they work as an engineer or as a labourer, as a company director or as a food counter attendant.
If we need workers of all skill levels, we should give them the opportunity to immigrate to Canada permanently. By not doing so, we have created an exploited underclass of disposable workers.
Yessy Byl volunteers with temporary foreign workers and teaches through the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center and Athabasca University. Jason Foster is an academic co-ordinator with Athabasca University and on the advisory board of the Work and Learning Network.
- Economic sectors
Sales and service occupations - general, Retail salespersons, and Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations
- Content types
Documented cases of abuse and Statistics on work and life conditions
- Target groups
Public awareness and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks
- Geographical focuses
Alberta and Philippines
- Spheres of activity
Law and Political science